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Redskins' loss to Vikings a temporary setback

Brett Favre leads the Vikings past the Redskins at FedEx Field.

You better believe the Redskins are one of those teams.

Yet, when you take a longer view, you see a Redskins team that has made the kind of progress that was hoped for when Shanahan arrived. Except for one nightmare against the Eagles, this season has, so far, been a good-case scenario.

The Redskins are closer than it looks. No, they are not remotely close to a championship team. This year they haven't even avoided a 10-loss season yet. But they're nearer to being a credible NFL team once again than seemed likely a year ago when the franchise had devolved into a league-wide farce.

The progress starts with Donovan McNabb, who completed 21 of 35 passes for 211 yards, despite having a "leading rusher" with only 11 yards. Although he was sacked four times, his only interception was on a pass that deflected off Santana Moss's mask.

Get used to McNabb and appreciate him. The Redskins do. They know what they have. "Donovan and Favre are alike," said defensive tackle Phillip Daniels, who's chased them both for years. "They're just smart quarterbacks who are students of the game. They're both good on the deep ball. Sometimes they take chances and they'll make some mistakes. But, no matter what defense they face or what pieces they have to work with, they know how to get their teams down the field."

Favre kept the Vikes chugging in interim coach Leslie Frazier's first game after star runner Adrian Peterson limped off the field after only six carries. McNabb managed with no running game at all. But the parallels run far deeper. McNabb and Favre are as close to statistically identical as any two players you can find. The match is missed because Favre, 41, has started twice as many games.

Favre's career quarterback rating (86.1), winning percentage as a starter (.623), playoff record (13-11) and total net yardage per game (234) are almost identical to McNabb's 85.8, .638, 9-7 and 231. McNabb, who runs better, generates almost as many touchdowns per game, passing and running, as Favre (1.6 to 1.7) but does it while throwing a third fewer interceptions.

Soap Opera Brett, with his good-old-boy gunslinger style, is probably somewhat overrated while the boringly classy McNabb, in Washington as in Philadelphia, continues to be undervalued.

Don't minimize the importance of the Redskins' leverage in their new contract with McNabb. At the game's most important position, McNabb, who turned 34 last week, may have several more years as a central figure. Oh, Favre's better. But not by as much as most think. Put an offense around McNabb, then judge.

This game also underlined the area where the Redskins have made the most significant improvement: in the game-breaking speed of Banks, who had a 65-yard kickoff return, and Anthony Armstrong, who caught a 45-yard bomb and now has 545 yards receiving.

"Speed kills. And those guys can fly," linebacker London Fletcher said. "When they touch the ball, we're more dangerous."

"I just want the ball in my hands," said Banks, who is believed to be the first Redskins player ever used at tailback in the Wildcat offense. "I've known I could return kicks since I was nine and our Pop Warner team went to Disney World and I won it with a kick return."

"Banks . . . is . . . good," Smith said, slowly. "He loves it. He has a lot of tools."

Banks is flat-out electric right now. On his 77-yarder, five Vikings were about to squash his 149 pounds. Then, he did a shake and a fake, took a side step and exploded through a crack. And, in less than two seconds, he went from dead meat to running free up the left sideline. Riley never even needed to try a block.

"Returning kicks - you're born with it," Fletcher said.

"Banks is fast," said Armstrong, who as a deep threat has opened up shorter passes for Moss and Chris Cooley, who are on pace for 1,958 yards of receptions. "But I'm 4.24 (in the 40-yard dash). He's 4.25. See, I'm faster."

This game presumably marked the end of Redskins' hopes for a fantasy first season under Shanahan. They'll have the blues now, plus a nasty schedule ahead. But the day's key play - a penalty on a block that didn't even need to be attempted - showed the other side of the '10 coin. The Redskins are getting closer.

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