Special teams take step back


LANDOVER - Redskins coach Norv Turner summed up his team's kickoff coverage in one word.


Turner relegated that term just to kickoff coverage. He was being kind. The entire special-teams play was awful.

Besides the 92-yard kickoff return by the Carolina's Michael Bates, Tommy Barnhardt shanked his first punt 27 yards and Deion Sanders failed to return a punt more than eight yards in three tries. He fair-caught two others.

The kickoff-return team also gave up another 90-yard return to Bates that was nullified because of a block in the back by Chris Hetherington. Kicker Brett Conway failed to reach the end zone on any of his kickoffs.

"Our kickoff coverage is horrible," Turner said. "I'm very disappointed. It is an area that we worked very hard at and made progress. We actually took two or three guys off of it who have done well in the preseason, putting some veteran guys in. Because as I told them, this isn't preseason."

A lot of the credit for the Panthers' showing belongs to Bates, the top kickoff returner in the league. He has made the last four Pro Bowls in that capacity.

LaVar Arrington had a chance to make the tackle on Bates' touchdown but ended up reaching with one arm. Bates broke through, then outran Conway to the end zone.

"I don't know if he psyched our guys out or if we were not ready for the opening kickoff," Turner said. "It is an area we have to address.

"We had a bunch of guys who were so afraid of the speed that they did not squeeze," Turner continued. "The ball was kicked where we wanted, down in the corner. If we get five or six other guys squeezing to the ball better, he does not have that kind of lane.

"If we hadn't given up the kickoff return, the game is not even close."

Davis pays off

Fresh off agreeing to a nine-year, $90 million contract, running back Stephen Davis earned his money against the Panthers.

The Pro Bowl running back rushed for 133 yards on 23 carries and scored a touchdown. Davis got stronger late in the game, carrying nine times for 78 yards in the fourth quarter.

"With our offensive line, our runner will wear you down," Turner said. "Through four quarters, Stephen is going to get his carries. It is nice to have a guy like him in the fourth quarter of games who can get you first downs."

Davis has a news conference scheduled for today to announce the signing of his new deal.

"I just wanted to get this one out of the way," Davis said. "I knew it was going to be a tough game. I knew it was going to be something we have to fight through."

Rhodes makes impression

The defensive players spoke highly of the new, aggressive scheme implemented by defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes.

Rhodes takes over the defense after one year in Green Bay as head coach, where he went 8-8. His defense held the Panthers to 236 total yards yesterday.

"We still have our strong nucleus from last year," defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson said. "But this is a team that is a lot more confident and more determined."

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