- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
They are always steady in times of turmoil, always collect their 10 or 11 or 12 wins and are always ready to step in when the glamour teams are floundering. Their coach preaches strength of organization. Their owner antes up whatever it takes to keep the talent and the coaching staff in place. Now the Washington Redskins are 6-0, and everyone is asking, "Are they really that good?"
For some reason, Washington has never been accepted as a marquee team. The Redskins' two Super Bowl victories came in the strike seasons, 1982 and '87, and that has been turned into a negative, despite the fact that in '87 not one Washington veteran crossed the picket line. The Skins won all three of their strike games that year, even beating the Dallas Cowboys, who had Tony Dorsett and Randy White and Too Tall Jones. Beat 'em with a bunch of guys named Marvin. That victory has got to be one of Joe Gibbs's most remarkable coaching feats.
When the 1980s drew to a close, the Pro Football Writers of America naturally chose Bill Walsh as Coach of the Decade. But did they pick Gibbs—whose Skins had been in three Super Bowls during the decade and had won two of them, whose teams had won more games than anyone else except the San Francisco 49ers—as the runner-up? No, Chuck Noll of the Pittsburgh Steelers came in second. Gibbs got stiffed. People just couldn't get excited about Gibbs or his Redskins.
Going into last weekend, the NFC's showcase teams from 1990 were in trouble. The Niners and the New York Giants were both 2-3. Giants fans were having a hard time figuring out whom to boo: the quarterback, the coach, the defense, life in general? In San Francisco, the medical watch on Joe Montana hogged the headlines. Meanwhile, the Skins were quietly going about their business and ringing up three shutouts—as many in five games as the Chicago Cubs had in 155.
When Washington traveled to Soldier Field for Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears, the "yes, buts" followed them. Sure, the Skins had crushed the Detroit Lions in their season opener, but Barry Sanders was out with bruised ribs. The next week, against Dallas, Emmitt Smith of the Cowboys broke a 75-yarder in the first quarter, but he saw only limited action after that because of a stomach ailment. Washington then shut out the Phoenix Cardinals, but their quarterback, Tom Tupa, who was making only his third NFL start, was still getting his feet wet. James Brooks, the Cincinnati Bengals' fine little all-purpose back, was hobbled by an ankle injury in the Skins' victory over the Bengals, and, of course, the Week 5 defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles saw the departure in the first quarter of Philly quarterback Jim McMahon, who strained a knee ligament.
Chicago was next, with no cop-outs available. The Bears had had some squeaky wins of their own, but they were 4-1, they were at home and Gibbs had won two straight over Mike Ditka. No one had ever gotten a consecutive hat trick on Iron Mike. Final score: Skins 20, Bears 7.
Washington's offense started flat, its first three series ending in punts and the next one in an interception. A wake-up call was needed, and the defense, which was performing at the same high level that had marked its play all season, provided it. The Bears had 30 yards at the end of the first quarter, 93 at the half—and no points. Chicago quarterback Jim Harbaugh was getting rushed, his receivers were getting whacked around and were dropping the ball, and Neal Anderson had no holes to run through.
In the second quarter the Skins got a field goal and a 74-yard touchdown drive to go up 10-0. Chicago got back to 10-7 on a third-quarter march, but then the turnovers came, and it was all over for the Bears. An interception off a deflected Harbaugh pass set up a short scoring drive for a second Washington TD, and Redskins linebacker Wilber Marshall pressured Harbaugh into throwing another interception, which set up a field goal. That was it. The Bears ran out of downs on their next possession, and Marshall intercepted a pass in the end zone the last time they had the ball.
Even after this no-apologies win, people still want to know how good the Redskins really are. Plenty good. Better than the Giants at this point, and the 49ers and the Bears. Better than the 5-0 New Orleans Saints? A tough one—depends on where they're playing. At RFK Stadium, yes, Washington is better. At the Super-dome, with the fans raising hell and the Saints' defense playing out of its mind, who knows? We'll find out in the playoffs—maybe. Better than the Buffalo Bills, the best team in the AFC? That's too far down the road, and Gibbs doesn't like all this premature chatter.
"It's ridiculous to start putting us in the Super Bowl," he says. "The last time the Redskins started 6-0 was in 1978, and they wound up out of the playoffs. Two years later Jack Pardee got fired. Still, there's something about this team. It's a close-knit, smart, hard-working bunch. I've had good feelings about teams before, sometimes four games into the season, sometimes six. I've got those feelings now. I had them right off the bat for some reason. I love coaching this team.