Overlooked 2-1 Redskins slide into super position Spotlight taken off defending champs


TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Washington Redskins like to think the have a grip on this repeating thing.

As they start their second season today at Sun Devil Stadium against the Phoenix Cardinals, they figure they don't have to worry about repeating because they're not being treated as defending Super Bowl champions.

"Everybody's kind of forgotten about that, which is fine," said defensive end Charles Mann.

"I think we're sitting right where we'd like to be, even though this isn't the way you want to be there, not playing very well and barely winning games and everything. I like it. It takes some of the onus off. It puts it on the other teams."

The Redskins always seem to play better when they're climbing the mountain instead of when they're on top.

In Las Vegas, they're now rated no better than the sixth-best team in the NFL. In their own division, they're no better than third behind the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles, who play tomorrow night in a ballyhooed early season matchup.

When the onus was on the Redskins during training camp and the start of the season, they displayed the classic symptoms of a team having trouble trying to repeat.

They annoyed their fans with the -- for cash when three veterans -- Mark Rypien, Jim Lachey and Darrell Green -- and rookie Desmond Howard engaged in long holdouts before walking away with contracts worth $26 million in all.

Owner Jack Kent Cooke was in no position to complain, though, because he was busy convincing Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia that the state should chip in $130 million to help build a new stadium in Alexandria. Not surprisingly, the taxpayers don't think it's a good idea, and the plan is facing long odds in the state legislature.

Then the Redskins were embarrassed in a 23-10 Monday night loss to the Cowboys in the opening game, and the fans booed Rypien when he was introduced before the home opener. He lashed back after the game and then apologized the next day -- although not to the fans who did the booing.

Meanwhile, the Redskins struggled to two home victories over the Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions and lost Green in the process with a broken forearm. They limped into the bye week with a 2-1 record.

Now, they don't feel as if they're carrying the burden of great expectations. Now, they're just trying to survive in a 13-game season.

If the Redskins get their game together, they could do more than that. If they beat the Cardinals today and the Denver Broncos next Monday, and the Eagles knock off the Cowboys, the Redskins will be playing for no worse than a share of first place in two weeks when they play host to the Eagles.

First, though, the Redskins have to show they belong on that level. They have to show this is not 1988, the last time they were defending champions and went 7-9.

There's no better place to start than in Phoenix. In 1988, the Redskins lost their opener on the road on Monday night, won the next two and then lost their fourth game in Phoenix. It was their only loss in the past 15 against the Cardinals.

It would seem improbable for it to happen again. The Cardinals are 0-3 and have lost 11 consecutive regular-season games.

The Cardinals, though, don't seem demoralized. Not yet, at least. Even though word is circulating that coach Joe Bugel's job is in jeopardy, and their quarterback, Timm Rosenbach, is injured, they're a feisty bunch.

Bugel, a former Redskins assistant, has brought the same enthusiasm to Phoenix that he had in Washington. It just hasn't translated into many victories.

As offensive lineman Mark May, another former Redskin who starts for the Cardinals, put it: "I think Buges has kept everybody confident and comfortable. He's told us to let it all hang out. We've got nothing to lose. We know what we're up against."

The Redskins say they're not taking the game lightly. "We're going to have to be fired up to match their intensity," Mann said.

Linebacker coach Larry Peccatiello said: "I can't see how we can let down against anybody. What have we done? If we let down against Phoenix, then something's wrong with our football team."

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