The members of the Washington Redskins' beleaguered defense didn't do much basking in the glow of yesterday's 38-36 triumph over the Carolina Panthers at Redskins Stadium. They were quick to admit that if the Redskins are going to be one of the NFL's better teams this season, the defense has to start doing its part.
"We have an offense that's very powerful," defensive end Marco Coleman said. "But defensively, we have to play with some urgency. . . . On defense, we have to step it up. I'm not excluding myself. If we want to be a team that not only gets into the playoffs but gets through the playoffs, we need to step it up."
Said Kenard Lang, the team's other starting defensive end: "Right now we're not playing our part. We're not holding up our end."
There were few, if any, defensive players taking an all-is-well approach in the Redskins' postgame locker room, even though the team improved its record to 3-1 with its third straight win since its calamitous fourth-quarter collapse in the season-opening defeat to the Dallas Cowboys.
"The defense, we have to play with a lot more discipline," Coleman said. "They're little things--missed tackles, missed assignments. They're all things that can be corrected. But time is slipping away. We can't keep making excuses. We can't just say, 'We'll get better.' We need to get better now. Time is running out."
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said, "Our defensive players are concerned about what's happening, and rightfully so."
The Panthers amassed 481 total yards yesterday against a Redskins defense that began the afternoon ranked last in the league. Running back Tim Biakabutuka had 123 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter alone, scoring on runs of 60, 1 and 45 yards.
The Redskins' offense is averaging 37.5 points and 412.5 yards a game this season. But the defense is surrendering 29.5 points and 433 yards per contest.
"For a guy to get 100 yards in the first quarter, that can't happen," Coleman said. "We can't keep putting our offense in that position. . . . He did a good job of seeing things and running. But there are things we did defensively to allow it to happen."
Lang said: "I'm happy we won, but we need to play better on defense. We've got Arizona coming up. Jake Plummer can turn it on. We play Miami. [Dan] Marino will eat us up if we play like this."
During a preseason in which their starters yielded only six points in seven quarters of work, the Redskins had visions of having a competent--and perhaps dominant--defense this season. But Nolan conceded yesterday he was concerned even during the preseason, because the starters weren't playing entire games and opponents weren't preparing offensive game plans specifically for the Redskins.
Coach Norv Turner certainly is under pressure during this win-or-else season for the Redskins. But Nolan and special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel probably are under even more intense scrutiny at this point, with their units continuing to struggle.
Nolan said yesterday that he doesn't foresee making any lineup changes. He called the mistakes the Redskins are making on defense "very correctable."
Nolan said: "I don't know how far away we are. I'd like to think we're right around the corner."
Nolan praised the play of the team's defensive line. The Redskins' young linebackers--Shawn Barber, Derek Smith and Greg Jones--are making mistakes, but Nolan also cited a lack of help against the run from members of the club's secondary.
"The secondary, they're supposed to stop it from going 60," Nolan said. "If it gets to the defensive backs, that's a problem. But if it gets there, they have to stop them."
Nolan praised Biakabutuka, but added: "It wasn't just him. It was us."
Still, it's better to give up 36 points and win than to give up 36 points and lose, and the members of the Redskins' defense and special teams could take solace in the fact that they again were in a victorious locker room.
"We're happy about 3-1, but not satisfied with the way we've performed," Nolan said. "I'm not satisfied. I don't think you can be. I don't think any of our defensive guys are. [But] the key is to win. The key is to be part of winning, and I think we have been."
Said defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield: "We're not a big stat defense. We're not a big stat team. But we're winning. When your owner comes in and says, 'Good job,' that's the most important thing."
The Redskins have had special-teams breakdowns in each game this season, and that troubling trend continued yesterday. Brian Mitchell fumbled a kickoff return in the first quarter to set up Carolina's second touchdown, and only an instant-replay reversal erased his fourth-quarter fumble on a punt return that might have sealed a win for the Panthers. On consecutive second-half possessions, holding penalties on kickoff returns forced the Redskins to begin drives deep in their own territory.
Turner said that he and McDaniel had delivered verbal kicks in the pants to members of the special teams to make their blocks. That, he said, may have led to the mistakes. "Some guys were feeling the heat," Turner said.
Turner added: "As I told our team, we have a lot of work to do. . . . We have to get better."