The Washington Redskins (4-2) return to Redskins Stadium Sunday to host the Chicago Bears (3-4) on the heels of a 38-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, but buoyed by an enviable record compiled in a tough stretch of away games.
The Redskins have played four of their last five games on the road, winning three of the four road contests: Back-to-back in New York, against the Giants and Jets, and at Tempe, Ariz., against the Cardinals.
Sunday's game against Chicago kicks off what should be the pay-back part of the schedule, in which the team plays four of its next five games at Redskins Stadium.
"It has been so long, it's almost like playing at a visitors stadium," said quarterback Brad Johnson of the team's awaited return to Redskins Stadium. "I love playing at that stadium. The crowd gets behind us. It's a great place to play. I feel very comfortable there. We've done great on the road, being three-of-four. You'd be very happy with that. Unfortunately we lost last week. We're 1-and-1 at home, so hopefully we can improve in that area and string out some wins."
Since opening the former Jack Kent Cooke Stadium on Sept. 14, 1997, the Redskins are 10-7-1 at their new venue. They have won five of their last seven home games. The stadium apparently is readying for another name change. It will be called FedEx Field under a tentative naming rights deal worth more than $200 million over 27 years.
HANDLING DEFEAT: While Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder held a closed-door meeting with Coach Norv Turner immediately after the loss to Dallas last Sunday, several players said they were unaware of the unusual step until they read about it in the next day's newspaper. The meeting took place in the visiting team's training room at Texas Stadium, which meant that some ailing players, such as linebacker Greg Jones, who is suffering from a hernia, had to be tended to in the locker room.
Asked about the message the meeting sent to players, running back Brian Mitchell said simply that anyone who spends $800 million for a team is entitled to do what he wants.
Left tackle Andy Heck, among those unaware of the meeting, said that any pressure players feel to win is likely to be constructive.
"It's important to always play and work as though someone's got their hand in your back pocket," said Heck, an 11-year veteran. "At any time, you can be out on the street. You shouldn't take anything for granted. On the other hand, I don't think anybody is afraid here that, `Hey, if I make a mistake, I'm out of here' -- including Coach Turner."
Said Brad Johnson: "He has high expectations, just like we do as players. He wants to make an impression. And eventually, we're going to get there. I think Mr. Snyder is going to be a great owner for this organization. Sometimes you can look at it as a positive or you can look at it as a negative. Right now, I think we've only been doing positive things."
While Johnson said he remembers every loss he has had since middle school, his philosophy in the midst of a season is to let a loss go.
"We work hard during the week, and we're very focused, very prepared," Johnson said. "Sometimes things just don't happen the way you want to. . . . We all want to win. You can throw your helmet. You can get yourself in a room. You can go crazy. But think about it: It's over. You come back this week. You're very focused. You get your head in a playbook and come back and play a great ball game."
BLOCKING THE BEARS: The Bears defense, which held Tampa Bay without a touchdown last Sunday and has recorded 22 sacks in seven games, is likely to test the Redskins offensive line, which will be playing with two injured guards. Right guard Tre Johnson has a dislocated finger and left guard Keith Sims has a broken thumb. Both have been fitted with casts that allow them to practice this week and play Sunday.
Johnson, a Temple graduate, played in a college all-star game with Bears defensive tackles Mike Wells and Jim Flanigan. "They play hard; they play physical," Johnson said. "We've definitely got to respect their game.
Heck, an ex-Bear, also knows first-hand the toughness of the Chicago defense, which he faced in practice for five seasons.
"They play a lot of eight-man fronts, and they're determined to stop the run by doing that," Heck said. "They also have tough, strong blue-collar type players. It's going to be a real slugfest. As determined as they are to stop the run, we are determined to run the ball."
DEFYING THE CRITICS: As the Redskins' longtime returner on punts and kickoffs, Brian Mitchell hasn't posted the numbers he's accustomed to this season. Turner has cited blocking as one of the reasons. But if fans want to think it's because Mitchell, at 31, has lost a step, the return specialist said that's their prerogative.
"People can say what they want: `He's losing a step,' this and that," Mitchell said. "I think I have a lot of years left in me. At 30, I'm stronger. I think I can take more pounding now than when I was younger. It's the nature of this game: Sometimes things don't go your way. And it hasn't been going our way."