What We Learned
Three things we know after the Redskins' 13-3 victoryPosted: Sunday November 25, 2001 8:56 PM
Updated: Monday November 26, 2001 9:08 AM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
PHILADELPHIA -- Posting their most jaw-dropping victory yet, the once-moribund Washington Redskins climbed back to .500 and into the NFC East race Sunday, upsetting the first-place Eagles 13-3 at Veterans Stadium. Here are three observations from the game:
1. Hmmm. Maybe Donovan McNabb isn't as far along as we thought on the road to becoming one of the NFL's great quarterbacks.
Almost to a man, Washington's defenders said after the game that their goal was to keep McNabb in the pocket and not allow him to make his trademark big plays on the run. No surprise there. That's how teams have been trying to defense McNabb since the middle of last season, his breakthrough year.
But few teams have ever been able to render McNabb as impotent as the Redskins did Sunday. Or as scattered-armed. McNabb threw high. He threw low. He threw late. He was rarely on target and was a shell of his play-making self. Philadelphia didn't convert a third down until midway through the third quarter, and finished an abysmal 3-of-15 on third and fourth downs.
On the Eagles' six first-half drives, McNabb and the Eagles produced just one first down, and that came with two minutes remaining before the break. He finished just 9-of-16 for 50 yards passing in the first two quarters, and that was his "hot" half. McNabb was 6-of-12 for 42 yards in the second half. He had just two completions for 10 or more yards in the game -- both to wide receiver James Thrash, for 10 and 13 yards -- and his 15-of-27, 92-yard performance was without a single highlight.
McNabb couldn't even rely on his running skills to make up for what his arm lacked against Washington. The Redskins' defensive front contained him nicely at almost all times, and a three-yard gain early in the third quarter was his first rush of the game. He finished with three carries for 39 yards, but 33 of those came on the game's final play.
It was the second consecutive week that McNabb's game wasn't up to its lofty standards. In last week's 36-3 Eagles win at Dallas, he was a pedestrian 16-of-32 for 129 yards, one touchdown and interception.
On the plus side, McNabb didn't turn the ball over on Sunday. He has throw just five interceptions this year, to go with his 16 touchdowns, an excellent ratio.
But the Redskins dared him to make plays from the pocket in order to beat them, and he didn't. Though the Eagles have diversified on offense this season, it's still a case of as McNabb goes, so goes the Birds. On Sunday, in a game that could have all but put a hammerlock on the NFC East title for the Eagles, neither one went anywhere.
2. It would have been laughable to consider not all that long ago, but on this day, Washington quarterback Tony Banks out-McNabbed McNabb.
Like McNabb, Banks didn't hang up any big numbers himself Sunday. He was just 12-of-18 for 96 yards (When was the last time neither quarterback threw for triple digits in an NFL game?) -- and didn't throw a touchdown.
But he is providing exactly what the Redskins need these days: Mistake-free games and the willingness to keep feeding Washington's dominating ground game. A week after being knocked out of the victory at Denver with a concussion, Banks was clear-headed and careful, throwing no interceptions and performing well on third downs (7-of-17 for 41 percent).
Banks also stood in bravely against frequent all-out Eagles blitzes, taking just two sacks for 11 yards, and rushed five times for 20 yards. Although the Redskins amassed just 240 yards of offense, they had 16 first downs, hogged the ball for 37:47 and churned out three scoring drives. Kicker Brett Conway also missed an early 37-yard field goal.
Don't look now, but Banks may have found a rather unlikely NFL home. After being released by Dallas early in the preseason, his career appeared to be at a crossroads. But thrown together out of necessity, he and the Redskins have prospered.
If Banks' lands a long-term contract in Washington, it would represent yet another twist for an enigmatic player who has been close to some Super Bowl glory -- the Rams won it the year after they traded him to Baltimore, and the Ravens won it after benching him at midseason last year -- but never in the middle of it.
For now, none of that matters. Banks is winning in Washington, the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of town.
3. News flash: Stephen Davis is going to become the first Redskins running back to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Count on it.
John Riggins didn't do it. Neither did Terry Allen, Earnest Byner nor George Rogers. But Davis will. And soon. With six games remaining, Davis needs just 171 yards to again crack the four-digit club.
The key to the Redskins' resurgence has been simple to identify: Plenty of Davis, combined with a much-improved Washington defense. The formula worked just fine again Sunday, with Davis clicking for a game-high 79 yards on 22 attempts, including 26 yards on the game's first play from scrimmage.
And when Davis briefly left the game in the first quarter with a sore back, his backup, Ki-Jana Carter, filled in admirably. Carter wound up with 18 carries for 56 yards, including the game's only touchdown: a 5-yard second-quarter scamper that put Washington up 10-0.
Carter's contributions helped the Redskins roll up 155 yards rushing, on 45 clock-killing carries (a 3.4-yard average). Washington's offensive line pushed the Eagles' undersized defensive front around for most of the day, setting the tone for the game. In the nation's capital, smash-mouth football is back.
And it is Davis who is again the Redskins' hammer. In Washington's first four games -- all losses -- Davis averaged just 52.3 yards rushing on 13 carries. In the next six games, five of which have beenvictories, those totals jumped to 101.7 yards on 25.8 carries.
With a power running game that's paying big dividends, don't expect the Redskins' offense to get any trickier in the season's final six weeks than No. 48 left, No. 48 right and No. 48 straight ahead.