Redskins, Mitchell turn tables

September 12, 1994|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- The Washington Redskins, who were victimized by mistakes last week, thrived on them yesterday.

After gift-wrapping a pair of touchdowns for the Seattle Seahawks in last week's season-opening loss, the Redskins accepted the gifts yesterday and thrashed the New Orleans Saints, 38-24, at the Superdome.

It was almost poetic justice that Brian Mitchell, who made some of the key mistakes last week, returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown in the first period and returned the second-half kickoff 86 yards to set up another one.

It also was quite a homecoming for Mitchell, a native of Plaquemine, La., who played quarterback at Southwest Louisiana and had a group of family and friends cheering him on.

"I try to keep my family happy," he said.

Ultimately, though, the mistakes turned the game.

Last week, the Redskins were guilty of three turnovers, including a fumbled punt by Mitchell, who also dropped three passes. This time, the Saints turned it over three times.

Another unlikely hero was quarterback John Friesz. In danger of losing his starting job to Heath Shuler, he threw four touchdown passes. Coach Norv Turner immediately named Friesz the starter for next week's game with the New York Giants.

For Turner and the beleaguered Redskins, the timing of the victory couldn't have been better.

They suffered a barrage of criticism after their lackluster showing against the Seahawks and suffered the ultimate indignity when some of the guests in owner Jack Kent Cooke's box -- and most of the fans -- walked out early.

Turner, who got a Gatorade shower at the end of the game, said, "It feels great. That's why we do this. It feels great to win."

Early in his post-game speech, Turner reacted to some of the past week's criticism when he said, "Let me make sure I get focused enough for everyone here so there isn't any misunderstanding about what we're doing and not doing."

That was a reply to a Washington columnist, who had criticized his post-game remarks to the players and media last week, saying he was unfocused and suggesting he might consider buying a restaurant (as former coach Richie Petitbon did).

Turner stressed the positive.

"Last week we talked about everything we can't do. I told the team we're not going to talk about what we can't do, we're going to talk about what we can do," he said.

Turner, though, said the victory wasn't a relief. "I know where this team is going. I know where this franchise is going. And we're going to keep getting better," he said.

Turner then cautioned that it was one game and it's much too early to jump to conclusions.

"Like last week, after one game, people came to a lot of conclusions. This football game was one football game. Some people will come to some conclusions about New Orleans, about us this week. Next week is the game I care about," he said.

In many ways, though, the Redskins remain a puzzle. They've played two games -- a lopsided loss and a lopsided victory in which the losing team gave away a couple of early touchdowns with mistakes.

Last week, Mitchell fielded a punt inside his 5 and then fumbled to set up Seattle's first touchdown. The Seahawks got another easy one when a poorly thrown Friesz pass was returned for a touchdown.

This time, the Redskins jumped to a 14-3 first-period lead after the Saints muffed a punt.

The Saints lined up in an illegal formation when they punted on their next possession -- a 39-yard punt by Tommy Barnhardt that went out of bounds on the Washington 31.

The Saints had to punt again and this time Mitchell returned it 74 yards for a touchdown.

The Saints started out as if they were going to dominate. On their first series, Jim Everett directed a 14-play, 66-yard drive for a 3-0 lead.

When the Redskins were forced to punt after one first down in their first possession, it looked as if the Saints might take control.

Instead, the Saints muffed that punt, the Redskins recovered and momentum switched their way.

The Redskins had a chance to make it a rout in the first half when they had five shots to score from the New Orleans 3. The drive ended when Reggie Brooks was thrown for a yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the Saints' 1.

The Saints, though, couldn't take advantage of the stand. Andersen missed a 53-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of the half after Ricky Ervins fumbled.

Mitchell's second-half kickoff return set up the touchdown that made it 21-3.

The Saints cut the deficit to 21-9, but Ethan Horton caught a 17-yard pass on the first play of the next drive to start a 79-yard touchdown drive that wrapped it up at 28-9.

All that was left then was the Gatorade shower by Bobby Wilson, Tony Woods and Ray Brown.

"I didn't feel it was coming. It was a surprise no question," Turner said.

And obviously a welcome one.

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