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Panning of 49ers is fool's goal for 'Skins

October 23, 2005|By JOSEPH WHITE

LANDOVER, Md. - Joe Gibbs went ballistic this week and spouted a paranoid conspiracy theory when he read somewhere that his Washington Redskins should have an easy time with the San Francisco 49ers.

"It's one thing to say you're a favorite, another thing to make light of another football team in the NFL," the coach said. "So that's a ridiculous way to state something. So sometimes you wonder, what's the motivation there? Help the other team? I don't know. You tell me."

His counterpart, Mike Nolan, was much more calm about the subject.

"I guess I'm the one that ought to be more upset than him," Nolan said with a chuckle.

Hmm. The two-touchdown favorite is all atwitter, while the two-touchdown underdog is cracking a joke. What's wrong with this picture?

The story behind the story is that the Redskins (3-2) need to win Sunday's game, while a top priority for the 49ers (1-4) is merely to start being competitive. Washington has nothing to be ashamed of following back-to-back close road losses to Denver and Kansas City, but a home game against the worst team in the NFC is a should-win - let's face it, a must-win - if the team wants to establish itself as a legitimate playoff contender.

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"We're coming home from two tough road losses," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "It'll definitely be a big game for us to come out well and get back on the track. The worst thing we can do is come out and take San Francisco lightly."

The 49ers, as expected, are scraping the bottom of the statistical barrel in Nolan's first season. Their offense is ranked next-to-last in the NFL; their defense is ranked last. They've lost four straight by an average of 21 points and have been outscored 62-0 in the fourth quarter. They have a rookie quarterback, No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith, who is making his second career start and who has a rating of 12.5.

"Certainly, we're a 1-4 team, so some of our targets are a little different," Nolan said.

This is the first of three deposed-coach reunion games for the Redskins. Ex-head coaches Norv Turner (Oakland) and Marty Schottenheimer (San Diego) are visiting next month. Nolan ran the defense for Washington's last playoff team in 1999, but his three years as a high-profile coordinator ended soon after when he decided he could do better than have owner Dan Snyder as a boss.

"Some of those experiences there I could never get anyplace else," Nolan said this week, a humorous remark even if he didn't intend it that way.

The Redskins will have trouble beating even a bad team like the 49ers if they don't solve their turnover problem. The defense hasn't forced one in four games, and Washington's minus-8 turnover differential is even worse than San Francisco's minus-6.

In fact, the only two takeaways forced by the Redskins this season were committed by the NFL's only other rookie starting quarterback, Chicago's Kyle Orton, who threw an interception and fumbled in Washington's season-opening 9-7 victory.

"I think we have a good, hard, hustling team," Gibbs said. "Our defense gets after it and plays physical. You would think, at some point, we'll start getting some turnovers."

While the uptight Gibbs and nothing-to-lose Nolan make for a nice contrast, the best back-and-forth banter of the week came when Washington offensive lineman Ray Brown crashed the conference call between local reporters and San Francisco defensive tackle Bryant Young. Brown and Young lived in the same neighborhood when they were teammates with the 49ers.

"Hey, neighbor," Brown said.

"Big handsome Ray?" Young said, obviously surprised.

"Hey, man, yeah, how ya doing?"

"Big pretty, what up?"

"Hey, I'll tell you what," Brown said. "Don't come out here too hard, man, we need to win this one."

"Hey, man, we're fighting for a win, man," Young answered back. "You guys need to take it easy on us."

Then they said goodbye, two friends looking to end losing streaks, sitting at opposite ends of a two-touchdown spread. No paranoia necessary.

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