The Washington Redskins know it's only the preseason, and that the success of a season is not determined in August. But they have been insisting that they sense something special is brewing, and they provided more support for that contention tonight.
The starting defense continued to smother its preseason opponents and quarterback Brad Johnson got the first-team offense in gear. The reserves made some second-half mistakes but added a pair of touchdowns, and the Redskins made it three wins in three preseason games by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-14, at Three Rivers Stadium.
Coach Norv Turner did not discount the importance of his team's preseason victories, saying, "For our football team, it's critical. We have a lot of new guys. When you win, you build confidence. You build trust in the guy playing next to you, and each phase of the team builds trust in the other. . . . It builds energy, trust, confidence -- all those things that are important to the football team."
The Redskins took a 13-0 halftime lead. The defense, which has yielded only three first-half points in three preseason games, harassed quarterback Kordell Stewart and limited the Steelers to 93 yards of total offense before the break. Johnson played only three series and led the Redskins to points on two of them, teaming up with wide receiver Michael Westbrook for a 41-yard touchdown pass.
"The real thing starts with the regular season," said Johnson, who was 4 of 6 for 92 yards. "We all know that. But you see guys making plays and guys not lining up in the wrong spots. We're not making mistakes. It's all very positive."
Brett Conway provided a pair of first-half field goals, leading Turner to all but name him the Redskins' place kicker for the regular season. Conway already had the clear advantage over Cary Blanchard and rookie Jeff Hall, and helped himself again tonight.
Not much seemed to change in the Redskins' battles for starting jobs. Stephen Davis got the meaningful playing time at tailback and almost certainly will remain ahead of Skip Hicks for Friday's preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Sept. 12 regular season opener vs. the Dallas Cowboys.
Andy Heck again started at left offensive tackle and had no glaring mistakes. Kipp Vickers, not Joe Patton, got the playing time behind Heck, increasing the likelihood that Patton will be released before the regular season. NFL teams must make their first round of roster cuts on Tuesday.
Rodney Peete followed Johnson at quarterback and seemed to widen his lead over Casey Weldon for the backup spot. Peete was 6 of 11 for 99 yards, including a third-quarter touchdown pass of 38 yards to wide receiver James Thrash that increased the Redskins' lead to 20-0.
The Steelers (1-2) managed to cut it to 20-14. But Hicks had a two-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter after Weldon's scoring pass to rookie tight end Robert Tardio was nullified when Vickers was penalized for failing to report to the officials before he lined up in an eligible-receiver position.
Redskins defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson dislocated his left ring finger and defensive end Kenard Lang sprained his left ankle, but team officials said neither injury is serious. Recently signed wide receiver Irving Fryar did not play.
The Redskins' starting offense produced only three first-half points in last week's victory over the Buffalo Bills, and went three plays and out on its first possession tonight. But on their next two possessions before Johnson's exit, the Redskins got 10 points.
Johnson got things going with a 19-yard completion to fullback Larry Centers. He connected with wide receiver Albert Connell for 13 yards to get the Redskins into Steelers territory. On third and six from the Pittsburgh 41-yard line, the Steelers blitzed but Johnson and Westbrook made them pay. Johnson got rid of the ball quickly under pressure. Westbrook made the catch and slipped inside cornerback Deshea Townsend, then raced to the end zone. Conway's extra point made it 7-0.
"That's the kind of play we need out of Michael this year," Johnson said.
The Redskins followed with an imposing defensive series. Linebacker Greg Jones dropped Pittsburgh running back Richard Huntley for a three-yard loss on first down. Lang hurried Stewart into a throw-away on second down, and defensive end Marco Coleman worked his way around Pittsburgh offensive tackle Wayne Gandy for a third-down sack.
"We're coming together as a defensive unit," Redskins linebacker Shawn Barber said. "We knew it was going to take some time to do that. It's good to see it happening now. We worked hard in training camp. We've worked hard in the preseason. If you're going to play these games, you might as well play well and win."
The Redskins got the ball back at their 44, and Westbrook immediately went 22 yards with a reverse. He was called for offensive pass interference to wipe out a long gain, but running back Brian Mitchell went 19 yards with a third-and-23 screen pass and Conway was true from 46 yards for a 10-0 advantage.
The defense continued to overwhelm the Pittsburgh offense, prompting regular booing by the Three Rivers Stadium crowd. Middle linebacker Derek Smith dumped Huntley for a five-yard loss on a second-down screen play, and safety Leomont Evans broke up Stewart's pass on third down.
Peete took over for Johnson on the Redskins' fourth offensive series, and they continued to roll. Peete hit Connell for a 20-yard gain on the final play of the first quarter. Mitchell ran for four yards on third and three from the Pittsburgh 26. Peete couldn't get the Redskins into the end zone, but Conway connected from 33 yards to extend the lead to 13-0.
Stewart's running got the Steelers into Redskins territory, but Kris Brown sent a 51-yard field goal try wide right. The Steelers had two more possessions in the half but couldn't score. The Redskins made it 20-0 just under five minutes into the second half, and Townsend again was the defensive victim. He was beaten deep by Thrash on a pump-and-go maneuver, and Peete put the ball on target for a 38-yard touchdown.
The Steelers broke through late in the third quarter. On fourth and three from the Washington 45, veteran backup quarterback Mike Tomczak got the ball to wide receiver Troy Edwards, who reversed direction and worked his way down the sideline to the end zone. Running back Amos Zereoue's nine-yard touchdown run got the Steelers to 20-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Redskins injuries suffered Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers:
DE Kenard Lang -- sprained ankle
LB Twan Russell --
DT Dan Wilkinson --