Deion Sanders used to make off with Daniel Snyder's money; now he takes footballs away from his old team. Joe Gibbs used to trot toward the locker room at halftime with a 10-0 lead and that was that; Redskins win.
Yet these are new and deflating times for Washington's discombobulated football team, which was dealt its most severe blow of the season, a 17-10 loss to the bruising Baltimore Ravens before 90,287 fans last night at FedEx Field, who witnessed the rebirth of a vaunted and malicious defense.
It is one thing for Sanders, a 37-year-old, coming-out-of-retirement cornerback, to enjoy a better renaissance than Gibbs, the revered Redskins coach. It is quite another for Sanders to reclaim the nickname of "Prime Time," picking off his first interception in four years, or for Ray Lewis to embody the grit and perseverance of his city against all those perceived poseurs and potentates from the nation's capital. And, finally, for the Redskins to fold in the crucible of the fourth quarter.
Some Battle of the Beltways, no?
"Everyone knows who owns it now," Ravens guard Ed Mulitalo said. "If you look up momentum in the dictionary, then you can put this game in there."
Trailing 10-0, the Ravens reeled off 17 consecutive points, seizing Washington's momentum with touchdowns from their defense and punt-return team in the third quarter. More than two-thirds of the crowd had come to see if Gibbs could resuscitate the Redskins from their worst start since Marty Schottenheimer began 0-5 in 2001.
They shuffled out knowing that no amount of pixie dust from the past could stop Baltimore's menacing defense and, more humiliating, that they don't even have the best team to play in Maryland.
Running back Jamal Lewis finished the victory off, putting his head down, grinding out yards and first downs against a defense measured as the National Football League's best against the run.
"My central focus for all of us is that we stay together," Gibbs said afterward, almost solemnly. "The only way to get out of this is to hang tough and stay together. I told our guys I think we have a good football team. We've got to find a way to make some of these things go our way. I feel bad for our guys."
In a scrap between anemic offenses and awesome defenses, the Ravens weathered the Redskins' intensity early and came out after intermission to completely take Washington and its ineffective quarterback, Mark Brunell, off their game. Gibbs and the Redskins fell to 1-4, while the Ravens improved to 3-2.
The onslaught began when Ravens safety Ed Reed sneaked around the right side of Brunell as he dropped back from his own 37-yard line on a third-and-six play. His right arm came down on Brunell's throwing arm, dislodging the ball. Reed picked it up and rumbled 22 yards into the end zone.
B.J. Sams cradled a punt and bolted 78 yards on Baltimore's next possession, zigzagging past Tom Tupa, the Washington punter, and tiptoeing down the right sideline to push the Ravens into the lead with 8 minutes20 seconds remaining in the quarter.
On it went. On Washington's next possession, Sanders -- who had last picked off a pass while a Redskin in 2000 -- leapt high to snag a Brunell pass intended for Laveranues Coles. Wade Richey converted a 33-yard field goal in the first few minutes of the fourth quarter. In 12 minutes, the game had swung like a pendulum, back to Baltimore for good.
Richey's field goal gave Baltimore a one-touchdown cushion. And with the Ravens defending as if they were back in their Super Bowl prime, that would be enough.
The build-up featured one of the game's most elusive objects, Jamal Lewis, squaring off against the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense. Lewis won the battle, rushing for 97 of his 116 yards in the second half.
For much of the night, Lewis was bottled up early by the Redskins' swarming linebackers, able to earn only 19 yards on 10 carries in the first half. But the all-pro running back gained a measure of his confidence back with a 26-yard run off the right side of the line to end the third quarter, 15 minutes dominated by the Ravens.
Gone for Baltimore was the memory of Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller throwing three interceptions in the first half, including a costly miscue with 1:15 left in the second quarter that led to Brunell's only touchdown pass, a seven-yard, roll-out strike to a crossing Chris Cooley that gave the Redskins a 10-0 lead at intermission.
Brunell proved to be the worst of two struggling quarterbacks, completing 13 of 29 passes for 83 yards and one interception. His longest completion was only 14 yards and on two fourth-quarter possessions he failed to lead the Redskins to a first down. Baltimore held the Redskins to 107 net yards.
As civic pride goes, Ravens-Redskins runs tepid next to any of Washington's NFC East rivals. Close proximity and all, the teams have played only three times since Art Modell shipped his Cleveland franchise to Baltimore. The backyard fervor was nothing like Redskins-Cowboys or Cowboys-Eagles. Severe disagreements were at a premium. Men in Ray Lewis jerseys and women wearing Clinton Portis jerseys could be seen chatting amicably between plays.
If Baltimore was merely another blip on the Washington schedule, the Ravens more resemble a franchise begging for respect from an established D.C. fan base quite sure of its passion for the Redskins.
In 1981, Gibbs's first season, the Redskins began 0-5. But that was before four Super Bowl appearances and a Hall of Fame induction. Criticism about his game management and play-calling were starting to take root. He challenged another call made by the officiating crew and lost last night, losing a timeout when it was deemed that, as officials initially ruled, Brunell was not in the act of passing when Reed came to knock it away, recover it and run in for the score.
Gibbs, who actually hired a former NFL referee to negotiate him through the wilderness of instant replay, is now 1-4 on the season when it comes to challenging calls.
To ensure the coach knew the team's legions had his back, a banner hung over the seats along the 50-yard line. It read, "IN GIBBS WE STILL TRUST."
There are not many 1-4 deities left in the NFL, which at this juncture in the Redskins' reeling season says something about loyalty, denial or both.
"I think the biggest thing for all of us is to hang tough," Gibbs said. "From a football team standpoint, it's tough to do. It's a miserable situation."