That seems a bit farfetched. Then again, so are the 2-1 Redskins' offensive numbers. Even after a vanilla performance on Sunday, in a gutsy 27-20 win over the New York Jets at Giants Stadium, Washington's top-rated offense was still averaging 37 points, 423 yards and 26 first downs a game. Johnson had completed 57 of 89 passes for 854 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. His league-leading passer rating was an astronomical 114.2.
That's the kind of production the Skins were looking for when, last Feb. 15, they traded first- and third-round picks in the 1999 draft plus a second-round selection in 2000 to the Minnesota Vikings for Johnson, who had been relegated to Randall Cunningham's expensive backup after suffering a broken right leg in the second game of the '98 season.
After Johnson's first minicamp, Washington's front office and coaches knew they'd been wise to make the deal. Standing in the huddle as a fill-in center, Robiskie watched in awe as Johnson took over the team. "I felt something I hadn't felt since my playing days," says Robiskie, who's in his 23rd year as an NFL player or coach. "There's a presence, a confidence, to Brad, like he knows he's going to be the difference. I've been around some great quarterbacks, but the only other guys who carried themselves like Brad were Kenny Stabler and Bob Griese."
On the way to the line during games, Johnson will tip teammates to keys in coverages or blitz schemes that he sees. After a 50-21 romp over the New York Giants in Week 2—the most points scored against New York in 33 years—former Washington quarterback and Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen, who's now one of the Skins' radio broadcasters, said Johnson "saved" at least 20 plays by giving such tips. On Sunday, trailing the Jets 7-0 in the second quarter, Washington broke its huddle at its own 24-yard line, and Johnson tapped second-year tight end Stephen Alexander and said, "If the Jets are in a deep zone with [coverage] help on the side, I'm hitting you down the middle." That play went for 21 yards and lit a fire under the Redskins, who kicked a field goal and then went 74 yards in five plays on their next possession to go ahead 10-7.
Another beneficiary of Johnson's prescience was third-year wideout Albert Connell. Johnson and Turner knew that because Connell is a step faster than Westbrook, he's the more likely of the two to draw pass interference calls on balls thrown deep. With that in mind Johnson and Connell mercilessly picked on cornerback Ray Mickens, Connell's former teammate at Texas A&M who last Friday had signed a four-year, $17 million contract extension. "He had to hold me, because I was blowing by him all day," said Connell, who finished with five catches for 75 yards. "Finally, I said, 'Ray, $17 million? You've got to start earning your money.' "
Mickens was flagged four times for interference against Connell, including three calls in the final 8:04 that helped the Redskins score 14 points. Johnson finished with mortal numbers—17 of 28 for 241 yards—but he was error-free, and his poise and savvy made the difference. "Leadership isn't yelling after something goes wrong," says Turner. "Leadership is managing your group to make sure each person is in a position to do well. Brad succeeds because he is curious about every aspect of his job. With all the great players I have ever known, it always has had more to do with makeup and desire than with football."
Drafted in the ninth round out of Florida State in 1992, Johnson supplanted Warren Moon as the Vikings' starter four years later and led Minnesota to consecutive playoff berths, only to miss the '97 postseason—and most of the Vikings' march to the '98 NFC Championship Game—with injuries to his neck, leg and thumb. Sitting out was torture for Johnson, who's so competitive that he and his wife of seven months, Nikkie, had to throw out their chessboard and the game Taboo, he says, "before divorce proceedings began."
Except for a nine-day break for his wedding and honeymoon, Johnson was at Redskin Park nearly every day during the off-season. Since his junior year of college he has also worked with Alex Serrano, a Chilean-born sports psychologist based in Santiago. Serrano tutors Johnson in breathing techniques, visualization and cognitive skills designed to improve decision making and reaction time. Last week, while chewing on a granola bar after practice, Johnson recalled his first few sessions with Serrano in Tallahassee, Fla., when teammates would gather around and make fun of the pair. "You know what?" he said. "I guarantee no one's laughing at me anymore."