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Redskins' rally brings back past

September 25, 2005

ASHBURN, Va.

The Washington Redskins were headed nowhere. They'd been shut out through three quarters. Fans were giving up. The players didn't seem to have a comeback in them.

You know the rest of the story. Something improbable happened and they won.

In fact, they won five straight.

That was the story of the 2001 Redskins, who were hopeless at 0-5 and headed straight for 0-6 - or as coach Marty Schottenheimer put it, "the unthinkable 0-16" - when they trailed Carolina 14-0 in the fourth quarter. LaVar Arrington, who shouldn't have been in the game after getting a near-concussion in the first half, intercepted a pass and returned it 67 yards for a touchdown. The stadium came alive. The Panthers were rattled, Washington won 17-14 in overtime, and the same players who were so inept for 4 3/4 games became the first team in NFL history to go from 0-5 to 5-5.

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Arrington's interception came to mind this week when the Redskins, trailing 13-0 in the fourth quarter and without a touchdown all season, beat Dallas 14-13 on Monday night behind two long passes from Mark Brunell to Santana Moss. Coach Joe Gibbs whooped and hollered like a high school coach at the end of a game that is already taking its place among the most memorable in the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry.

"Once that pass was caught in the end zone, it definitely sparked our team. It fueled the fire to win," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "Something as simple as that can be a big confidence booster for you. It was similar to that play when LaVar made that interception."

It also goes to show that all the long nights devoted to studying blocking schemes and pass routes often don't add up to very much without some sort of psychological push to get a team going. For all the talk about how Gibbs has changed his offense or made an effort to find good character players with a never-say-die attitude, there still needed to be spark from nowhere to get everybody in gear.

"Finally, one of the balls bounced our way," right tackle Jon Jansen said. "Not only was it a great victory in terms of wins and losses, but it was a great emotional victory. We played hard the whole game and it really paid off in the end. And I think throughout the season, it's something to look back on and say, 'Hey we did this before.' I really think it'll set us up with some good momentum."

Even Gibbs, who is obsessed with game plans as much as anyone, is the first to say that unmeasurable intangibles are often the difference in the NFL.

"It's not Xs and Os. It's people and character and making great plays," Gibbs said. "It's more of a personal thing. It's the character. It's the fight - because up here most of the guys who get to this level are obviously talented."

Every team has those moments that rouse a bunch of fatalist athletes off the bench and into a towel-waving frenzy. Defensive end Renaldo Wynn was with Jacksonville in 1997 when Clyde Simmons blocked what seemed to be a certain winning field goal for Pittsburgh on the last play of a Monday night game. Cris Hudson recovered and ran 58 yards for a touchdown, a play Wynn credits for propelling the Jaguars toward the playoffs that season.

"Moments like that you never forget," Wynn said. "And I'll never forget this Dallas moment."

Not all such moments turn a season around. The Redskins were 2-0 two years ago after coming back from a 17-0 deficit to beat Atlanta in the Falcons' home opener. But coach Steve Spurrier's team won only three games the rest of the season to finish 5-11. Some of that realism set in during this week's bye, when the adulation over a great victory was mixed with the reminder that the team stank for more than three quarters.

"We've got to look at it as a great win," Gibbs said. "But there's things we need to improve on."

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