The bigger the soap opera and the more intense the criticism around them, the more likely the Washington Redskins have produced an impressive victory this season. Yesterday, for the fourth time, the Redskins faced a crucial game after an especially deflating loss. And for the fourth time, as make-the-playoffs-or-be-fired scenarios swirled around Coach Norv Turner, the Redskins produced a lopsided victory.
This time, the Arizona Cardinals and their young quarterback, Jake Plummer, were badly battered by halftime and eventually lost, 28-3, at FedEx Field before 75,851 people. Running back Stephen Davis, despite feeling ill, plowed for 189 yards on 37 carries, including a 50-yard touchdown run. Even the Redskins' often-maligned defense played its best game of the season, allowing only 173 yards and getting four turnovers, including the 50th regular season interception of cornerback Darrell Green's career.
Once more, the Redskins showed that the kind of distractions and controversies that often undermine other teams merely seem to fuel their drive to stay in first place in the National Football Conference's East Division. On Saturday night, players held a private "recommitment" meeting without any coaches present. Earlier in the week, team owner Daniel M. Snyder had one-on-one meetings with five veteran players. Media and fans buzzed that a loss to Arizona might clinch Turner's departure if it meant the Redskins would go a seventh consecutive season without a playoff appearance.
After an ugly 33-17 loss to Detroit last week, Turner admitted: "You get as low as you can . . . as a coach, as a person." However, an assistant bucked him up, saying, "One thing we've got going for us is that this is as resilient a [team] as we've had."
"Every time we've had a difficulty, they've responded, stepped up and really handled the adversity," said Turner after his Redskins improved to 8-5 and maintained a one-game lead in the NFC East over the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, who both won yesterday. "We've shown determination that we were not going to let our mistakes prevent us" from reaching their goals.
After two losses to Dallas--one in which they squandered a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter, the other an embarrassingly one-sided loss on the road--the Redskins responded with huge offensive explosions, winning 50-21 over the New York Giants and 48-22 over the Chicago Bears. After back-to-back midseason losses that endangered their playoff chances, the Redskins beat the Giants convincingly again, 23-13. With yesterday's victory over the Cardinals, the combined score in those four games is 149-56.
After their win, the Redskins received more good news: the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings lost. If they end the season in a tangled, multi-team battle for one of the NFC's three wild-card playoff berths, then any losses by three Central Division teams--Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Minnesota--are especially helpful.
"When you play like we did today, you have a heck of a feeling about where you are" in the playoff race, Turner said.
"We made a statement, showed some attitude," said 326-pound guard Tre Johnson. "I think [the team meeting] made the difference. We got together as family. You don't let somebody come into your house and steal something."
While high emotion on key occasions has helped the Redskins several times this season, the team has been equally prone to letdowns in subsequent weeks. Against the Cardinals, there were emotional celebrations aplenty. After catching a seven-yard touchdown pass, wide receiver Irving Fryar lay in the end zone on his back and kicked his feet in the air, as if imitating a baby throwing a tantrum. Various Redskins did the in-vogue, jump-into-the-crowd move after touchdowns or interceptions.
At least, after 17 seasons, Green clearly deserved to enjoy his two long ovations after his interception. "The 50th means a lot to me . . . though Norv says I've probably dropped 150," said Green, who is known for his good works and not-so-great hands. "I don't think the crowd was just cheering for the 50th. It felt like they were saying, 'Hey, Mr. Green, thanks a lot. Thanks for your humanity.' If I'm making too much of it, don't throw water on it. Let me go home feeling that way about it."
Of all the Redskins, one clearly loomed largest: the 248-pound Davis, who carried the ball only three times in the second half last week, a much-criticized Turner strategy.
"We got Stephen rested up last week in Detroit, so he could carry the ball  times this week," said Turner, taking a poke at himself.
Davis himself felt far from rested and, in fact, was under the weather.
"I felt weak" at times, he said with a shrug. "This is my job. Sometimes you have to go to work sick."
Perhaps defensive end Marco Coleman, who along with Johnson called the Saturday night team meeting, put the day in the sharpest perspective.
"So much is made about the coaches being the reason [for losses or being] the scapegoat," said Coleman. "That's not right. . . . We sat around in the locker room. Everybody had a comment. It was time to air it out. . . . It's not about coaches. It's not the [defensive or offensive] scheme. It's about the players."
So, for the fourth time this season, the Redskins players took care of the mess that the Redskins players had gotten themselves into.
CAPTION: Washington Redskins' Stephen Davis is safe in end zone after 50-yard touchdown run. He gained 189 yards on 37 carries.