There was a certain edge to Bruce Smith when he was answering questions about his team earlier last week.
Others were barely getting their words out before Smith had an answer. It was apparent he already knew the topic, and he met it with stern and concise responses.
"We have to win," Smith said of the Washington Redskins' game tonight against the New York Giants. "There are no ifs, ands or buts about that. We realize what's at stake, not from a Super Bowl standpoint, but from confidence being built in this locker room. That is the most important thing. The only game on our schedule right now is the New York Giants. We are not looking any further than that."
Smith nailed it. The Super Bowl talk is a distant memory, replaced by who should be the starting quarterback and if Redskins coach Norv Turner will last the season.
The Redskins enter tonight's game at Giants Stadium at 1-2. They got embarrassed by the previously winless Dallas Cowboys at home Monday night in a 27-21 loss, one in which the fans spent more time booing than cheering in the second half.
Then the Redskins had to deal with a number of distractions this week leading up to tonight's game. Defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield was arrested on domestic assault charges late Wednesday night.
Kicker Brett Conway was placed on injured reserve, then took shots at the direction of the team. Center Cory Raymer re-injured his knee and is out for at least two more weeks, if not the entire season. And now there is a growing sentiment to bench quarterback Brad Johnson in favor of Jeff George, both inside and outside the organization.
"We have a very mature team," Turner said. "We have a lot of veterans who have been through a lot of things, and will handle it well."
Johnson will start tonight, but if he continues his trend of throwing interceptions at key times in the game, look for George to finish. Johnson threw four interceptions against Detroit two weeks ago, and one late in the fourth quarter against Dallas that led to a Cowboys field goal.
That was only half the problem, though. The other half comes in Johnson's inability to get the ball deep, an important part of the Redskins' offense last season. Johnson did not have a pass longer than 17 yards in the Cowboys loss. He is without No. 1 receiver Michael Westbrook, lost for the season with a knee injury.
"Unfortunately, we are not off to the start we'd like to be off," Johnson said. "I don't think the fans are as disappointed as we are. We are the ones that come to work.
"Obviously, I haven't made some plays I'd like to make. I feel like I can improve. I can't worry about what people are saying or what people are writing. The only thing I can do is concentrate on what I'm doing, and that is make the right reads."
Winning would take care of a lot of the pressure. Johnson would remain the starter, Turner would get a breather from his critics and the Redskins would be back in the hunt for the division title.
But a loss will put them three games back in the NFC East with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming to Landover next week. The Bucs' confidence is as high as any team's now with three impressive wins, while the Redskins are nearly a polar opposite.
"We got to establish ourselves some kind of way," guard Tre' Johnson said. "Are we going to be the dominant team that we have the capability to be, or are we going to continue this long history of inconsistency?
"Even we had high expectations at the beginning. It would be untruthful to say otherwise. But just wanting it ain't going to make it happen. We got to get an attitude about it. We always come in with the nice-guy attitudes and play that 'Dudley Do-Right' stuff and not hurt anybody. Since I've been here, it's been like this."
Success will start up front for Washington. New York is the league's No. 1 rushing team and is also first against the rush. Coach Jim Fassel has made his team one of the league's most physical, after going 0-4 in the preseason.
"We're 3-0, but we're so fragile," Fassel said. "It could turn on you real quick, although I think we're a pretty mentally tough football team."
If the Redskins win tonight, the same could be said for them.
"Everybody wants to get us," Tre' Johnson said. "The media hyped us up so much in the preseason that if I was playing against us, I would love to kill us. I would circle that day to just knock us out. Until we get ready to do what we are supposed to do, we don't deserve the accolades."