Redskins hoping big pickoff is pickup

Arrington's key TD could help turn around Washington's season

October 23, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - In the minds of some, football seasons take far too many twists and turns for one specific moment or play to define all others.

But, if the Washington Redskins can scrounge some respectability out of what to date has been a train wreck of a season, most people will point to linebacker LaVar Arrington's fourth-quarter interception return in Sunday's 17-14 overtime win over Carolina as something of a turning point.

"That's the great thing about sports. You always have a chance to come back and basically redeem yourself. The season isn't lost, and that has to be a great pick-me-up," Arrington said after the game.

Arrington, who was shadowing Carolina fullback Chris Hetherington out of the backfield, grabbed a deflected Chris Weinke pass off Hetherington's hands and rumbled 67 yards for a touchdown that cut the Carolina lead to 14-7 with 10:10 to go.

More importantly, the return seemed to energize the Redskins and awakened a previously angry crowd of more than 74,000 at FedEx Field. Though head coach Marty Schottenheimer doesn't buy into the power of one play over the long haul, he didn't deny that Arrington's interception could be the seed that germinates later.

"But I think it can give you an opportunity to build on something. Clearly, once the fans got in that thing, the energy in the stadium was remarkable. We need that every week," Schottenheimer said yesterday.

The Panthers not only didn't score after Arrington's play, but they also failed to get a first down and spent most of the rest of the game bottled up in their own end of FedEx Field.

"The fans got three false starts on them. They couldn't hear. The energy just builds and builds and that's kind of the way you develop into a good season," Schottenheimer said. "You get going and you make a few plays, which is what we did in every regard. You've got to keep doing that. That will bring the kind of consistency that we're looking for."

Of course, emotion will only take a team so far, and yesterday's league stats drove home that point, their first win notwithstanding, the Redskins (1-5) still have a long way to go.

The team remains last in the NFL in total offense, despite rolling up a season-high 443 yards Sunday, including 346 through the air.

Quarterback Tony Banks, victimized by drops and inconsistency through the first three quarters Sunday, seemed to break through in the fourth, connecting with rookie Rod Gardner on an 85-yard touchdown pass midway through the quarter.

Though a potential game-winning drive at the end of regulation failed when Brett Conway missed a 32-yard field-goal try, Banks moved the team on the first drive of overtime, hitting Gardner on a 47-yard pass play that set up the winning field goal.

Schottenheimer said the two deep balls to Gardner don't signal that he's opening up the offense, but with better pass protection, solid running from Stephen Davis (99 yards on 26 carries) and Banks becoming more familiar with the offense, the Redskins are becoming more efficient.

On defense, even with four starters out - defensive ends Marco Coleman (elbow) and Bruce Smith, linebacker Shawn Barber (knee) and cornerback Fred Smoot (leg) - the Redskins have held up well.

Arrington and defensive end Kenard Lang have taken up the slack for the injured players, and Schottenheimer said Coleman, Smith and Smoot may all be back for Sunday's home game against the New York Giants.

NOTES: Sunday's kickoff, originally scheduled for 8:30 p.m. for an ESPN telecast, has been pushed up to 4:05 p.m., and will air on Fox. The game time was moved to avoid overlap with the rescheduled second game of the World Series. ... Schottenheimer said tight end Stephen Alexander, who missed Sunday's game with a high ankle sprain, is doubtful for the Giants game.

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