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The Redskins look to win back-to-back games for just the second time this season when they host the reeling Falcons on Sunday.
Washington coach Joe Gibbs exhorted his team to get back to his philosophy of running the ball and stopping opposing rushers heading into last Sunday’s game against Carolina, and the Redskins (4-7) responded by beating the Panthers 17-13 to avoid a third straight loss. Running back Ladell Betts ran for 104 yards on 24 carries and the defense allowed only 264 total yards—three off its season-low—and 101 on the ground.
“I felt like today it was kind of our style of football,” Gibbs said. “And it was good to get back to that.”
Washington’s defense entered the game ranked last in the NFC, but moved one spot ahead of Arizona. The Redskins forced a pair of turnovers—improving their league-worst total to nine—and didn’t allow a pass play of 20 yards or more for the first time this season after giving up an NFL-worst 41 in their first 10 games.
“I don’t know why it took so long,” defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said Monday. “But guys finally came together and played team ball.”
“The question is now: Can we do that more than one week?” Gibbs said Monday.
Washington’s defense will look to duplicate its effort against an Atlanta passing attack that has gained less than 100 yards in its last two games and less than 200 in its last four. Michael Vick ran for 166 yards, just seven shy of his NFL record for a quarterback, in last Sunday’s 31-13 loss to New Orleans, but completed just 9 of 24 passes for 84 yards.
Atlanta’s receivers dropped at least five passes, while Vick was sacked three times and hit often by the Saints’ defense in his team’s fourth straight loss. Vick, who was sacked five times the previous week in a defeat at Baltimore, was so frustrated that he directed an obscene gesture toward some home fans who were booing and taunting him after the game.
“I was down, upset, frustrated,” said Vick, who was fined $10,000 by the NFL and agreed to donate another $10,000 to charity. “I just did one thing I’ve never done through all the games I’ve ever lost, no matter how frustrated I’ve been after a game.
“I don’t know where it came from, but the people who know me know that’s not me and that’s not my character.”
The Falcons (5-6), who won five of their first seven games, are on their way to a second straight second-half slide. Last season, coming off a trip to the NFC championship game, Atlanta won six of its first eight games but went 2-6 the rest of the way and missed the playoffs.
The Falcons are below .500 for the first time since 2003, and three of their last four losses have come by double digits. The losing streak includes a home defeat to 3-8 Cleveland and a loss at 2-9 Detroit.
“I was just out there fighting for this team, for pride and for this organization,” Vick said. “We have to keep fighting. We have to show some resolve.”
Washington quarterback Jason Campbell didn’t have much better numbers last weekend, but did show more poise. Campbell, who was making his second start since taking over for the benched Mark Brunell, threw for just 118 yards on 11-of-23 passing against the Panthers.
However, he threw two touchdown passes, including a 66-yarder to tight end Chris Cooley for the winning score. Campbell, who had thrown an interception on the previous drive, called the play himself after the transmitter in his helmet that allows him to communicate with the sidelines malfunctioned and went silent.
Gibbs, who won Super Bowls with three different QBs, is impressed with his newest quarterback.
“I’ve got to tell you: I’ve never seen him uncomfortable. It’s an amazing thing about him. He’s got that laid-back personality, and from the day he got here, he’s never looked flustered,” Gibbs said. “He’s never looked like he was feeling pressure.”
Washington, which is playing the second in a three-game homestand, is not considered a serious playoff contender, but is just two games behind the New York Giants and the Panthers—two 6-5 teams who would earn the NFC’s wild-card berths if the season ended today.
“That’s what’s so fun about the NFL,” Campbell said. “You never know what’s going to happen. We can’t count ourselves out.”
The Falcons, meanwhile, have fallen from first to third in the NFC South and are three games back with the tiebreaker factored in. However, Atlanta still has a chance to boost itself back into the postseason hunt.
“I’m all about playing in the big games and getting to the big games and just enjoying football,” Vick said. “It’s kind of reality setting in that we’re in the situation we’re in now, and if we don’t make the playoffs that’s two years back to back that we didn’t accomplish our No. 1 goal at the beginning of the season, and it’s going to be very disappointing.”
The Redskins are 14-4-1 against the Falcons, including a 10-1 mark in games played in Washington. They came from behind to win 33-31 in 2003 at the Georgia Dome, the teams’ first meeting since 1994.