Right guard Randy Thomas departed Redskins Park yesterday after a 45-minute weightlifting session in which only a couple of his teammates participated. Some ailing Washington Redskins players, such as defensive tackle Brandon Noble, were at the training facility for medical treatment.
There were few player sightings after Coach Joe Gibbs gave his team its first Monday off this season as a reward for Sunday's hard-fought 17-10 victory at Ford Field.
"Victory Monday," Noble said, happily, leaving Redskins Park.
Gibbs made the promise -- as long as the team played hard in victory -- before the Redskins defeated the Detroit Lions to improve to 3-5. And after reviewing film with his staff yesterday, Gibbs felt his decision was justified.
The game's highlight was Clinton Portis's touchdown pass on a halfback option to wideout Laveranues Coles early in the third quarter that snapped a tie at 3. Portis rushed for 147 yards on 34 carries, and Washington's stingy defense exploited one of the league's worst offenses. However, Gibbs was most impressed by the gritty, physical approach of his players and the special teams play, starring James Thrash and Tom Tupa.
"Thing I'm proudest of," Gibbs said, "is the way our guys fight."
Yesterday, Gibbs rattled off statistics that only a coach could love: Tupa's net punting average of 45.6; Washington's average drive began at the 30-yard line vs. Detroit's starting at its 25.
With the season at the halfway mark, some Redskins players viewed Sunday's outcome as indicative of the team's personality.
"I guess our team's identity is, by any means necessary," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "If that's how we're going to win, a team of ugly wins, I'll take 12 ugly wins. That's just how we are. We're not your flashy teams. We're not going to blow anybody out 50-0, that's just not us."
Washington certainly couldn't rely on its passing, which sputtered yet again. The best compliment Gibbs could offer quarterback Mark Brunell yesterday was that a quick trigger helped keep him without a sack against Detroit's ferocious front four.
The implication from defensive players about the team's identity is that the offense can't be counted on for many points. Gibbs still has higher expectations.
"The one part of our football team were we can still make the biggest improvement and the biggest jump for us is throwing the football," Gibbs said, whose offense is ranked 27th in the 32-team league, averaging 272.6 yards per game. "I think we can do that. We have talented guys there. To me that's an area we can really work hard on and a place where our team can really step up. So that's what I'm looking for."
Brunell has only two completions for more than 40 yards and none over 23 yards since Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns. Sunday, Brunell threw two passes in the second half, although Gibbs stressed yesterday the decision didn't have to do with not trusting his quarterback.
The Baltimore Ravens have the NFL's worst-ranked offense, nudging out the Lions (who produced 322 yards against Washington). Still, the Ravens are 5-3 -- second in the AFC North -- largely because of a sturdy defense, led by linebacker Ray Lewis, plus solid special teams play.
"All we need to do is really control the ball and make big plays on special teams to give us field position," Smoot said, "and the defense, we can go out there and pretty much make plays."
Washington's defense maintained its top-ranked status, allowing an average of 261 yards, edging out the Pittsburgh Steelers by six-tenths of a yard.
But Brunell said: "We're going to need our passing game to win a football game. Our identity right now is our ability to run the football. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see that we've struggled in the passing game."
Over the past two games, Gibbs has appeared to try pushing his offense out of its doldrums by employing chicanery. But Gibbs said yesterday that the spate of trick plays recently was coincidental.
In Washington's first five games, Gibbs used one trick play -- in a Game 2 loss to the New York Giants, Coles was stuffed for a 16-yard loss on an end-around early in the second quarter. Washington's offense suddenly turned more daring -- or desperate -- two weeks ago during a 28-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers. On Washington's second offensive play, Rod Gardner ran an end-around for six yards. Four plays later, Gardner -- a star quarterback at Raines High in Jacksonville, Fla. -- took a lateral from Brunell but overthrew Clinton Portis in the end zone.
The Redskins didn't wait long Sunday to employ another gimmick play. On Washington's second drive, with second and six from the Detroit 45, Gardner tried another end-around. Linebacker James Davis, on a blitz, halted Gardner for 10-yard loss.
Gibbs wasn't discouraged. Early in the third quarter, when Washington had the ball on second and nine from the Detroit 15, Portis took a handoff from Brunell, moved right and floated a pass to Coles in the back of the end zone for the receiver's first touchdown of the season. Portis's throw -- the first of his NFL career -- was Washington's longest of the game.
Brunell didn't view the trick plays -- and Gibbs's decision to mostly ignore the passing game in the second half -- as a lack of confidence.
"Those are good to have in every week," Brunell said. "Whether you use them or not, you should at least have what a lot of people call 'gadget plays.' You don't say okay, we're going to stick this in the middle of the second quarter. You have to see how the game goes."