The Redskin secondary, utilizing the bump-and-run defense to near perfection, turned quarterback Steve Bartkowski's afternoon into a nightmare in Washington's 16-7 upset of the Atlanta Falcons today.
"They just took us out of our game plan after the first drive," Bartkowski said. "They were playing bump and run in the secondary most of the day and we couldn't hit anything long. Bump and run tends to take the short stuff away from you."
Washington's defensive backs took almost everything away from Bartkowski, who entered the game as the NFC's leading passer with a 59 percent completion average. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound California graduate finished the day six of 26 and had three passes intercepted, two by Joe Lavender, another by Lemar Parrish.
"The statistics say I had a terrible day and obviously I had a bad one," Bartkowski said, "but give them credit. They had a good pass rush all day. When you've got guys going one on one in the secondary you need time to let them get open. They never gave us that time."
Conversely, Washington quarterback Joe Theismann had all kinds of time as the offensive line allowed Atlanta just one sack and picked up the Falcon blitzes.
"I don't know whether they were reading real well or if they just guessed right a lot," said Falcon linebacker Greg Brezina. "But they seemed to pick up all our blitzes. Especially on that deep post that Danny Buggs ran."
The deep post Brezina mentioned set up Washington's only touchdown of the afternoon. It came with 1:21 left in the first half and carried from the Atlanta 42 to the one.
"It was my fault," said cornerback Rolland Lawrence. "I guessed that he was going to turn in and I went for the big play, I gambled, you know, that's my style. He just beat me off the play."
To a man, the Falcons were impressed with Theismann, who completed 19 of 26 for 233 yards.
"He just didn't get the protection last year that he did today," said safety Ray Easterling. "I've always thought he was a good quarterback who could be a great quarterback. He was super today."
"They're playing as a team now, not fighting each other like last year," added Brezina. "Those guys are really working to protect Theismann now. You give him the kind of time he had today, and he's going to get the job done."
Bartkowski did not get the job done for the Falcons. He and Coach Leeman Bennett said they could tell they were in trouble early.
"Their secondary played excellent, Bartkowski said. "I had the feeling pretty early it was going to be one of those days. It seemed like everything we called, they had the answer for."
"They just physically whipped us," Bennett said. "In the second half we ended up relying on the pass because they shut down the run on us. They came up with the big plays from the start and we never did."
After Atlanta's opening drive, Redskin cornerbacks Lavendar and Parrish completely shut down the Falcon wide receivers as Bartkowski kept trying to go deep.
"You know they can score in a second," Lavender said. "And you know they're going to try to go deep. But you can't sit back or they'll throw inside on you. You just have to play aggressively and hope that's enough."
"All their guys were hitting hard," said running back Bubba Bean, held to just 11 yards on seven carries. "The fact that they were able to cover one on one in the secondary made it a lot easier for their guys up front. We couldn't get too many double teams."
As Bartkowski pointed out, the Washington linemen, and occasionally outside linebackers Brad Dusek and Rich Milot on the blitz, coming hard all day, didn't give him time to wait for his men open deep.
"They just had an excellent game plan," he said. "Take away the short game and make us beat them deep. We couldn't do it."
While Bartkowski was surrounded most of the day -- he was sacked three times -- Theismann only went down twice, once on the Falcons only sack of the day by Jeff Yeates, and once, with two minutes left, when he was decked by Mike Lewis. A small brawl ensued.
"I guess I was frustrated," Lewis said. "It might have been a cheap shot. It shouldn't have happened and I'm sorry it did. I apologized to Joe. I think he's a fine quarterback. Ron Saul (who came to Theismann's defense) was just doing his job." Lewis later went into the Washington dressing room and again apologized to Theismann.
Perhaps Lawrence, the feisty cornerback, summed the day up best. "We have the ability," he said. "We had it today too. But they played harder than we did. That's why they're 4-1 and we're 2-3."