Redskins defense goes the distance in win

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ASHBURN ,Va. - As good as the Washington Redskins were on offense in their season-opening win Thursday night, their defense was even better.

Washington's defense limited the New York Jets to 158 yards of total offense in the Redskins' 16-13 victory at FedEx Field.

The last time Washington's defense surrendered fewer yards was on Jan. 2, 1993 when the Redskins contained the Minnesota Vikings to 148 yards in a 24-7 rout in an NFC wild-card game.

"I've played those guys for three years, and that's huge," said defensive tackle Jermaine Haley, who spent his first three seasons with the Miami Dolphins, New York's AFC East rival. "You never expect to hold them to 158 yards. That's unreal."

The showing contradicted a preseason during which the unit was bombarded by questions about the defensive line's ability to stop the run, cornerback Champ Bailey's contract squabbles and defensive coordinator George Edwards' succession of current Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.

Running back Curtis Martin - who has eight straight 1,000-yard seasons - had just 48 yards against Washington and the Jets rushed for 57 total yards.

Bailey put aside talks for a new contract to showcase the skills that have made him a three-time Pro Bowl selection and Edwards was nominated by his players to receive a game ball.

Defensive end Bruce Smith, who registered a half sack and is three sacks away from breaking Reggie White's NFL record of 198, said every member of the unit seemed to work in tandem.

"We stopped the run," said Smith, who delivered a passionate pre-game speech to his defensive teammates. "Our defensive backs played extremely well, and our linebackers flew around the ball like I've never seen them fly around the ball before. All in all, it worked hand-in-hand and we came out on top."

The only quibble was the defense's inability to generate much of a pass rush against New York. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, 39, was sacked just once, and there wasn't enough pressure to force a fumble or interception.

"We've just got to get better," defensive tackle Bernard Holsey said. "It's a long season. There's always room for improvement."

Although he was impressed by running back Ladell Betts' performance Thursday, coach Steve Spurrier said the team plans to continue rotating Betts and Trung Canidate.

Betts led the team with 77 yards on 18 carries, while Canidate ran 10 times for 46 yards. But Spurrier said he plans to alternate Betts, a hard-nosed plower, and Canidate, a shifty speedster.

"They'll both be playing," Spurrier said, noting that he would leave the decision on a starter to running backs coach Hue Jackson. "They'll both continue playing. In our game, someone's liable to get a little sprained ankle or something like that."

For his part, Betts said he hopes his outing convinced the coaches that the sprained left elbow he suffered during preseason is fully healed.

"The biggest thing was to show that I was healthy, that I had recovered from the injury," said Betts, who rushed for 307 yards in spot duty last season. "I think I did that."

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