Moment arrives for Gibbs, Redskins

Turnaround hopes high as coach's NFL return kicks off against Bucs

September 12, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Washington Redskins fans welcome their anointed savior today when Joe Gibbs makes his NFL coaching return at FedEx Field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 11 years after stepping down to spend more time with his family.

In that wondrous moment when their players are racing out onto the field for the first time this season, Gibbs and assistant coach Joe Bugel joke that they will likely be behind the bench throwing up.

"It'll probably be similar to that," Gibbs said with a smile.

Gibbs, 63, has tried to minimize the significance of his return, but his players know that his presence on the sideline will be a compelling subplot today and for the rest of the season.

"Everybody wants to know if he's going to turn this team around," said kick returner Chad Morton. "This game's going to be packed and the fans are probably going to be out of control, and they want to see if Gibbs can do it."

Said quarterback Mark Brunell: "Coach Gibbs coming back is huge for this area. Now, we've got to win."

The fans' high expectations add pressure on the Hall of Fame coach.

Said Gibbs: "You realize what is at stake and you want to get off to a good start. All of those things, plus you know you are up against Tampa Bay and their reputation. I think everybody can figure out what you are feeling."

Gibbs goes up against a defensive-minded club accustomed to spoiling other teams' parties. Last year, the Bucs opened the season by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-0, in the first game played at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.

Like that game, this one is expected to have a festive pre-game atmosphere, as an expected 91,000-plus fans welcome Gibbs back.

Washington's players hope the excitement can be sustained into the game. Linebacker LaVar Arrington said last week that he was issuing "a challenge" to fans to raise the noise level at FedEx Field.

He said he attended a college game at the stadium recently between Virginia Tech and Southern California and noticed a more spirited atmosphere than at some Redskins games.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said he's growing weary of answering questions about Gibbs and the Redskins.

"We have Doug Williams here who played for Joe Gibbs. Ron Middleton on our staff also played with Joe Gibbs. Bruce Allen's dad was head coach of the Redskins. After a while, you get tired of talking about the history of the Redskins."

Allen is Tampa Bay's general manager, Williams is a personnel executive and Middleton is tight ends coach.

The Bucs have a quick defense led by linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive end Simeon Rice and safety Jermaine Phillips. Rice had four sacks last year when Tampa Bay routed the Redskins, 35-13.

"They blocked me with various people" in that game, Rice said. "[Chris] Samuels blocked me twice and I got by him a couple of times. It was a great game plan but I don't think I'm going to see that this time. I think they are going to be ready."

Efficient former Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson returns for the Bucs, this time with the newly acquired Joey Galloway at wide receiver. Galloway gave the Redskins trouble when he was with the Dallas Cowboys, including catching a game-winning touchdown in a 2002 game.

In his first tenure in Washington, Gibbs was 5-7 in season openers. But his teams typically finished strong, and he was 14-6 in December in the 1990s.

"As the season goes on, you know more about what players can do," said Redskins offensive coordinator Don Breaux. "Until you get into the regular season, you don't really know. Pressure reveals what's inside."

What to watch for

Can the Redskins' revamped line pressure the quarterback? Last season, the Redskins did not sack the Bucs' Brad Johnson once, and he threw for four touchdowns against them.

How much will Portis be unleashed? Newly acquired running back Clinton Portis is accustomed to carrying the ball 25 times or more.

Are the fans into it? It could be the largest and noisiest crowd ever at FedEx Field.

Can Washington coaches fool the Bucs? Joe Gibbs began the last preseason game with an end-around and a fake reverse on offense and a corner blitz on defense.

Can the Redskins avoid mistakes? Last year's team was notorious for jumping offsides at bad times.

Redskins today

Matchup: Redskins vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers in opener

Site: FedEx Field, Landover

Time: 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Redskins by 2

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