Forgive LaVar Arrington if he seemed a little dazed following Saturday's 17-10 playoff win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Redskins' linebacker has waited a long time to play in the postseason--six years, in fact--and he turned in an impressive performance in the Redskins' win at Raymond James Stadium.
"It feels like it's not really happening," Arrington said after the game. "Maybe I'm going to wake up, realize it was all a dream and that now we're going to play the real game."
Then Arrington paused, looked around the celebratory locker room and the throng of reporters before him.
"This is pretty cool," he said. "This is real."
In the first quarter, Arrington helped set the defensive tone when he intercepted a Chris Simms pass that had been deflected by defensive tackle Joe Salave'a. He returned it 21 yards to the Bucs' 6-yard line. On the next play, Clinton Portis went in for a touchdown.
Arrington finished the game with 10 tackles (eight solo) and one forced fumble. But it was the interception--his first since December 2001--that was one of the key plays of the game.
"I think it kind of sent the Bucs a message that we're here to play and it's not going to be an easy game just because they're playing at home," Arrington said. "They are a tough team to play anywhere, let alone here. So the interception helped set the tone."
In an interview in the locker room after the game, Redskins great and radio broadcaster Sam Huff joked with Arrington that if he had run outside on the interception return, he would have scored a touchdown.
Responded Arrington: "I tried to find the numbers like I'm coached to do. That's what it was: I tried to find the numbers."
It has been a year of uncertainty for Arrington, who has had an up-and-down season. He overcame a knee injury that sidelined him most of the 2004 season and has adjusted to packages employed by assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams.
"[The interception] was the type of play that we envisioned when we started putting this thing together," Williams said. "It's nice to see that we finally have a healthy LaVar Arrington. Lemar Marshall and Marcus have been doing that since they got there. It was nice to see LaVar jump in there. He made a lot of nice plays. We were able to keep him in there quite a bit because the packages we had going into the game matched up with what Tampa was doing."
Arrington, whose wife is expected to give birth to a baby girl in the next week, was grateful for the opportunity to play in the postseason.
Like every Redskins player, now that he has had a taste of the playoffs, he wants more.
"We can learn from this," he said. "For a lot of us, it was our first playoff game and this was a good building block. We're battle-tested. We're gaining momentum and we're gaining confidence."