WASHINGTON — As the Ram team bus made its way toward RFK Stadium Monday, linebacker Kevin Greene peered casually out the window. There, on nearly each corner, was a Redskin fan gesturing with the thumbs-down sign.
This isn't unusual, Greene would say later. But then, standing by himself near the stadium entrance was an old man.
"I'll never forget it," Greene said. "Everyone else is doing this thumbs-down thing, and this old guy does something else."
Suffice to say, "something else" wasn't exactly your congratulatory wave. It involved a single finger and the message, as far as Greene was concerned, was simple enough.
"He knew what we were going to do to the Redskins," he said. "He knew. "We came in this game knowing we were going to win. We felt it. We had it."
What's this . . . cockiness? From a member of the Ram defense?
These are the same fellas who allowed 23 first downs against the San Francisco 49ers earlier this month. The same bunch that gave up 443 total yards to the New Orleans Saints several weekends ago. The guys who watched as the Saints rushed for a previously unheard of 232 yards. The defense that allowed 299 passing yards by the Atlanta Falcons.
That Ram defense.
Entering Monday night's game against the Redskins, the once-impressive defense was ranked 24th in the league. That's usually reserved for the Miamis of the National Football League, not the Rams.
But here they were, listed 16th best against the rush, 27th against the pass. At last look, the Ram pass rush showed up only on special occasions. And opposing runners usually found Ram defenders agreeable enough, what with the double-digit missed tackles.
That, of course, was before Greene happened to glance out of a bus window. Or before defensive end Gary Jeter grew weary of the constant compliments given to the Redskin offensive line, known in these parts as "the Hogs." Or even before cornerback LeRoy Irvin decided to rejuvenate his tarnished playing image.
It wasn't vintage Ram defense--not with the scoreboard showing Rams 30, Redskins 26--but it was close in its own way.
This time, as the Redskins drove to what might have been the winning touchdown with less than a minute remaining, the Ram defense held. Barely.
On second and 10 at the Ram 14, Redskin quarterback Doug Williams looked toward the end zone, threw and waited.
Here's what he saw: His pass grazing off receiver Art Monk's usually reliable hands . . . the ball floating gently toward the ground . . . Irvin grabbing it in mid-air. Interception. Vindication of sorts for a maligned Ram defense.
Irvin was last seen getting carried off the field. Greene fell to his knees and looked upward. Redskin wide receiver Gary Clark slammed his helmet angrily to the turf.
"It was the defensive line," Irvin said. "It was Jeter, (Greg) Meisner . . . the big boys up front. They did the job when it had to be done. I mean, I can get the garbage when they're like that."
Speaking of garbage, Jeter said he was a tad bit tired of Hog hype. Hog this, Hog that, he said. Enough was enough.
This was a game in which the heretofore unheralded Ram defensive line tried some selective butchering.
"I just get tired of hearing all that about the Hogs," Jeter said. "They're just big guys. Hey, once you get any big guy going backward, doing something he really doesn't want to do, then you can work him."
Jeter would know. He had one sack, which caused a fumble by Williams. Linebacker Mike Wilcher picked up the ball, and 35 yards later, the Rams had a 7-0 lead. Jeter slipped easily past replacement holdover Darrick Brilz for the sack.
"I got sick and tired of coming here to Washington and getting drilled," he said. "And I get tired of hearing that danged darn (Redskin fight) song. Hey, they can be beat. A Hog's a Hog when they roll them back."
There were other moments. Greene sacked Williams in the second quarter to stop a Redskin drive. Greene finished the night with two sacks.
And Nolan Cromwell, who was awarded the game ball, blocked his third punt of the season. One play after the block, the Rams added to their lead.
"Today, the defense definitely felt it was going to be our game," Wilcher said. "We're really playing a lot more like we did in the past."