Running back Stephen Davis walked into Redskin Park shortly after noon yesterday without a limp and trying to keep up with his 1-year-old toddler, Stephen Jr. The father wasn't moving quite as quickly as the scooting son, but Davis said there is no question he will be able to operate at full speed Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium.
Davis, the leading rusher in the NFC with 491 yards, sprained his left ankle early in the fourth quarter of the Redskins' 24-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night in Tempe and was replaced by backup Skip Hicks. Today he said he was "a little sore, but it's fine. There is no question about Dallas. I've got to be there. I'll get treatment on it and I'll be ready to go."
Trainer Bubba Tyer said yesterday that Davis could practice during the team's first workout Wednesday, and Coach Norv Turner also indicated Davis "would surely be ready by Sunday."
That was grand news for a Redskins team that gained a season-high 167 yards on the ground against Arizona and averaged 4.9 yards a carry on a night the offense, despite a sluggish start, gained 410 yards. Davis had 91 yards on 18 carries and Hicks added 45 in nine attempts, including a 14-yard touchdown with 2 minutes 3 seconds remaining to ice the team's fourth straight victory.
"The most important thing to me is that after it's a seven-point game [in the fourth quarter], we go 66 yards in eight plays and put the game away," Turner said. "And Skip comes in and we keep it going. It shows me we do have depth.
"In training camp, he and Stephen were that far apart," Turner added, holding two fingers about an inch apart. "You make one a starter and people think the other guy's not what he should be. . . . That's not the case. Skip hasn't gotten a lot of chances, but he's a really good football player. We know injuries are a big part of the game. If Stephen is healthy, he's going to go. If there's a spot to put Skip in, we'll do it."
The news was not quite as good for pass-rushing specialist Ndukwe Kalu, who showed up at the team's facility on a day off for the players with his left foot encased in a walking boot. He suffered what was described as an avulsion fracture to his foot and will miss the Dallas game, and could be out for several more weeks after that.
"It happened on the last series," Kalu said. "I was cutting, and it just popped. No one hit me. It's been bothering me for a month. I'll rest it for two days and see how the pain is."
Kalu usually enters games in third-down passing situations in place of Dan Wilkinson, with Kenard Lang moving from defensive end to tackle. Defensive line coach Earl Leggett said yesterday Wilkinson likely will stay in the game now and Lang will remain at defensive end in third-down situations.
Turner said he was delighted with his previously maligned defensive unit against the Cardinals after they gave up a season-low 274 yards of offense. A week after bringing in veteran coach Bill Arnsparger as a defensive consultant to coordinator Mike Nolan, the Redskins forced the Cardinals into seven three-plays-and-punt situations in 14 Arizona possessions and another four-plays-and-out series. They also had three interceptions to end drives.
Despite that showing, the Redskins still are ranked last in total defense in the league, 25th against the run and last against the pass. Playing on the road Sunday against a Dallas team that overcame a 21-point, fourth-quarter deficit to prevail in the teams' wild meeting in the season opener, the Redskins know to a man that stingy defensive trend will have to continue in order to claim sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
"That was an outstanding defensive performance, as well as we've played all year," Turner said. "We created turnovers [three interceptions, all by rookie cornerback Champ Bailey, including a 59-yard touchdown] and we were able to pressure the quarterback. Overall we were very aggressive, and we did it throughout the game. I thought we played with consistency for four quarters."
The same could not be said for the offense, which struggled occasionally against a constantly blitzing Cardinals defense. Brad Johnson threw his first two interceptions of the season in the first half, but came back nicely in the second half. He completed 11 of his 14 throws for 101 yards and his only touchdown pass, a one-yard dart to tight end Stephen Alexander in the back of the end zone on a perfectly executed play-action fake.
Johnson, second in the league in passing with a 106.5 quarterback rating, said he was even more encouraged about his team's ability to win on the road against a pesky divisional foe despite not playing up to its previous high-octane standards.
"It shows me we're a good team," Johnson said. "Things aren't always going to go as smooth as they were. Offensively, we didn't panic, we didn't compound the mistakes we made and lose the ballgame. That 410 yards is pretty impressive. I'd much rather have an ugly win than a pretty loss. We've already had a pretty loss.
"I've been around too long to know that no one remembers how many points you scored. Two weeks from now, people will only remember that you win. Their defense didn't do anything to confuse us. We didn't execute as well as we'd like. You can put any excuse on it you want, maybe the bye week. But I'm happy with it."
So, too, was Turner, who was back on the ground with his team at 5 a.m. after flying home from Phoenix, then resumed the grind of preparing for the Cowboys by early afternoon.
Asked yesterday if he thinks his team is now among the elite in the NFC, Turner said: "We're a good football team. Other people will want to say where we rank. I'm not into that. The only time it matters is after 16 games. . . . I do think people will look at us and say, 'That's a good football team.' "