The week after the most humiliating loss of Coach Norv Turner's career, the Washington Redskins came roaring back this afternoon to rout the New York Giants, 50-21, and deliver the biggest victory of the Turner era.
Haunted by memories of their season-opening loss to the Dallas Cowboys, in which they squandered a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead, the Redskins set a furious, unforgiving tone, vaulting to a 21-0 lead by scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions.
In doing so, they humbled one of the National Football League's most menacing defenses and ruined the Giants' home opener for the 73,170 fans at Giants Stadium -- most of whom left, showering their team with boos, well before the game ended but after the outcome was clear.
The 50 points -- on three touchdown runs by running back Stephen Davis, three touchdown passes by quarterback Brad Johnson, a 70-yard interception return by linebacker Shawn Barber and a 48-yard field goal by Brett Conway -- were the most scored by a Redskins team on the road.
It was the fifth-most points scored in club history.
And it was the most points the Redskins had scored against the Giants since 1966, when Coach Otto Graham directed a 72-41 victory.
The victory offered a stirring glimpse at the character of the Redskins, the explosiveness of their offense and what is possible with a quarterback of Johnson's accuracy and poise. Moreover, coming on a field that has notoriously given the Redskins fits, the victory vanquished some Giants Stadium demons.
Former quarterback Joe Theismann used to complain the field's odd topography threw off his passing. On windy days, the end-zone doors were known to open mysteriously when the Redskins had the ball, ushering in gusts powerful enough to rattle anyone's rhythm. Just last September, the venue was the scene of the beginning of the end of quarterback Gus Frerotte's Redskins career. After hurling back-to-back interceptions, Frerotte left the season opener with a separated shoulder and was stripped of his starting job.
But today, with much of northern New Jersey still reeling from the after-effects of Hurricane Floyd, the Redskins could hardly have found more friendly environs than the Meadowlands.
Coming on the heels of the previous week's 41-35 overtime loss to the Cowboys, today's victory touched off yet another wild mood swing in the Washington area, which for decades has derived much of its self-image from the performance of its NFL team.
It couldn't have come at a more opportune time for Turner, who is under intense pressure from owner Daniel M. Snyder to deliver the Redskins' first playoff appearance since 1992.
In the locker room afterward, Turner was quick to credit Johnson, who completed 20 of 28 passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions.
"The quarterback is the one who brings it together," Turner said. "And right now, everyone is feeding off Brad. . . . He makes plays when they're not there, and he certainly makes the plays when you're fortunate enough to call the right ones."
Johnson, acquired in a costly trade with Minnesota in February, had undergone two offseason knee surgeries. The consensus, as Turner embarked on his sixth season as Redskins coach, was that Johnson could help the team if he could stay healthy.
But instead of getting pummeled by the Giants' defense, the worst Johnson got was a second-quarter poke in the eye that momentarily blurred his vision. At times, Johnson said, the offense flowed so smoothly he considered it "flawless." He, in turn, credited the protection he got from the offensive line, which for years has proven the team's undoing.
But with rookie right tackle Jon Jansen blocking one Pro Bowler and 11-year veteran left tackle Andy Heck fending off another, Johnson wasn't sacked once. He completed his first eight passes, directing first-quarter drives that were capped by Davis's touchdown runs, two of them from a yard out, the other from 19.
In the second quarter, Johnson hit tight end Stephen Alexander with a one-yard touchdown pass to make it 33-14. He found Alexander again later for a 27-yard touchdown strike that gave the Redskins their biggest lead, 50-14.
The Redskins also found an unexpected ally in Jeremy Lincoln, a backup Giants cornerback, who missed tackles, committed costly pass-interference penalties and inexplicably fell down on one play.
The Giants threatened only once. Trailing 21-7 as the first half wound down, they charged crisply down the field. But quarterback Kent Graham hurled an off-target pass at fullback Charles Way, and Barber intercepted it easily and ran 70 yards for the score that seemed to knock out what fight remained in the Giants.
What was different about this game, Barber said, was that after every Redskins score, players told themselves the score was 0-0. That was their way of warding off the false sense of confidence that cost them the victory against Dallas.
"All of us leading up to the game were anxious for this game to get here," fullback Larry Centers said. "We realized last week was an embarrassment for us. `Never let up' is quickly turning into our team motto."