For the second time this season, the Washington Redskins rebounded from a dispiriting loss with a decisive victory, routing the Chicago Bears, 48-22, before a crowd of 77,621 at Redskins Stadium yesterday.
The Redskins' offense shredded Chicago's defense, unleashing a barrage that flaunted its many weapons, starting with Stephen Davis's 76-yard touchdown run 25 seconds into the game.
And while the maligned Redskins defense surrendered 445 yards, it forced five turnovers, including an interception that defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson returned 88 yards to give Washington a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into the game.
The Redskins were so dominant, building a 45-0 lead with 22 minutes left in the game, that Coach Norv Turner pulled quarterback Brad Johnson and Davis late in the third quarter. Only then did the game take a sloppy turn, with the Bears' backup quarterback, rookie Cade McNown, throwing two touchdown passes in 79 seconds.
But coming on the heels of the previous week's 38-20 loss to the NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys, yesterday's win hardly could have been sweeter for the Redskins (5-2), who again sit atop the division after Dallas's 34-24 loss to Indianapolis.
"It reconfirms what I know," Turner said. "This team has great character. This team has a lot of players who've been through a lot of different situations. And one loss or one poor performance or one problem along the way isn't going to stop these guys."
Washington got big plays from its big players, for starters. Johnson threw for two touchdowns and scrambled for another, patting his helmet in an atypical display of glee as he barreled one yard into the end zone after nearly fumbling the snap on a busted play. He completed 15 of 25 passes for 204 yards in three quarters of duty, with no interceptions.
Davis rushed for two scores and piled up 143 yards--122 in the first half--on 12 carries. He frequently followed behind blocks by guards Tre Johnson and Keith Sims, who fended off Chicago's bruising defensive front despite a dislocated finger and broken thumb, respectively.
"He's too big to hit, too fast to catch," Tre Johnson said of Davis, who has 11 touchdowns this season. "He's a beast."
Wide receiver Michael Westbrook made some spectacular grabs, including a 13-yard touchdown reception.
But it was Wilkinson's interception return--for the first touchdown of his career--that set the tone for a game in which nearly everything went the Redskins' way, and the Bears (3-5) caused their own unraveling.
After marching his team to the Redskins 10 and trailing by only a touchdown, Bears quarterback Shane Matthews was hit by Marco Coleman as he dropped back to pass, causing the ball to flutter off Matthews's hand.
Wilkinson grabbed the ball and hustled his 313-pound frame up the field. Cornerback Darrell Green, a few paces behind, served as his escort, deflecting onrushing Bears while urging the lumbering Wilkinson along.
"Not in my wildest dreams did I think I could go 88 yards," Wilkinson said.
Neither, apparently, did the Bears.
"They were dead after that," Tre Johnson said. "We were so up, and they were so down. It was lost."
Brad Johnson said: "You hate to say it's a statement type of game, but it does leave a mark. It was a big step for us today."
While Turner said he was excited about the win, he was tempered in his emotions.
"None of us is giddy," Turner said. "We've got a lot of work to do."
Indeed, there were glitches that marred the Redskins' final statistics but didn't affect the outcome.
Johnson bobbled two snaps but salvaged the plays both times--running for the touchdown and improvising a completion to Brian Mitchell.
The Redskins led 45-0 with 6 minutes 37 seconds left in the third quarter when Turner decided to take his starting quarterback and running back out of the game. But before Rodney Peete and Skip Hicks could even get in the game, the Bears put two touchdowns on the board.
McNown, who had taken over after Matthews aggravated a pulled hamstring, hit Marcus Robinson with a 30-yard touchdown pass just beyond the reach of cornerback Champ Bailey. Chicago got the ball back after Mike Sellers fumbled an onside kick. Three plays later, McNown found Robinson with a 52-yard pass, again beating Bailey.
In the bizarre sequence that followed, the Bears tried three consecutive onside kicks and the Redskins recovered none. The first was negated by a penalty. The second was out of bounds. On the third, also out of bounds, possession was awarded to the Redskins.
Place kicker Brett Conway padded the Redskins' victory margin by hitting field goals of 50 and 51 yards. A final attempt, from 53 yards, was blocked. Brad Johnson, serving as holder for the injured Matt Turk (unable to play because of back spasms), recovered the ball by falling on it, then disappeared under a mound of Chicago jerseys.
For Turner, the victory was measured both on and off the scoreboard.
In practice all week, he had stressed protecting the football against a Chicago defense that had forced more fumbles than any other team in the NFL. Instead, it was the Redskins who forced five turnovers, while losing possession just twice (on Sellers's fumble and a fourth-quarter interception by Peete, who completed 2 of 8 passes for eight yards.)
Turner's team had not scored in the first quarter of its last four games, so he wanted a fast start against Chicago. Yesterday, the Redskins held a 31-0 lead by halftime.
With a healthy lead well in hand, the Redskins followed Turner's script: They controlled the clock, moved the ball consistently and wrapped up the victory.
Asked to explain the Redskins' ability to rebound with such fire from the loss in Dallas, Brad Johnson offered two theories.
"We're a very young group," he said. "So either we have a lot of poise and we don't panic, or, in some areas, we may be naive and we keep playing football.
"We have a lot of guys that love to play. To be 5-2, it's special. We have the chance to make something great happen here this season."