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Gibbs Is Right: 49ers Present Challenges

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Head coach Joe Gibbs bristled this week at suggestions by the media this week that the Redskins are facing a relatively easier opponent on Sunday in the San Francisco 49ers.

A look back at last year's game on Week 15 justifies Gibbs' concerns.

In the Dec. 18 Redskins-San Francisco game at Monster Park, the Redskins prevailed 26-16. Except for an explosive stretch in the second quarter, though, the Redskins did little that could be classified as dominant.

Three Jeff Chandler field goals and a 78-yard interception return for a TD by Antonio Pierce sparked a second-quarter surge by the Redskins.

Other than that, San Francisco played the Redskins even up and controlled the game in some stretches.

Overall, the Redskins got to young quarterback Ken Dorsey just once (on a shared sack by Cornelius Griffin and Renaldo Wynn) and the 49ers registered a key special teams play when they blocked Tom Tupa's punt for a two-point safety two minutes before halftime. It was the lone blocked punt in Tupa's 17-year NFL career.

The 49ers are coming off their bye week. The last time the Redskins faced such a situation was last week at Kansas City in a game the Chiefs won 28-21.

San Francisco has won just one of its first five games this season under new head coach Mike Nolan, the former Redskins coordinator. Teams such as Oakland and Green Bay also are 1-4 but no NFL observer in his or her correct mind would look at games versus the Raiders or Packers and expect a stroll in the park.

Further, if the first six weeks of the current season provide an accurate indication, Sunday's game at FedExField will be another close one. That's the way all Redskins games have been staged this year.

As the Redskins' defensive coordinator back in the 1999 season, the most recent playoff season for the team, Nolan did an extensive amount of work with a group of young linebackers that included Derek Smith, Shawn Barber and Greg Jones. Smith now plays for Nolan in San Francisco at one of the inside linebacker spots.

Another key player for San Francisco is outside linebacker Andre Carter, a former standout at Cal. Carter's father, Rubin, was one of the Redskins' defensive line coaches back in 1999 and 2000.

During that time, young Andre Carter was an occasional visitor at Redskins Park. Rubin Carter, a long-time NFL assistant, this year became the head coach at Florida A&M in Tallahassee.

Obviously, the Redskins will be trying to get back on the winning track Sunday after frustrating road losses to AFC West opponents Denver and Kansas City.

But by the same token, San Francisco will be working hard to show that its 1-4 record is misleading. And those 49er coaches and players with close ties to the Redskins--such as Nolan, Smith and Carter--have added incentives.

In the lexicon of ESPN basketball analyst and personality Dick Vitale, some college teams stack their early season schedules with "cupcake" opponents. In the NFL, however, these outings really don't exist.

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