|Chris McGrath / Getty Images|
|Ladell Betts helped the Redskins grind out 203 yards on the ground against the Eagles.|
PHILADELPHIA -- As the final seconds ticked away at the rapidly emptying Lincoln Financial Field, Clinton Portis raised his index finger and pointed at the scoreboard that revealed yet another Redskins victory.
The Washington running back stood in a loose huddle near midfield, then pointed to each quadrant of the stadium -- 1-2-3-4 -- unconsciously counting off Washington's consecutive number of wins, the last pair coming over NFC East rivals Dallas and Philadelphia, on their turf, nonetheless.
Washington's 23-17 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday was a mugging in which the Redskins rang up 23 unanswered points and bulldozed the Eagles' top-ranked run defense for 203 yards, while limiting Philadelphia to 58 rushing yards. It was a bare-knuckle pummeling that should have humbled an opponent that's starting to be exposed like Kimbo Slice.
Yet, these were the words that came from Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who might not have fully digested the physical handling his team endured, which also left it 2-3 and deeper in the NFC East basement:
"Not to take anything away from them, but there is no way this team is better than us."
Let's start on that note, head-to-head.
Washington physically handled Philadelphia, the supposed roughnecks of the division, oftentimes with one-on-one blocking, bowed-neck tackling and some savvy coaching of a head-coaching rookie against one of the best in the business.
Down 14-0, courtesy of some brilliant running by Eagles tailback Brian Westbrook, a wide-open game plan that initially featured tight end L.J. Smith, and a 68-yard punt return by DeSean Jackson, Washington methodically established itself along both lines of scrimmage to get back into the game, just like it did against Dallas a week ago.
Left tackle Chris Samuels and left guard Pete Kendall owned their side of the field, giving Portis seams to grind through in the final 1½ quarters of the first half. The tortoise-not-hare approach resulted in three field goals that pulled Washington to within 14-9 at halftime. The interior muscle-flexing became contagious, as center Casey Rabach, right guard Randy Thomas and veteran right tackle Jon Jansen enforced their will in the second half, allowing Washington to balance the pounding.
Portis finished with a season-high 145 rushing yards and a touchdown.
The real story is the byproduct of the consistent mashing of the offensive line. Washington has outscored opponents 34-10 in the fourth quarter, the point where most games are won. The Redskins are able to not only wear teams down, but they can also punch in touchdowns from inside the opponents' 5, as Portis did for a decisive 4-yard score early in the fourth quarter, and get needed first downs to run time off the clock.
The Eagles, meanwhile, had to kick a fourth-quarter field goal after having the ball on Washington's 2 because it couldn't physically or mentally execute plays in the guts of the game. This comes a week after Philadelphia had three chances to score from Chicago's 1-yard line in the fourth quarter but came up empty in a 24-20 loss.
"We just stayed consistent in our techniques, put a hat on a hat, and our running backs are going to do their jobs no matter what," Samuels said. "It's hat on a hat, simple football."
Defensively, Washington is hardly a team that will be mentioned with Tennessee, Baltimore, Minnesota, Carolina or even Philadelphia. Yet, the Redskins have been able to emerge victorious over New Orleans, Arizona, Dallas and the Eagles -- teams known for their offensive prowess. Ironically, the fewest points the Redskins have allowed came in their season-opening, 16-7 loss to the Giants, the only team in their division with a better record, a team that has averaged 37 points in three victories since.
Westbrook, bothered by a strained ankle he's been nursing for weeks and ribs that were bruised in the first half against the Redskins, ran for just 33 yards on 12 carries. This comes a week after Dallas tailback Marion Barber managed 26 yards on eight carries. The Redskins have not allowed a 100-yard rusher since the Giants' Brandon Jacobs gashed them for 116 in the season opener.
"We showed a lot of people out there that we are someone to be reckoned with," Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh said. "We are a team right now that should be at the top."
The Redskins' biggest strength comes from the top. Rookie coach Jim Zorn has shown incredible poise and wherewithal, which has trickled down to players. The resistance to veer off a game plan, even when things aren't going well, has served Washington well. So well, that when the Redskins spice things up with offensive gadgetry, it emphatically makes a statement -- and works.
Case-in-point: The Redskins drove 63 yards by mixing off-tackle runs with basic pass plays early in the third quarter of Sunday's victory over Philadelphia. On first down from the Eagles' 18, quarterback Jason Campbell handed the ball to wide receiver Antwaan Randle El on a reverse. Randle El, a college quarterback, vacuumed Philadelphia's defense his way, only to dump a picture-perfect touchdown pass to wide-open tight end Chris Cooley.
Washington took the lead for good on the play.
"We figured we would get man coverage on the backside," Cooley explained. "You had to really look like you're blocking, get stuck on the backside of the play and come out late. No one covered me."
And there's no way Washington is better than Philadelphia?
The Redskins are better than a lot of teams right now because they know who and what they are. They are a team that moves the chains and stops the run. They can even win, like they did on Sunday, when one of their star players -- wide receiver Santana Moss -- doesn't catch a pass. (He didn't complain, either.)
The Redskins are better than a lot of teams because they believe in their legitimacy, even if others don't.
"One thing we have to do as a team is understand that we must improve because now teams are going to put that 'x' on our back," Campbell said. "They're going to turn it up a notch more when they play us. We have to be ready for that. We have to continue to understand that we're now a team that has to stick together and continue to keep pushing each other and push forward and not get caught up in everything that's going on around us."