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The Washington Redskins have become the team to beat in the National Football Conference--not that anyone has been able to do it.

The Redskins' 20-7 victory over the Chicago Bears Sunday was the latest reason to make them the favorite to reach the Super Bowl for fifth time.

The logic is as old as the NFL: You win championships with defense.

Sunday wasn't the Redskins' best defensive effort of the season, but it was their best on the road. At home, Washington has recorded three shutouts, outscoring its opponents, 102-0.

Darrell Green's four interceptions lead the NFL and he anchors a secondary that has made the Redskins the top-ranked team against the pass. The Bears' Jim Harbaugh completed only 17 of 41 passes against Washington Sunday, and the Redskins picked off three.

Wilber Marshall, moved to an outside linebacking slot this season, is making more big plays; he had his third interception of the year against the Bears, his former team. Matt Millen, who played on three Super Bowl teams with the Raiders and 49ers, has been a valuable addition in running situations.

There have been some strange quirks to Washington's season. As Millen put it, "for some inexplicable reason, people have not been at their best against us."

The Redskins shut out the Lions on opening day, but Detroit was without Barry Sanders. Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith, who ran roughshod over Washington in the first half of the season's second game, was ineffective in the second half after drinking too much fluid replacement. Phoenix failed to score behind backup quarterback Tom Tupa.

The Bears were at full strength, however, and the rest of the league had better be prepared to hear a lot more from the Redskins.


There was a strange occurrence Friday outside Tampa Stadium. There was a strange occurrence Sunday inside it.

On Friday, a black magic priest murmured prayers, sprinkled salt and blew smoke in a mystical ceremony to remove the losing hex from the Buccaneers.

"I felt bad evil spirits," self-described Santeria priest Frank Jerry said. "There was a bad curse here, but I removed it."

Employing Santeria's strange blend of Catholicism and Afro-Cuban beliefs, the colorfully robed priest sprinkled salt on a Tampa Bay jersey, puffed heavily on a cigar and blew smoke through the shirt to break the spell.

"There are no more excuses," he said. "Let's play ball."

If anything, the curse was on both teams Sunday, as the Buccaneers ended a seven-game losing streak with a 14-13 victory in possibly one of the worst NFL games ever played.

Brad Goebel, the rookie filling in at quarterback for the Eagles, completed nine of 20 passes for 62 yards with two interceptions. Vinny Testaverde was five of 18 for 52 yards before he was replaced by Chris Chandler. Philadelphia running back Heath Sherman ran the ball 35 times for 89 yards, a 2.5 average. The teams combined for 10 turnovers. The rain didn't let up much.

Next time, tell Frank Jerry to try Candlestick Park.


The AFC Central rested last week in the first byes of the season. How did they do Sunday?

Houston roared back against Denver, 42-14; Cincinnati continued its fall with a 13-7 loss to Seattle; Cleveland had a costly fumble in a 17-14 setback against the New York Jets; and Pittsburgh improved to 3-2 with a 21-3 victory over Indianapolis in a game that would have looked good to TNT about two years ago.

This week's byes: the NFC West.


It wasn't bad enough that Seattle defeated Cincinnati, 13-7, dropping the Bengals to 0-5. Seahawk Coach Chuck Knox moved ahead of Bengal founder Paul Brown with victory

No. 167, sixth on the all-time list.

Barry Sanders had his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing day for Detroit. The only other player in Lion history with four 100-yard games in a row was Billy Sims in 1983. . . . The Vikings played without Herschel Walker, who had a bruised left shoulder. "I decided before the game to keep him out of the game," Coach Jerry Burns said. "I wasn't going to play him because his shoulder was in bad shape. The way things were going, I really didn't feel the need to put him in."

Ken O'Brien wasn't sacked in the Jets' 17-14 victory over Cleveland, avoiding a sack for the second consecutive week. It was the seventh time in his career that O'Brien has gone without a sack, and the Jets are 7-0 in those games. . . . Bernie Kosar's fumble was only the third the Browns have lost this year. . . . The Browns lost Frank Minnifield because of a bruised shoulder in the second quarter. He is the sixth defensive back they have lost this year.

Dan Marino's 321 passing yards in Miami's 20-10 victory over New England left him 56 yards short of moving into eighth place in NFL history. Marino, with 32,782 yards, trails Ken Anderson, who threw for 32,838 yards in 16 seasons. Marino is in his ninth season. . . . Patriot rookie Leonard Russell, who gained 264 yards in his first four games, carried twice for four yards and left the game with a rib injury. . . . Miami tight end Greg Baty, New England's eighth-round draft choice in 1986, tormented his former team. He had four receptions for a career-high 89 yards, all for first downs.

Houston's 42-14 victory over Denver marked the first time this season that the Broncos allowed more than 20 points in a game.

Dallas cornerback Vince Albritton suffered a broken left forearm in the first quarter of the Cowboys' victory over Green Bay.


The San Francisco 49ers had a bye Sunday, but Joe Montana has already been ruled out of next week's game against Atlanta.

Montana felt pain in his right elbow while throwing 30-yard passes Saturday.

"When he threw short, there wasn't any more pain," 49er Coach George Seifert said. "When he threw longer, there was pain and he stopped throwing at 30 yards, 35 yards."

Montana's status beyond next week's game is still uncertain.

"I don't know how to totally evaluate it myself right now," Seifert said. "I wish it didn't happen. I don't know if he was surprised by it. Obviously, he doesn't like it."


Thoughts of a Sunday morning channel-flipper:

--It was probably only a slip, but ESPN's Robin Roberts should know that Detroit and Chicago were tied for the NFC Central lead, not the East.

--NBC made the correct decision to leave the Houston-Denver game with the Oilers leading, 35-0, at the half, but viewers didn't get any break on the announcers. We went from the chortling Charlie Jones and Todd Christensen to the screaming Don Criqui and the pontificating Bob Trumpy at Miami-New England.

--Haven't seen much of Bill Parcells as an analyst, but the former Giant coach hasn't analyzed much that isn't already known.


Howie Long on the Raiders' loss to San Diego: "We were atrocious as a team. We didn't cover kicks, we weren't good on the return aspect, we dropped balls, we didn't block, we didn't tackle, we didn't cover. We were terrible. It's a major disappointment."

Chicago Coach Mike Ditka after the Bears lost to Washington, 20-7: "We're not very good. We're not in their category. I don't know who we can beat. It would have to be some team that scores less than seven points."

Cincinnati quarterback Boomer Esiason on the Bengals: "When you're 0-5, it seems the flags go against you, the breaks go against you, and players get hurt in mysterious ways. Things just happen."

Denver receiver Mark Jackson on Houston cornerback Cris Dishman, who returned a fumble for a touchdown and returned an interception to the one-yard line in the Oilers' 42-14 victory: "He was talking trash all day. He had diarrhea of the mouth. It was disgusting. We used to call him Dishrag and he still is."

New York Jet running back Blair Thomas after a 17-14 victory over Cleveland: "It's a different attitude on the sideline today. A couple weeks ago, the attitude was, 'Oh boy, we're on our heels now.' But now the attitude on the sideline was, 'Come on, we gotta go.' "

Barry Sanders, whose 15-yard touchdown run capped a Detroit rally against Minnesota: "I was very excited after I scored. I just don't show it very much."

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