Redskins 27, Falcons 0
After an 11-year hiatus, Coach Joe Gibbs returned to the NFL with a shroud of secrecy covering the offensive wizardry that led to his three Super Bowls with the Washington Redskins. Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach for defense, has also displayed a bland version of his blitz-heavy defense during Washington's first four preseason games.
In the preseason finale last night, starting with a trick play on the first offensive series, Gibbs provided a few more wrinkles. And Williams showed the most elements thus far of his attacking defense as the Redskins pounded quarterback Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons en route to a 27-0 victory last night at FedEx Field.
The performance -- spurred by a dominating first quarter -- punctuated an up-and-down preseason for Washington, and provided some self-assurance following last week's debacle against the St. Louis Rams.
"I was proud of our guys. We bounced back from a real poor performance last week," Gibbs said. "It was all the way across the board. I wish we could count it, but now we start for real."
The outcome was secondary to Washington finishing the game without suffering any major injuries after a training camp that left the club resembling patients in a MASH unit. The Redskins used the game for a final look at players before Sunday's deadline for trimming the roster to 53 before the regular season opener on Sept. 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field. "The real bullets start flying next week when we open up," said wide receiver Laveranues Coles.
Tailback Ladell Betts, who missed the first three exhibition games with a strained hamstring, appeared to cement a spot on the final roster as Clinton Portis's backup. Betts showed a mix of power, slithery moves and receiver skills that caused Washington to select him in the second round of the 2002 draft. Betts ran for 27 yards on nine carries, scoring two touchdowns.
"It was definitely a relief," Betts said, chuckling. "I bet it was a relief for the coaches, too."
Gibbs said: "Having him healthy certainly helps up back there. I think he's a good athlete. Our problem is that we couldn't evaluate him."
After choppy play during the quarterback competition, Mark Brunell looked like the veteran he is with one of the best quarterback ratings in NFL history. Playing in only Washington's first series, Brunell -- who was named the starter over Patrick Ramsey this week -- finished 4 of 6 for 51 yards.
During the preseason, the Falcons had treated Vick like a rare work of art, with limited public displays: he took only 24 snaps in the team's games. The Falcons wanted to protect their dynamic quarterback, who missed most of last season with a broken leg. But Washington's defense, led by linebacker LaVar Arrington, left Vick dazed, and he was removed from the game after taking only five snaps.
"We opened it up a little bit," cornerback Fred Smoot said of the defensive plays. "We called a few unexpected calls."
On the first possession of Atlanta's third series, Arrington blitzed up the middle before slamming Vick to the ground like a rag doll. The announced crowd of 72,892 cheered loudly as the ball jarred loose. And middle linebacker Antonio Pierce picked it up to gallop into the end zone, giving Washington a 24-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. Vick didn't return after being replaced by Matt Schaub.
Washington's performance was so impressive that garbage time came early, even for an exhibition game. Washington was so dominating in the first quarter that it possessed the ball for about 11 minutes.
By late in the third quarter, the spectators started the wave. Burgundy and gold moved from section to section of FedEx Field, causing a few Redskins players to look toward the crowd. And by the fourth quarter, fans were dancing in the aisles.
On Washington's first offensive play, wideout Rod Gardner went into motion to the left and took a Brunell handoff to sprint right. By the time Atlanta realized the chicanery, Gardner dashed 16 yards to the crowd's delight.
"We kept them on their toes, but you didn't see nothing," Gardner said smiling devilishly. "Next week, we'll be ready to go."
On first and 10 from the Atlanta 26, Betts caught a short pass and used some silky spin moves for an 11-yard gain. Betts punctuated the drive on first and goal from the Atlanta 5 by galloping left behind sturdy blocking to give Washington a 7-0 led.
The Redskins' defense -- which was coming off a shoddy performance in last week's 28-3 loss to St. Louis -- didn't wait long to make amends.
On Atlanta's first possession, cornerback Shawn Springs blitzed from the left side. Vick used his Houdini-like moves to momentarily elude Springs before floating a pass that was intercepted by safety Matt Bowen.
Even when Washington's offense didn't make big gains in the first quarter, it executed its plays crisply. On second and four from the Atlanta 8-yard line, wideout Darnerien McCants came around on a fake reverse for a two-yard gain by Betts. (The play seemed to be set up by Washington's trickery to start the game, but Atlanta defended well this time.)
In the three seasons that Gibbs won the Super Bowl, his teams finished a combined 3-9 (1-3, 2-2 and 0-4) in preseason games. This training camp, Gibbs expressed concern early about the running game and quarterback play. But the more Gibbs seems to open up his play book, the better the offense plays.
Midway through the first quarter, on second and goal from the Falcons' 7-yard line, wide receiver James Thrash went into a herky jerky motion for several seconds that confused Atlanta enough for a six-yard gain. Though the play was nullified by an Atlanta penalty, Betts promptly plowed up the middle for a three-yard touchdown run to give Washington a 17-0 lead.
Running backs John Simon (shoulder) and Rock Cartwright (shoulder) didn't play, leaving speedster Sultan McCullough room for a final push to make the squad. He ran for 75 yards on 23 carries, making Gibbs's final decisions this weekend even tougher. The Redskins are expected to keep two of the four tailbacks.
After missing the past three exhibitions with a sprained knee, Arrington looked in Pro Bowl form, blitzing or roaming from sideline to sideline to make plays. Defensive end Phillip Daniels quietly made his preseason debut after missing much of training camp with an abdominal strain.