Redskins aim to rise higher in Denver

But 3-game win streak in jeopardy against tough-at-home Broncos

NFL Week 10

November 18, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Try as they might, the Washington Redskins can't escape mountains, symbolically or literally, heading into today's game with the Denver Broncos.

In the literal sense, the Redskins head for the Rockies to play at Denver for the first time in six years, with the challenge of compensating for the thinner air a mile above sea level, where the Broncos' new Invesco Field is situated.

For instance, during practice last week, the offensive linemen instituted a "Mile High" rule in which they would do extra sprinting during a 10-play stretch to wind themselves."[Altitude] has never bothered me. We're going to be tired, anyway," said center Cory Raymer. "It doesn't matter where we play. I'm always going to be gasping for air. I think that's more of a mental thing. It will take the first couple of series to get used to it, but after that, it will be back to normal."

It's also likely that coach Marty Schottenheimer will substitute more than usual to keep fresh bodies on the field, even with the Redskins returning from their bye week.

"You have to be realistic. People are going to get tired out there," said defensive lineman Kenard Lang, who jokingly said he would eat only corn and yams during the week. "It's not going to be an issue of being out of shape or anything like that. You're at a different altitude, and people know that. So, you'll have to play, come out and get ready to go back in."

The Broncos (5-4), who are 8 1/2 -point favorites, present the symbolic test on whether Washington (3-5) has gotten over the mountain of trouble created with its 0-5 start.

While it's true that the Redskins have played better during a three-game winning streak, two of those wins were over Seattle and Carolina, who are a combined 5-12.

The Redskins' third win came against a reeling New York Giants team, and all three wins occurred at FedEx Field. In other words, the Redskins have something to prove to the rest of the league, and a win today at Invesco, where the Broncos have lost only once in five tries - in Week 3 against the Ravens - would provide important evidence of their improvement.

"This game is important. We haven't made a lot of waves with these three wins in a row at home," said quarterback Tony Banks. "Good teams win on the road, and if we get that done, maybe we won't be as much of an underdog."

Banks, who has thrown for five touchdowns in the past three games, and running back Stephen Davis, who has run for more than 100 yards in each of the past two games, have triggered the offense's resurgence and will likely be at center stage today. Tight end Stephen Alexander, who has missed the past three games with a high ankle sprain, might return today.

Defensively, the Redskins figure to have their hands full with a Broncos offense that ranks ninth in the league. The focus, as usual, has been on the ground game, with Mike Anderson, Terrell Davis and Olandis Gary all having run for more than 195 yards.

Davis, who opened the season as the starter, has missed six games with knee ailments and will not play today because of a cartilage tear in his left knee. Anderson, who has run for 465 yards, will start.

"The question has been asked, is it different without Terrell Davis? It doesn't matter who they put back there. They all rush for 1,200 or 1,400 yards [a season]," said Schottenheimer, who has a career 2-10 record against the Broncos between his previous stints in Cleveland and Kansas City.

The biggest challenge for Washington defensively will be shutting down receiver Rod Smith, whose 72 catches for 923 yards are on pace for an NFL-record 128 receptions and a club-record 1,641 receiving yards.

Smith, who has been quarterback Brian Griese's principal receiver since Ed McCaffrey suffered a broken leg in the season opener, has been bothered by nagging leg injuries that kept him out of practice early last week, but he said he plans to play.

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