LANDOVER, Md. (AP)—Mike Sellers hasn’t been asking for the ball. He’s been begging for it.
With the Washington Redskins running out of options because of injuries, coach Joe Gibbs granted the burly fullback his wish. Sellers scored two touchdowns and rocked the stadium by bulldozing over a defensive back in the open field, a take-that kind of a statement in Sunday’s creative and dominating 34-3 victory over the Detroit Lions.
“It’s kind of embarrassing—because I’ve really, really been begging,” said Sellers, who ran 1 yard for a score in the first half and caught an 8-yard touchdown pass in the second. “Every time a coach passes by, ‘Can I run this play?’ ‘Can I run that play?’ ‘Can I do this?’ After a while, Coach Gibbs, he tried to avoid me.
“It worked. I got a chance to do something.”
The Redskins (3-1) dominated time of possession in the first half to wear down Detroit’s defense on a hot day, keeping the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense off the field. The Lions (3-2) had been averaging 28.5 points and 387.3 yards per game, but they could muster only a field goal and 144 total yards against a Washington defense that had five sacks by four players.
“Our last two road games have been debacles,” said quarterback Jon Kitna, who also suffered through a 56-21 loss at Philadelphia two weeks ago. “But it’s a long season. It was bad for whatever reason.”
The victory kept alive Detroit’s seven-decade jinx in the nation’s capital. The Redskins are 21-0 at home against the Lions since moving to Washington in 1937.
This time, the Lions couldn’t complain about a lack of breaks. The Redskins played without top receiver Santana Moss, who missed the game with a groin injury. Antwaan Randle El, expected to carry the load in Moss’ absence, had seven catches for 100 yards before leaving with a hamstring injury just before halftime. Detroit fumbled four times but didn’t lose a single one.
Running short on manpower, the Redskins were forced to diversify. Jason Campbell relied heavily on screens, dinks and dunks to go 23-for-29 for 248 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. James Thrash, Keenan McCardell and Brandon Lloyd each caught a pass for the first time this season.
But Sellers was the undisputed—and unlikely—star. The 284-pound fullback had touched the ball only nine times all season and never more than five times in a game in his eight-year NFL career. On Sunday, he ran five times for 24 yards and caught three passes for 36 yards.
“Mike lobbies,” assistant coach Al Saunders said. “We’re all lobbying for Mike. Believe me, he’s a guy who needs to be involved.”
Sellers’ biggest highlight was a rare downfield reception that went for 24 yards. After catching the ball, he knocked aside Kenoy Kennedy like a rag doll and went down only because Kennedy managed to hold on to Sellers’ ankles.
“We needed the touchdowns, and the touchdowns were big,” running back Clinton Portis said. “But when he ran over Kenoy, that really changed their defensive mentality, like, ‘These dudes on this team are crazy.’ So I really think he loosened up the defense.”
The Redskins had two first-half drives that lasted more than 7 1/2 minutes each, and another that went 83 yards. The Lions ran only 19 plays in the half, generating a meager 41 yards. Detroit finally crossed the 50 late in the third quarter—on a pass interference penalty.
Kitna, who entered the game with a 105.6 quarterback rating, completed 16 of 29 passes for 106 yards and two interceptions, one returned 61 yards for a touchdown by Carlos Rogers in the game’s final minute.
Kitna was so ineffective that Detroit uncharacteristically tried a run-first attack after halftime. With Kevin Jones taking over for Tatum Bell, the Lions moved the ball well until killing their drives with self-inflicted mistakes, including a botched handoff, a dropped pass and a false start.
And they were stopped by a Redskins team that didn’t blitz, much to the surprise of the Lions.
“They just pinned their ears back, came at us with their front four and played coverage,” Kitna said, “and made it really difficult to move the football.”
The Redskins, meanwhile, finally had a game with some breathing room after three straight nail-biters. They’d be 4-0 if not for a second-half meltdown in their last game against the New York Giants.
“It’s a lot better than 0-4,” linebacker Marcus Washington said with a laugh. “Being able to finish strong was a big thing for us, especially after what happened against the Giants. … Everybody had on their mind, ‘We can’t let up. We have to finish strong.”’
Redskins DE Andre Carter got his first career safety when he sacked Kitna in the third quarter. … Detroit WR Calvin Johnson was back in the lineup after sitting out last week with a bad back, but he caught only one pass for 3 yards and was pulled late in the game.