After Sunday's 50-21 victory over the New York Giants, Washington Redskins Coach Norv Turner told his players essentially the same thing he told them after their season-opening collapse against Dallas. As he put it yesterday: "You win a game, and it's one game. If you score 50 points, you don't get bonus points. It's one win."
In other words, Turner told his players not to get so high that they become self-satisfied two games into the season, just as he told them after last week's loss not to get so low that they tighten up.
Among the most receptive listeners was wide receiver Michael Westbrook, who has pledged to become a team leader after four seasons of erratic results on and off the field. "We have to be consistent more than two games before we say anything about ourselves," said Westbrook, who now has nine receptions for 218 yards and two touchdowns. "Two games is two games."
The rout of the Giants evened the Redskins' record at 1-1 and set performance marks for several players.
Running back Stephen Davis gained 126 yards on 23 carries, and his three rushing touchdowns tied a team record for touchdowns by one player in a single game. Quarterback Brad Johnson became the NFL's top-rated passer, with a 125.9 rating, after completing 20 of 28 throws for 231 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Given the disheartening way the Redskins lost to Dallas, squandering a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead, Turner said the victory in Week 2 was critical. On defense, he awarded a game ball to defensive end Marco Coleman, who forced one fumble and kept pressure on quarterback Kent Graham.
The five offensive linemen also received game balls for holding the Giants' defense without a sack and helping Davis and Johnson to outstanding days.
Though two games hardly make a season, as Turner stressed repeatedly, the statistical difference between this year and last is striking.
Through their first two games, the Redskins' offense has scored 85 points and compiled 899 net yards, including 600 passing yards. After two games a year ago, the offense had scored 34 points and compiled 653 net yards, including 440 passing yards.
Johnson has thrown no interceptions, whereas three had been hurled to date last year. And the line has given up two sacks in as many games, versus 12 through two games last year.
"I'm not praising them yet," said offensive line coach Russ Grimm. "We had a good game. We can do better. . . . We still had three to four mental mistakes up front. We had some pass protections that we turned loose. The one, Brad side-stepped it and made a great throw down the field.
"How good we can be? That remains to be seen. I don't think they should start resting on their laurels yet."
Turner said he felt the key to Sunday's victory was that the Redskins committed no turnovers against a defense that had forced five the previous week.
But as he reviewed film yesterday, Turner said he was struck by the opportunities for the Redskins to continue improving.
The team needs more consistency out of its special teams unit, Turner said, adding that he felt confident it would come.
And while Johnson hasn't gotten entirely comfortable with the offense, Turner said he has shown the physical skills, mental acumen and intangibles, such as toughness and competitiveness, to keep any unease from showing up in his play.
"The biggest thing right now, when the plays are there to be made, they're being made," Turner said. "You're not inhibited [calling plays] with a guy like Brad."
Johnson's accuracy and grit seem to have earned the quick confidence of his teammates.
Guard Tre Johnson said he got pumped up when Brad Johnson ran 12 yards for a crucial first down as the third quarter expired. That drive led to the Redskins' final touchdown and biggest lead, 50-14.
"Brad is outstanding," Johnson said. "He's a beast."
Despite Turner's call for temperance, Sunday's victory lightened the mood and lifted spirits at Redskin Park, where cigar smoke hung in the air.
After the team flew back from New York, a group of players gathered at Coleman's house to watch the late NFL game on TV and then went out together. According to Westbrook, who was part of the group, Redskins players haven't gone out together in his four years with the team.
"We've never done that; we've never acted like guys that like each other, who are like a family-type thing," said Westbrook, who two years ago attacked Davis on the sideline during a training camp practice.
"My first or second year, nobody said two words to me, my whole first two years. It was nuts. I'm like, 'This is not the way the game is supposed to be. It's a team thing, and we're supposed to act like it, and we're supposed to be a family.' "
Asked what accounted for the transformation, Westbrook said he didn't know.
"But we have some great personalities on this team," he added. "Everybody is just so cool. I love it. . . . It feels like a family here."