The Washington Redskins will try to complete a Giants Stadium double play today when they face the desperate New York Jets.
The Redskins (1-1) made the short train trip yesterday for their second consecutive game at the Meadowlands, where they routed the New York Giants, 50-21, last Sunday. Today they will attempt to push their record above .500 for the first time since they ended the 1997 season at 8-7-1. To do so, they will have to beat a team that may be playing for its season. The Jets are 0-2 and facing a rugged early schedule that only gets more difficult.
"It's a game they need," Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson said. "It's a game we feel like can get us over the hump."
A week ago, the Redskins rebounded from a deflating loss to the Dallas Cowboys by amassing the franchise's highest point total in a road game. Today's game represents an early crossroads in their season. With a win, they would have a chance to take a 3-1 record into their bye week by beating the Carolina Panthers at home next week. A loss would put them back into a frustrating pattern of taking one step forward, then one step back.
"The thought of being 1-2, I don't like that thought," Coach Norv Turner said. "I don't even want to think about it. Everyone thinks a game is big after you lose. This is a bigger game than last week. It gives us a chance to get going in the direction we want to go."
The Redskins have the NFL's top-ranked offense, with 899 yards and 85 points in two games. Johnson is the league's top-rated passer and tailback Stephen Davis is the NFL's leading rusher. Wide receiver Michael Westbrook leads the NFC in receiving yards.
"If they keep this up," Jets Coach Bill Parcells said, "they'll be the Minnesota Vikings of 1999."
The Jets also began last season 0-2, but they won 12 of their final 14 regular season games, beginning with a 44-6 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3. They went on to the AFC championship game, and entered this season as a trendy Super Bowl pick.
But now Parcells has had to turn over his offense to Rick Mirer after starting quarterback Vinny Testaverde suffered a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury in the opener. And after facing the Redskins, the Jets play at Denver and at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"You've got to get some hope somewhere," Parcells said. "It's very important. We've got a tough road coming up."
Parcells assailed his players verbally in the locker room following last Sunday night's 17-3 loss to the Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., then surprised them with a fairly easy--by his standards--week of practice. The Redskins expect an all-out effort by the Jets this afternoon.
"They will be ready to play, I'm quite sure," Redskins tackle Andy Heck said.
Said Turner: "It's going to be a very physical football game, I know that. . . . I expect to get the Jets' best shot."
With Mirer at quarterback, the Jets likely will try to hand the ball to running back Curtis Martin as often as possible. Martin has vowed to have a 2,000-yard season, but is 1,870 yards shy after two games.
After beginning the season with hope that their defense would be dominant, the Redskins enter today ranked 25th against the rush and last overall. But they say they believe they have had only one truly bad quarter on defense this season--the fourth quarter against the Cowboys--and seven decent ones. The Giants' less-than-imposing offense moved the ball last week, but most of that occurred after the Redskins were in control.
When Mirer throws, he probably will look most often for wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. The Redskins likely will put rookie cornerback Champ Bailey on Johnson and hope Bailey has the same success he had against Michael Irvin in the opener before being sidelined by muscle cramps in his leg.
The Redskins' offense has been terrific for two weeks, and at first glance the Jets' defense looks like another easy mark. It's ranked 28th in the league, and opponents have completed 66 percent of their passes this season.
But Turner said: "I really believe this is the best defense we've played since we started the preseason."
The Redskins will try to be balanced again with Davis's running and Johnson's throwing. Johnson has gotten almost all of his key receivers--Westbrook and fellow wideout Albert Connell, fullback Larry Centers and tight end Stephen Alexander--involved in the offense. That means the Redskins have been succeeding even without major contributions from two potentially effective players, third-down running back Brian Mitchell and wide receiver Irving Fryar.
The pleasant surprise for the Redskins has been their offensive line creating running room for Davis and giving Johnson time to look downfield. "Those guys are bulldozing on the run," Johnson said, "and we're coming up big on the passing game when we need to."
Johnson has been sacked only twice in two games, both by the Cowboys. Last season, the Redskins allowed a team-record 61 sacks. The Jets undoubtedly will test the Redskins' pass blocking often with blitzes. If Johnson again has time to throw, Westbrook might be too big and strong for any defensive back the Jets could put on him.
"If we can pick up their blitz," Mitchell said, "we'll be successful."