WASHINGTON -- It isn't as if Charles Mann hasn't played big games before, or even that he hasn't been a part of NFC championship games before, because he has.
Mann, a nine-year veteran and the core of the Washington Redskins defensive line from his left end position, has been a part of two Super Bowl teams and played in three conference title games, but for some reason, he was a bundle of nerves before yesterday's NFC championship with Detroit.
"I was extremely nervous. I've never been this nervous before," said Mann. "I was looking at [defensive end] Fred Stokes and he was all calm and collected.
"He hasn't been through this. I know what it takes to get here and what it means. I'm in my ninth year. My knee might not hold up. I've got to seize the moment now."
Mann and the rest of the "National Defense" seized more than the moment yesterday in drilling the Detroit Lions 41-10 to propel the Redskins into Super Bowl XXVI in two weeks.
They seized control of the game at just the right moments, in much the fashion that they have all season.
"The biggest factor about this team has been its consistency," said Washington coach Joe Gibbs. "We've been so focused all season and we've been able to get a great mix of veterans, young guys from Plan B and the draft that make up great chemistry and great chemistry makes great teams."
The defense hasn't been bad either, Mann added. "When we play Philly, we always hear about how great their defense is. We never seem to get the respect we deserve," said Mann.
The Redskins' defense, which was second to New Orleans in points allowed this season, certainly earned Detroit's respect, shutting its potent offense down in the second half and limiting it to just 95 total yards on offense.
"They did a great job preparing for us," said Detroit coach Wayne Fontes. "There's no doubt they outplayed us. They beat us up."
"We broke down execution-wise today and they were the cause of it," said Lions quarterback Erik Kramer.
The Redskins (16-2) did their best to duplicate the 45-0 drubbing they administered to the Lions (13-5) in the season's opener by jumping all over Detroit and harassing Kramer.
Specifically, the Redskins, who had notched three wins this year against Atlanta and Houston, which use the same offense, wanted to confuse Detroit's run-and-shoot by using what Mann called "window dressing," or a number of different looks at the line and in the secondary.
"We played a lot of zone and mixed it up to try to keep them off-balance," said cornerback Martin Mayhew. "A lot of other teams seem to try to play a lot of man against the run-and-shoot. That may have been the difference in our success."
But the wild card in the mix was Detroit's Barry Sanders, who ran for 1,548 yards this season -- second best in the league. Sanders, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma State, did not play in the season's opener, and the Redskins set out to keep him as contained as possible.
"When Sanders moves around, it's scary," said Stokes. "If he makes a move to the left and you go right, he's gone."
The Lions used Sanders more as a decoy last week in trouncing Dallas, 38-6, in the divisional playoffs, but tried to go to him more often yesterday.
That strategy was hampered by the Redskins' defense, which took off after Kramer right from the start.
"I watched the Dallas game and he was just so cool and calm," said Mann. "We had to get pressure on him, not so much to sack him, but hurry him, confuse him."
On the first play from scrimmage, Mann blew by right tackle Scott Conover and decked Kramer, forcing a fumble that Stokes recovered at the Detroit 11-yard line. Two plays later, Gerald Riggs ran 2 yards for a touchdown and Washington had a 7-0 lead.
On the ensuing series, after getting 12 yards from Sanders on two carries, Kramer was intercepted by linebacker Kurt Gouveia, who ran it back to the Detroit 10. The Redskins settled for a field goal, but the message was already coming through.
"That set the tone," said Washington defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon. "It was very important for us to get to Kramer and get to him early. Once we did that, we could work on other things."
"Our defense kept us in the game in the first half by giving us the ball twice on the 10-yard line," said Washington quarterback Mark Rypien, who completed 12 of 17 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns.
The Lions did get untracked, particularly in the second quarter, when they scored both times they had the ball and pulled to within a touchdown at halftime at 17-10.
But the Redskins opened the third quarter with a drive that produced a field goal. The defense then went to work, effectively closing the door on the Lions.
On the Lions' second drive of the half, they moved from their 34 all the way to the Washington 21, where on a third-and-five, linebacker Andre Collins sacked Kramer on a blitz for a loss of 5. Eddie Murray's 40-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Jumpy Geathers.
Rypien threw a 45-yard scoring pass to Gary Clark, then the defense stacked up the Lions deep in their territory on four downs.
As for Sanders, he only managed 44 yards on 11 carries. His second-half line read two carries for minus-one yards.
"It was tough because they have wide receivers who are so good, and a running back like Barry Sanders, who is phenomenal," said Gouveia. "You give him room and he'll hurt you. We tried to deny him the ball and tried to let them throw shallow passes and we were able to do that."
And so the Redskins earned their fourth trip to the Super Bowl in the Gibbs era. For the veterans, who have seen all the hype of the championships, the moments are still special.
"This one is the sweetest by far for me," said linebacker Monte Coleman, a 13-year veteran. "I don't know if I'll have a chance to do this again. It's so late in my career and this means more to me compared to the other ones."