American Football: Barren spell finally ends for Redskins

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The Independent Online
PICKED BY many as pre-season favourites for a Super Bowl berth, the Washington Redskins' season has, until now, been a story of unrelieved catastrophe and incompetence. They had lost all seven of their games by an average of 19 points, team-mates argued openly on the sidelines and during practice, and their head coach, Norv Turner, enjoyed even less respect than the capital's other high-profile leader, Bill Clinton.

On Sunday, they finally joined the ranks of the winners but, typically for this most perverse of franchises, their 21-14 triumph over the New York Giants came with the odds piled against them. Their quarterback, Gus Frerotte, and the receiver, Michael Westbrook, were both benched for missing practice, while their leading defensive player, Dana Stubblefield, was absent through injury and the running back, Terry Allen, was forced out of action before half-time.

Inspiration thus came from unlikely sources. Trent Green, replacing the disgraced Frerotte, ran for one touchdown before throwing another to Stephen Davis, and the victory was assured when Allen's replacement, the unheralded Skip Hicks, scored on a four-yard run, his first NFL touchdown.

"The frustrations of the last two months were starting to take their toll on everybody," said Green. "We have eight more games to make it feel a lot better, but this is a good first step."

The league's only other team without a win, the Carolina Panthers, ended their barren spell at the same time with a 31-17 success over the New Orleans Saints, masterminded by their quarterback, Steve Beuerlein, who threw touchdowns to Muhsin Muhammad and Raghib Ismail.

While the Redskins and the Panthers were breaking their ducks, the Minnesota Vikings were relieved of their unbeaten record by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fortunes ebbed and flowed, finally turning in Tampa's favour when Mike Allstott scored on a six-yard run with less than six minutes remaining. The Bucs set a team record with 246 rushing yards - 128 from Allstott, a career high.

Minnesota's demise means that the Denver Broncos are the league's only perfect team, but they were given a scare by the Cincinnati Bengals, before Terrell Davis's five-yard touchdown run, with less than a minute remaining, proved to be the difference.

A new personal best was also achieved by the running back, Jamal Anderson, whose 172 yards and three touchdowns helped power the Atlanta Falcons past the St Louis Rams, 37-15. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Steve Young, set a new NFL record with his 41st rushing touchdown, but it counted for little as Brett Favre threw three touchdowns to lead the Green Bay Packers to a thrilling 36-22 win.

Having lost their last two games, the Jacksonville Jaguars were also in the mood for some record-book revisions. They duly broke their team record of 40 points by piling 42 past the slumping Baltimore Ravens before half-time, finally settling for a 45-19 humiliation.

It may be time to start taking the Oakland Raiders seriously. The franchise, that once prided itself on being the most successful in the history of professional sports, has achieved little in the past 10 years, but under the new head coach, Jon Gruden, and an aggressive defense, they are in the ascendancy once again.

The surprising 31-18 demolition of the fancied Seattle Seahawks was their sixth triumph in seven games, with defense to the fore once again. The Seattle quarterback, Warren Moon, completed 17 passes in a row (a new Seahawk record), but his 18th was intercepted by Albert Lewis and returned 74 yards for a touchdown. At 38, Lewis became the oldest player ever to return an interception for a score.

The Seahawks fell apart after that, with the Raiders recovering four Seattle fumbles to confirm their superiority. "With the defense we have, we just need to make sure we don't make mistakes on offense," said the receiver, Tim Brown. "It's hard for teams to drive a long way on us."

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