Quickly erasing the memory of last week's 28-3 loss to the St. Louis Rams, the Redskins put together a quarter to remember on Friday--if only it weren't a preseason game. The Redskins jumped out to a 24-0 first quarter lead over the Atlanta Falcons at FedExField, sparked by the strong running of Ladell Betts and consistent defensive pressure from the cornerbacks and linebackers.
The Redskins rode that impressive first quarter to a 27-0 win, capping off a 3-2 preseason that has had its share of ups and downs. A week from Sunday, the Redskins open up the regular season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedExField.
"I was proud of our guys," head coach Joe Gibbs said after Friday's game. "We bounced back from a real poor performance last week. We came back this week and we were real solid all the way across the board. I wish we could count it, but now we start for real."
The Redskins emerged from the game relatively injury-free. Sean Taylor suffered a bruise thigh, but it was not believed to be serious. LaVar Arrington left in the first half with a stinger.
On the game's opening drive, the Redskins established their offense quickly with an end-around reverse to Rod Gardner for 16 yards. It seemed to set the tone for the remainder of the game.
Mark Brunell led the offense downfield on a 9-play, 78-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 5-yard touchdown run by Betts. On the drive, Brunell was 4-of-6 for 51 yards, completing two passes to tight end Chris Cooley--who broke several tackles after the catch with some hard-nosed running.
On the Falcons' opening possession, Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick dropped back to pass but quickly found himself pressured by cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot. Nearly sacked, Vick tossed up a high-arcing pass that was easily intercepted by Matt Bowen.
The turnover gave the Redskins excellent field position at the Falcons' 14-yard line. Patrick Ramsey came in at quarterback and handed off three times to Betts. The offense was stopped on fourth and one and had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by John Hall.
The Falcons punted on their next possession. Chad Morton's 27-yard return gave the Redskins excellent field position again, this time at the Falcons' 35-yard line. This time, Ramsey and Betts converted. Ramsey completed passes to Taylor Jacobs and James Thrash, while Betts ran four times for 14 yards. His 3-yard scamper into the end zone gave Washington a 17-0 lead.
Betts finished the game with nine carries for 27 yards. He also caught two passes for 15 yards.
"It was important for me to go out there and have a good showing," Betts said. "The offensive line opened up big holes for me, which made my job easier. I just tried to go out there and make things happen."
Added Gibbs: "I was real happy to get Ladell back. That took guts because he was questionable and he was nervous about his hamstring. But he got through that and he got out there and made some carries for us. I feel much better about that now. Having him healthy certainly helps us back there."
Immediately following Betts' second touchdown, LaVar Arrington blitzed into Atlanta's backfield and sacked Vick. The Falcons' quarterback dropped the ball on the ground as he was tackled and it was quickly scooped up by Antonio Pierce.
Pierce raced into the end zone untouched to give the Redskins a commanding 24-0 advantage. Teammates mobbed the Redskins' new middle linebacker in the end zone; Pierce had started the game in place of Mike Barrow.
The game settled down considerably after Pierce's touchdown. Both teams took turns trading punts throughout the second and third quarters. In the fourth quarter, the Redskins took advantage of a turnover deep in Atlanta territory-the fourth turnover of the game for the Falcons-and backup kicker Ola Kimrin connected on a 26-yard field goal to close out the scoring.
By then, backups had long since replaced starters and both teams seemed eager for preseason to come to an end.
"Preseason is so hard up here," Gibbs said. "I think you rotate so many people in and out, it's hard to get a good feel. You just do the best you can to try to get everybody ready. But until the bullets start flying, you can never be sure.
Offensively, Ramsey played most of the game and was 11-of-21 for 81 yards. Sultan McCullough also saw plenty of action, rushing 23 times for 75 yards and catching four passes for 25 yards.
On defense, reserve linemen Demetric Evans, Ron Warner and Darrell Wright recorded sacks. Garnell Wilds and Ryan Clark tied for the team lead in tackles with five each.
Now, the team's attention shifts to Tampa Bay.
"We open with a real good football team," Gibbs said. "They've got what we think is a great team. Our focus now is all looking forward to that."
In pre-game, it was announced that left tackle Chris Samuels would sit out the game as he continues to rest his sprained right ankle. Jim Molinaro took his place in the starting lineup.
Meantime, two defensive starters in Arrington and Phillip Daniels returned to action. Arrington missed the last two preseason games with a knee injury and Daniels made his Redskins debut after being sidelined with an abdominal injury.
Samuels was among seven players who sat out Friday's game due to injury. The others were: running backs Rock Cartwright (shoulder injury) and John Simon (hamstring injury), offensive lineman Randy Thomas (neck strain), linebackers Mike Barrow (knee tendinitis) and Chris Clemons (knee injury) and tight end Fred Baxter (knee injury).
Barrow was replaced in the starting lineup by Pierce, who made his fourth start of preseason. Thomas was replaced by veteran Ray Brown.