There is an upbeat atmosphere at Redskins Park these days, reflecting the team's early season success.
Joe Gibbs, one of only four coaches to win at least three Super Bowls, was in his element Wednesday, dressed in a Washington Redskins parka and preparing his team for another important game at Giants Stadium.
Former pro quarterback Joe Theismann was also on the premises, giving his opinion about the stellar play of the current quarterback, Mark Brunell. The locker room buzzed with chatter, the kind of energy generated by teams counting the victories instead of counting the days.
The Redskins (4-2) are rolling again, and Sunday's National Football Conference East showdown against the New York Giants (4-2) will be another test for two teams riding momentum, sitting atop the division with the Philadelphia Eagles (4-2). The Dallas Cowboys (4-3) are just a half-game behind.
Washington has already exceed-ed expectations after a dreadful 6-10 season. Brunell is the top-rated quarterback in the NFC, a 35-year-old who is fooling those who figured he was washed up. Santana Moss leads the NFL in receiving yards, and his paralyzing speed resulted in two fourth-quarter touchdowns during a September game that Washington stole from Dallas.
Are the Redskins serious playoff contenders, or simply an early story line destined to fade away? At least people are asking. That means things have changed for the better.
"People are still looking at us and saying, `Wait and see,' especially because of the division we're in," said running back Clinton Portis, who has 544 yards rushing, eighth in the league. "Everybody in the division is good, and people may think the Redskins are going to be the team that doesn't pan out.
"So let's wait and see. But I'll say this: This isn't last year. Last year was a learning year for everybody, because nobody knew this offense. We had no vertical offense. This year, we've got guys making big plays. People respect our passing game. Mark is playing great. We've got a lot of guys playing well. And that's what it takes to win."
Gibbs made a bold move in Week 2, naming Brunell the starter and benching Patrick Ramsey. It was a typical Gibbs move, part logic and part instinct. Brunell had outplayed Ramsey during the preseason, but Brunell was coming off a terrible 2004, when he completed just 49.8 percent of his passes and lost his job to Ramsey after nine games. Hobbled by calf and hamstring injuries last year, Brunell looked old and slow, and his passes lacked zip. But after watching a healthy Brunell this summer, Gibbs followed his gut and made the change, knowing it would create controversy but believing that Brunell offered the best chance to win.
"He's a born leader, he has a lot of confidence, and that instills confidence in people around him," Gibbs said. "None of us can talk a team into believing in something. But if they believe the quarterback can do it, it means a lot. They're running the show."
Throwing for 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions this season, Brunell has turned the clock back to the mid-1990s, when he was one of the league's best quarterbacks with the Jacksonville Jaguars, playing under the Giants' current coach, Tom Coughlin. Brunell may feel vindicated by his resurgence, but he said he would rather focus on the success of the team.