When Washington Redskins tailback Stephen Davis came onto the field before yesterday's game against the New York Giants, he fell to one knee and asked for divine intervention to help him through the next 60 minutes. Hobbled by a bruised thigh, Davis hadn't been able to practice on Wednesday and was about to face one of the NFL's more punishing defenses.
Whether such intervention was involved is unclear. But four quarters later, there was no disputing that Davis had been the answer to his team's own prayer in the Redskins' 23-13 victory over the Giants. The victory, which Coach Norv Turner called one of the best wins he had been involved in, gave the Redskins (6-4) sole possession of the NFC East lead, since the Dallas Cowboys also lost to Arizona.
The pain in his thigh was constant, Davis admitted later. But few could tell, as the unassuming superstar of the Redskins' offense plowed his way to another stunning performance.
Davis gained a career-high 183 yards on 33 carries (for a 5.5-yard average) and rushed for his 15th touchdown this season. In doing so, Davis became the first rusher in the NFC to top 1,000 yards this season (he has 1,034 through 10 games). If the Indianapolis-Carolina game hadn't kicked off at 1 p.m., Davis might have been the first in the NFL to top the 1,000-yard mark. Colts rookie Edgerrin James did so hours before Davis.
It wasn't only Davis's injury that made his showing so impressive; it also was his opponent. Anchored by such bruisers as linebacker Jessie Armstead and defensive end Michael Strahan, the Giants had held opponents to 85.7 yards rushing per game and a measly 3.1 yards per carry this season.
Turner had told Davis before the game that he planned to run the ball against the Giants. And nothing could have thrilled guard Tre Johnson more.
"I love to mash," said Johnson, the hulking pulling guard who has bored holes for Davis time and again this season. "I like to run the ball and see him do his thing."
Davis did his thing and more, putting his head down and running dead at the Giants' powerful line. By halftime there were three colors of jerseys on the field: the Redskins' white, the Giants' blue and Davis's green, streaked front and back with grass stains.
Davis would have had a 16th touchdown in the second quarter had it not been for a holding call against wide receiver Albert Connell, who needlessly grabbed cornerback Jason Sehorn as Davis, well beyond Sehorn's reach, sprinted into the end zone. The score would have given the Redskins a 14-0 lead, but the penalty negated the play.
Davis's sole misstep--a fumble on the 1-yard line (which was officially credited to quarterback Brad Johnson) with 1 minute 48 seconds remaining in the half--wasn't his fault, Turner insisted.
"We should have called time out on the play," Turner said. "The ball should never have been handed to Stephen."
Explained Johnson, who shouldered the responsibility: "We tried to move a couple of different people to do a change-up because of our tendencies, and someone lined up wrong. . . .
"Looking back, I probably should have called a timeout. There was just a lot of commotion going on. I don't know why there was a fumble. I'm not sure exactly if I got my hands on it or if we just fumbled. That's a situation where we have to know our personnel, get set and I have to do a better job of calling a timeout."
The Giants drove downfield and hit a 44-yard field goal to close the half trailing 10-6.
The swing of momentum could have ended the Redskins' day.
But locked in a three-way tie for the NFC East lead, the Redskins knew their postseason hopes likely hung on the outcome of this game. It had been hyped by considerable trash-talking by the Giants, roundly embarrassed by their 50-21 loss to the Redskins in Week 2.
"They were talking a lot of smack before the game," Davis said, "but we knew what we had to do on the field. We played smash-mouth football with them."
The Redskins entered the rematch with plenty of questions. Their offense had turned over the ball six times in the previous week's loss to Philadelphia. Moreover, wide receiver Michael Westbrook was playing with a cast on his right forearm to stabilize a broken thumb. Turner insisted that Westbrook wouldn't be used as a decoy, but it became clear as the game unfolded he was little more than that. Johnson threw to him just once in the first half--a short, low ball--and the Giants left him in single coverage the rest of the game.
Connell had one of his poorer outings, to boot, marred by dropped balls and costly penalties.
Davis, once again, proved the Redskins' rock.
He rushed around left tackle Andy Heck for a one-yard touchdown to give the Redskins a 7-0 lead halfway through the first quarter.
In the third and fourth quarters, as the Redskins sought to protect their lead and keep the clock moving, Davis seemingly carried on nearly every play. He was spelled on five running plays by Skip Hicks, who carried for 14 yards. Davis said he didn't want to come out of the game, despite the pain and his fatigue.
"It was very sore; it was bothering me the whole night," Davis said. "But I knew I just had to keep it loose and not let it get stiff on me."
With the deep passing game struggling, Turner turned to short- and mid-range throws frequently. Davis helped there, too, with three receptions.
"He wanted to take the game over," Turner said. "He and the offensive line on that side of the ball did."
Rushing to Records
Redskins running back Stephen Davis passed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season during yesterday's victory over the Giants. On his current pace of 103.4 yards per game, Davis will finish the season with a team-record 1,654 yards on the ground. The 1,000-yard rushers in Redskins history:
Player Year Yards
Terry Allen 1996 1,353
John Riggins 1983 1,347
Terry Allen 1995 1,309
John Riggins 1984 1,239
Earnest Byner 1990 1,219
Larry Brown 1972 1,216
George Rogers 1986 1,203
John Riggins 1979 1,153
Larry Brown 1970 1,125
Mike Thomas 1976 1,101
George Rogers 1985 1,093
Reggie Brooks 1993 1,063
Earnest Byner 1991 1,048
Stephen Davis 1999 1,034
John Riggins 1978 1,014