The Redskins' defense, steady all season, posted one of its stingiest efforts in last Sunday's 14-11 win over the Browns. The Browns gained just 236 yards, a week after piling up 454 against the Giants' feared defense.
Nothing highlighted the dominance of the Redskins' defense more than a fourth quarter sequence when the swarming unit crafted a dramatic goal line stand and nearly pulled off another one just seconds later.
Redskin second-year linebacker H.B. Blades made a number of key plays during that sequence.
On the first goal line stand, Blades contributed to a scrum led by middle linebacker London Fletcher that stopped Browns running back Jamal Lewis for no gain on first and goal from the 1.
On the second stand, he fought through blockers to make a solo stop on the 250-pound Lewis, who was running left after taking a shovel pass from quarterback Derek Anderson, for no gain. The Browns subsequently faced a 4th and goal at the 1 but scored on the next play.
To Blades, his solo tackle on Lewis was special.
At the time he was in high school in Plantation, Fla., Blades watched Lewis carry the ball 27 times for 102 yards and a touchdown for the Ravens in their 34-7 rout of the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV a few hours away in Tampa.
"I grew up watching Jamal Lewis, and to be able to play against a running back like that is always dream come true," Blades said. "I was going in trying to do my job. My job was to have him on that play man to man. They did a little pitch, and I had to get out there and make the tackle."
Blades feels that stopping somebody one-on-one short of the goal line is the kind of play that linebackers dream about.
"It's not often that you get a running back one on one or a receiver one on one, you usually have to fight through blockers," he said. "When you get somebody one on one, you've got to be able to make a play."
Such contributions typified how Blades has become a dependable linebacker for the Redskins in mostly a reserve role. He started on the strong side against the Saints (Sept. 14) and Eagles (Oct. 5) with linebacker Marcus Washington out due to hamstring injuries.
He has shown the ability to play all three linebacker spots and has 15 tackles (eight solo). He believes he's progressing every day in his knowledge of the game, but he says he still has a long way to go.
The Redskins drafted Blades in the sixth round (179th overall) in 2007 after he became only the fifth player in the history of University of Pittsburgh football to record more than 400 tackles.
He played mostly special teams as a rookie, but when weak side linebacker Rocky McIntosh suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 14th game against the Giants, Blades and veterans Khary Campbell and Randall Godfrey saw more playing time in his absence.
Some critics have said the 5-10, 245-pound Blades is too small to play linebacker in the NFL.
Is he out to prove them wrong?
"I'm just out to show people I can play," he said. "That's all I'm trying to do. I don't really focus on what other people have to say as far as my size goes. I believe in myself, my coaches believe in me, and whenever I get my opportunities, I'm going to take advantage of them."
Blades is the son of Bennie Blades, a safety who played for the Lions (1988-96) and Seahawks (1997), and the nephew of two other former NFL players--Seahawks receiver Brian Blades (1988-98) and the late Al Blades, who played on San Francisco's practice squad in 2001.
Redskins defensive end Andre Carter, whose father Rubin was a star lineman for the Broncos' "Orange Crush" defense of the 1970s and a Redskins assistant coach (1999-2000), said he and Blades have swapped stories about what it was like growing up with dads who played in the NFL.
As for how much potential Blades has in the NFL, Carter said, "He's just coming into his own. I was very fortunate that I had the opportunity to play with his uncle Al Blades when I was in San Francisco. So the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.
"He's a true Blades. He takes pride in what he does and his life is football. He has a bright future ahead of him."