After 27-, 37- and 32-point losses to open the season, the players and Schottenheimer met to clear the air. The coach threw them a few bones. For example, some veterans, instead of having to report early in the morning on practice days to lift weights, could sleep an extra hour or so and lift after practice. "The noose kind of loosened a little bit," Smith says. More important, Schottenheimer listened. He was smart enough not to be Les Steckel. As Green said after that meeting, "It's a shame it took us this long to get to know Marty."
"The mistake I made was this," says Schottenheimer. "I told them, 'This is what I want to do. Let's go do it.' I never explained my reasons. As players, they were entitled to that. I dropped the ball there."
That's not the only ball he dropped. Schottenheimer was shortsighted when he went to training camp with two scrubs (Todd Husak and Sage Rosenfels) behind the unreliable Jeff George at quarterback. The lack of a veteran backup last spring and summer—Banks didn't fall into the Redskins' lap until Dallas cut him in August, too late to learn the offensive system from the ground up—paralyzed the offense. Schottenheimer dumped George after two games for consistently tinkering with plays the coaches had called. The discombobulation led to offensive futility; Washington scored two touchdowns in the first five weeks. The team's fifth loss, a 9-7 stinker at previously winless Dallas, was the capper.
Schottenheimer, however, was unbowed. "I've been coaching in the NFL since 1977," says offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, "and I've never seen anything like the resolve he showed then. We were on a respirator, but Marty told the coaching staff, 'Just continue to instruct and coach. We're close. It will come.' "
But when? The next week, the Carolina Panthers, winners of only one game, led the Redskins 14-0 with 11 minutes remaining and were driving for more. Arlington had missed the second quarter with a concussion and a stinger that left him, momentarily, without feeling in his left arm. Nonetheless, he put himself back into the game in the third quarter, and when, with the ball on the Washington 28, Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke faded back to pass early in the fourth, Arrington lay in wait. "He didn't respect my speed," Arrington says, "and he floated one up there." Arrington picked off the Weinke duck and sprinted 67 yards for a touchdown. Washington won 17-14 in overtime. "They say that's the play that got us started," Arrington says. They're right.
The next week, as the Redskins nursed a 17-14 lead over the New York Giants, the third and fourth wideouts combined for the clinching points, with Lockett taking a lateral and floating a 31-yard touchdown pass to Thompson. A week later Davis mashed the Seattle Seahawks for 142 yards on 32 carries in a 27-14 win. Now this was Martyball—45 rushes, more than 39 minutes of possession time.
Against the Broncos in Denver following a bye week, Banks went down with a concussion late in the first half. In came Graham, who'd taken all of 10 snaps with the first-team offense since being imported to fill George's roster spot. Battling the Broncos, the wind and the sleet, Graham led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, finding a virtual stranger, third-string tight end Flemister, for the touchdown pass with less than three minutes to go that gave the Redskins a 17-10 win. "I didn't know his first name," Graham said afterward. "Is it Zeron? I just call him Flem." Graham-to-Flemister isn't exactly Theismann-to-Monk, but it might find a place in Washington lore before season's end.
Now the acid test. An Eagles victory at Veterans Stadium would give Philadelphia a three-game lead in the loss column with six to play, and the Philly fans were out for blood. Before and during the game, one leather-lung behind the Redskins' bench kept reminding Carter in profane terms that he was "a bust." There was some truth to that. The Bengals' first choice in the 1995 draft, Carter never realized his potential in Cincinnati because of two major knee injuries and a case of fumble-itis. He flunked tryouts with the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers, the Eagles and the Redskins in 2000 and began to ponder life after football. Still, Schottenheimer brought him to camp, and Carter looked lithe on the field and well-cut in the weight room, and he won the job as Davis's backup.
That's how he wound up on the field early in the second quarter on Sunday when Davis's back stiffened. On second-and-goal from the Philadelphia five, Carter took a handoff from Banks and was greeted at the eight by Eagles tackle Hollis Thomas. "I don't know how," Carter said, "but I made him miss." He ran through a gaping hole to score the game's first points—the only ones Washington would need.
After that, the Redskins bled the clock for the game's last 44 minutes while making life miserable for the Philadelphia offense. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is supposed to be the next Brett Favre, but he looked like the next Stoney Case, completing 15 of 27 for 92 yards. Washington defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson was a force, consistently collapsing the pocket. Arlington, playing the spy, held the mobile McNabb to three rushes for 39 yards. Arrington also got the save.