The Washington Redskins finally had a few reasons to smile yesterday. Rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey and young running backs Kenny Watson and Ladell Betts gave them some slivers of hope for the future, and they avoided the indignity of losing at home to an expansion team by beating the Houston Texans, 26-10, before 70,291 at FedEx Field.
"It was a game where we should have beat those guys, and we did," Redskins Coach Steve Spurrier said. "I'm proud of our guys for coming to the ballpark ready to play."
It didn't help them in the jockeying for position at the top of the first round of April's draft, but the Redskins (6-9) weren't worrying about that. They ended a three-game losing streak and won for only the second time in the past seven games by beating the Texans (4-11).
"If people thought we were just going to lay down and coast the rest of the way, hopefully we answered that," Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "We're hanging on, just like everybody else. We played really well."
Watson and Betts, filling in for injured tailback Stephen Davis, stole the spotlight from the rookie quarterbacks, Ramsey and the Texans' David Carr. They had 20 carries apiece, with Betts amassing 116 rushing yards and Watson 110. They became the first pair of Redskins runners to have more than 100 yards in the same game since George Rogers and Keith Griffin on Nov. 3, 1985.
"That's probably the last thing anybody thought would happen," said Watson, who matched his single-game career rushing high set during a triumph at Seattle last month. "The offense did a great job. We got in front early. It's very positive. It's something to build on."
The Redskins hope it was a sign of things to come, with Davis likely to be released in the offseason for salary cap reasons. The club probably will turn over its running game to Betts, a rookie, and Watson, a second-year pro. Davis suffered a dislocated shoulder in the Redskins' previous game, a defeat at Philadelphia. He said yesterday he is not ruling out next Sunday's season finale against the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field, but Spurrier indicated he's making plans to go with Watson and Betts again.
"Both of them ran well," Spurrier said. "Certainly we plan on using them similarly next week . . . They're similar. They're pretty close talent-wise."
Said Betts, the Redskins' second-round draft choice last spring whose previous single-game rushing high as a pro had been 49 yards: "It was kind of shocking. I didn't realize we ran as many times as we did. I didn't realize we had as many yards as we did . . . I still have to improve every week. I still have to take another step forward. Hopefully they like what they see."
The Redskins finished with 247 rushing yards on 46 carries. Ramsey completed only 14 of 32 passes, but did his part. He threw for 190 yards and had touchdown passes of 12 yards to rookie fullback Rock Cartwright and 13 yards to wide receiver Derrius Thompson. The Redskins went without a turnover in Ramsey's first NFL win as a starter.
"It means a lot," Ramsey said. "It's not possible without all the guys. It's really not my win. It's special because it's my first one as a starter, but that was a team effort . . . I can play better, and I plan to try to find a way to do it."
The Redskins had an assortment of mistakes on special teams. Rookie punter Craig Jarrett had a pair of 10-yard punts, and had one blocked for Houston's lone touchdown. Place kicker Jose Cortez missed two of his three field goal attempts, and new punt returner Bruce Branch produced only three yards on two returns before suffering a severe ankle sprain and giving way to old punt returner Champ Bailey.
But the Texans could do nothing on offense. They entered the game with the league's last-ranked offense, and managed only 166 total yards. Carr completed only 12 of 31 passes for 112 yards. He threw an interception and fumbled three times, losing one. He was sacked three times, bringing his total for the season to 73 -- a single-season NFL record for one quarterback. Defensive end Bruce Smith had two sacks for the Redskins, bringing him within four of Reggie White's NFL career record.
Smith credited the Redskins' churn-it-out offense with keeping the defense rested, saying: "That's what I call ball control. That's what I call keeping your defense fresh. That gives your defense extra life. When everybody does their job, it makes it a little easier for every individual. I can't emphasize it enough: Every phase of this game works hand in hand."
Houston actually struck first, getting a field goal after the first of Jarrett's misadventures. His low, 36-yard punt after the Redskins' first offensive series led to a 16-yard return by Avion Black. The Texans took over at the Redskins 39-yard line, but could move only to the 28 and had to settle for place kicker Kris Brown's 46-yard field goal and a 3-0 edge.
The Redskins responded immediately, going 73 yards for a touchdown. Betts rumbled 23 yards through the middle for a first down at the Houston 40. Ramsey connected with Thompson on a deep sideline route for a 28-yard gain on the next play. With the first down at the Texans 12, the Redskins took a timeout, but emerged with a winner of a play. Ramsey faked a handoff to Cartwright, and the rookie fullback proceeded through the middle of the line of scrimmage. He ran past linebacker Jay Foreman and was uncovered when Ramsey lobbed the ball to him for an easy score.
The one positive development on the day for the Redskins' special teams increased the lead to 9-3 early in the second quarter. The Texans were forced to punt out of their own end zone, and Ladairis Jackson broke through and might have been in line to block Chad Stanley's kick. But Jackson was hauled down by Houston's Billy Miller, and the holding penalty in the end zone gave the Redskins, by rule, a safety.
Cortez pushed a 48-yard field goal try wide right on the Redskins' ensuing possession, but Ramsey directed an 80-yard touchdown drive late in the second quarter. Betts broke free for a 10-yard run, and Ramsey had completions to wide receiver Rod Gardner on consecutive plays for 13 and 33 yards. On first down from the 13, Ramsey's throw toward Thompson was high. But Thompson made a leaping grab above cornerback Kenny Wright at the 4, and eased into the end zone.
Cortez drew boos from the crowd by nudging a 46-yarder wide right in the third quarter. But the Redskins had the game well in hand, upping their lead to 20 points by driving toward Betts's three-yard touchdown run two plays into the fourth quarter. The Redskins recovered a fumble on the following kickoff but went backward, and Jarrett had his second 10-yard punt of the afternoon.
It only got worse the next time he took the field, when Houston's Jimmy McClain blocked his punt and Kevin Williams recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a Texans touchdown.
The Redskins, though, steadied themselves by bulldozing their way downfield on 10 straight running plays by Watson and Betts, taking more than 61/2 minutes off the clock and producing Cortez's 23-yard field goal for the game's final points with just less than three minutes to play.
"We were able to get ahead a little bit and sort of run the ball and try not to do anything stupid," Spurrier said. "Fortunately we didn't have to punt it again. That scared me there with about nine minutes left, that if we had to punt, we could be in trouble."
It was a rare day for a FedEx Field crowd to enjoy itself, yelling for veteran cornerback Darrell Green in his second-to-last game and chanting, "We want Dallas!" There hasn't been much for the Redskins or their fans to savor this season.
"When you've lost three in a row, certainly it means a little more," Spurrier said. "That was our battle cry this week: 'Let's try to have a victory party Sunday night.' It's been a long time since we tasted a win. It was important to play well and come to the ballpark competing. I think our guys have done a pretty decent job of it, although we could do better at times. I thought the effort was better than what we did last week."