FedEx Field is no RFK Stadium, according to Gus Frerotte.
Much was made after the Washington Redskins' 33-17 loss at Detroit on Dec. 5 about the crowd noise at the Silverdome playing a role in the unraveling of the Redskins offense. And the Redskins have taken comfort this week in the fact that they'll play Saturday's first-round NFC playoff game against the Lions at home, not on the road.
But while Frerotte, the former Redskins quarterback who's scheduled to start for Detroit on Saturday, says he expects the crowd at 80,116-seat FedEx Field to be boisterous, he adds that the atmosphere at the three-year-old stadium is not as intimate for fans or as intimidating to opposing players as was the case at RFK Stadium.
"You had a different atmosphere at RFK than FedEx Field," Frerotte said during a conference call with D.C.-area media members on Wednesday. "It's a big place. It's huge. The benches aren't as close [to the stands]. You're not going to have any stands bouncing at FedEx Field. But it's going to be loud."
Frerotte said his wife Annie will be in the stands Saturday, along with other family members and friends.
"It's going to be strange," he said. "It's going to be strange walking out of the tunnel on the other side of the field, and having people who cheered for you for five years now booing you. It's my first playoff game, so I'll be excited."
Frerotte played mistake-free football in leading the Lions to their December victory over the Redskins. He threw for 280 yards and a touchdown, and didn't have any interceptions. That time, Frerotte didn't find out until the Friday before the Sunday game that he'd be starting in place of the injured Charlie Batch.
This time, Frerotte knew on Monday he'd be starting. The Redskins hope that, with nearly a week to think about his return to Washington under the bright playoff spotlight, Frerotte will be uptight and show some more jitters this time around. Frerotte, for his part, says things are easier this way.
"It's a different feeling," he said. "You can prepare all week. It's better for me [and] better for the receivers. The linemen get to hear your cadence in practice all week. . . . I'm pretty even keel. That [December game] was a game when I got a lot of the emotions out of the way. Now I can focus on playing."
Redskins wide receiver Michael Westbrook said after the teams' regular season meeting that his club's defense let Frerotte get too comfortable in the pocket by not hitting him enough. The Redskins intend to make Frerotte feel the pressure this time.
"Gus is a good friend of a lot of guys here," linebacker Shawn Barber said. "But we want to go and hit him just like you'd hit anybody else."
Frerotte said playing quarterback in Detroit is not as pressure-packed as playing the position in Washington.
"There's a lot less pressure. Everybody is looking at the quarterback of the Redskins. That's a big position in Washington. I think Brad [Johnson] has done a great job."
Johnson started a playoff game for the Minnesota Vikings in the 1996 season. But more often, he has been on the outside looking in when his team has been in the postseason.
He was the NFC's fourth-rated passer in 1997 but was on the injured reserve list at the end of the regular season and missed Minnesota's two playoff games. He began the '98 season as the Vikings' starter but lost the job thanks to injuries and Randall Cunningham's superb play, and watched Cunningham take the club to the NFC Championship Game.
"Everyone in the locker room treated me pretty well," Johnson said. "But at the same time, it's not your team any more."
These Redskins most certainly are Johnson's team. He became a Pro Bowl selection and the second 4,000-yard passer in franchise history during the regular season. With Pro Bowl tailback Stephen Davis sidelined by a sprained ankle, Johnson threw for a team-record 471 yards in the team's second-to-last game of the regular season, when an overtime triumph at San Francisco clinched the NFC East title for the Redskins.
"As a professional player, your time is limited in this league," Johnson said. "There are guys here who have never been in the playoffs and they've been in the league for seven or eight years. I've always been humble. I've never taken anything for granted. But this is something special. . . . This is what you work for. I'm not going to be satisfied until we win the whole thing."
Said veteran guard Keith Sims, another of the seven Redskins starters on offense and defense with playoff experience: "We're going to ask every member of this team to give a commitment for the next four weeks like they've never given before."
Hopeful for Stephen
Redskins officials weren't particularly encouraged by what they saw from Davis on Wednesday in his first practice since he hurt his ankle 2 1/2 weeks ago. But the Redskins remain hopeful they'll have the NFC's leading rusher back in the lineup Saturday.
Even if Davis is less than fully healed, the threat of his running probably would help Johnson by perhaps slowing the ferocious pass rush of the Lions.
"It takes some of the pressure off our passing game," Johnson said. "He's a big part of our team, and it means a lot to have him back in the lineup."
The sputtering Detroit offense knows what it's like not to have a running threat to keep defenses honest. The Lions managed only 31 yards against the Redskins in the Dec. 5 game, and averaged only 77.8 rushing yards per game during the regular season. Coach Bobby Ross said on Wednesday that Cory Schlesinger, who had 124 rushing yards during the regular season and averaged 2.9 yards per carry, will start at running back Saturday.
"We've struggled," Frerotte said. "We haven't been able to get things going. We need to get a push from our running game. When you're not able to run the ball, all the little things will grab you and bog you down."
Redskins linebacker Greg Jones missed Sunday's regular season finale because of a sore back, and sat out part of Wednesday's practice. Jones underwent surgery in January after playing last season with a herniated disk, and he said he back began bothering him again about four weeks ago.
"I did something to it," said Jones, who has played this season with a hernia that will require offseason surgery. "Since I had the surgery, that's a weakened area. I was able to make it through 13 training camp, the preseason and 13 weeks of the season without any problems.".
Rookie offensive tackle Jon Jansen on the "Believe in Stephen" T-shirts that he and other Redskins players have been wearing this week: "I don't know what it's about. But it's a nice shirt and it didn't cost me anything, so I'll wear it."