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Smith, defense power Redskins


LANDOVER - Bruce Smith grew weary of answering questions about his fumble-causing sack during yesterday's 20-17 Redskins win over the Carolina Panthers in front of 80,257 at FedEx Field.

So when somebody brought it up again, Smith declined to comment.

"I've just talked about that two or three times," Smith said in the locker room after the game.

Smith knocked down Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein three minutes into the third quarter, forcing a fumble that N.D. Kalu recovered at the Carolina 28. It led to a 24-yard Brett Conway field goal that tied the game at 10.

More importantly, the play energized a Redskins team that found itself down 10-7 at halftime.

Instead of dwelling on his individual work, Smith deflected the attention to the rest of the defense, which had a remarkably better performance yesterday against the Panthers than last year, when Carolina scored 36 points.

Smith was a major reason the Redskins did not give up an offensive touchdown until the final two minutes of the game. He had two sacks, five tackles and forced a number of false starts by Panthers left tackle Clarence Jones.

It was reminiscent of Smith in his prime during his 15 seasons with the Buffalo Bills. He was intimidating, emotional (frequently waving his hands to the crowd for more noise) and dominating.

"That's the way he played late in the year last year," Redskins coach Norv Turner said of Smith. "He's a force, and he helps everyone else on our defensive football team."

The defining moment for Smith and the defense came late in the second quarter, when Carolina reached the Redskins' 2.

Linebacker Derek Smith sacked Beuerlein for a 5-yard loss, then Panthers fullback William Floyd drew an unnecessary-roughness penalty for going after LaVar Arrington. The penalty moved the Panthers back to the Redskins' 22. Carolina moved to the 9, but kicker Richie Cunningham missed a 27-yard field-goal attempt, which kept the Panthers' lead at 10-7.

"I think that's unfortunate," Carolina coach George Seifert said. "We've got to learn to control ourselves in those situations."

The Redskins held Carolina to 236 yards total offense for the game. The Panthers' special teams and defense, however, kept them in it.

Carolina's Michael Bates returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown midway through the first quarter, tying the game at 7.

That came after a 12-play, 79-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession by the Redskins. Running back Stephen Davis, who just agreed to a nine-year, $90 million contract, scored on a 2-yard run up the middle.

Davis' run came behind a line that started three different people from last season. Center Cory Raymer partially tore two knee ligaments in training camp and was replaced by Mark Fischer. Fischer made his first NFL start along with rookie left tackle Chris Samuels. Pro Bowl offensive guard Tre Johnson was out because of a one-game NFL suspension for his part in a fight during the playoffs last season and was replaced by Jay Leeuwenburg.

Even with the makeshift line, Davis finished with 133 yards on 23 carries and the offense totaled 396 yards.

"When you're missing two guys that had been such a big part the last two years, you have a concern," Turner said. "I didn't want to express that concern to my football team. But I thought they handled things extremely well. We were a little jittery early, but we settled in and played well."

Especially on the Redskins' go-ahead touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. Davis carried the ball six times for 49 yards on the drive that ended with a Brad Johnson 1-yard quarterback sneak to put the Redskins up 17-10 with just under 13 minutes left in the game. The key play of that drive was a 22-yard reception by Irving Fryar on third and 11 from the Redskins' 12.

The defense then held Carolina to a three-and-out, and Conway added a 21-yard field goal on the ensuing possession after a 10-play drive against a worn-down Panthers defense.

"They didn't give us anything deep," Brad Johnson said. "We're a very explosive team. They played the corners 15 yards deep. But in this league, you have to be patient and stay away from turnovers. That is what the game boiled down to. We had no turnovers, they had one."

Down 20-10, Carolina answered with a seven-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 20-yard catch by Wesley Walls with 1:52 remaining in the game.

But the onside kick failed, and Davis ran for 33 yards on the first play to seal the game. The Panthers did not even use their final two timeouts.

"It shows you something when they don't even attempt to take their timeouts at the end of the game," cornerback Deion Sanders said. "That shows you what type of defense we have. It's like, 'Why? Why would we take a timeout with those guys coming like that?' "

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