LANDOVER, Md. -- The lonely linebacker is about to get some company.
Antonio Pierce patrolled the middle essentially by himself last week when the New York Giants were beating up on the Arizona Cardinals. Kurt Warner threw the ball so often (52 times) that the Men in Blue loaded up on defensive backs and lined up on most plays with just one linebacker.
Welcome back to the field, Danny Clark and Chase Blackburn. The Washington Redskins like to run the ball.
"Yeah, I believe the Redskins ran the ball thirty-something times last week (actually 41)," Pierce said, "so Danny Clark and Chase and the other linebackers will be happy about that -- because they are on the field, and I will be as well. It is good. This is an NFC East matchup; this is what it should be about."
It's not what the league has been about recently. The NFL is coming off its highest-scoring weekend ever, and even the Giants are getting into the act. They've scored at least 30 points in four straight games, the first time they've done that in 40 years.
The Redskins? Ha! They still haven't scored 30 in a single game this season. They haven't allowed 30 in a game, either. Shoot, they've played four games in which both teams failed to score 30 combined.
That's happened to the Giants just once, and it was naturally against the Redskins in the 16-7 win that opened the NFL season in September. It wouldn't be too surprising to see a similar score when New York (10-1) visits Washington (7-4) on Sunday.
"That's what you like," Redskins defensive lineman Lorenzo Alexander said. "The fans won't like it, but we like it as players. It's kind of a grind-it-out game, going back and forth. Who's going to throw that last blow?"
The game pits the NFL's leading rusher (Clinton Portis, 1,206 yards) against the league's top rushing team (Giants' average: 164.9). Both defenses are ranked in the top five. Asked if shutting down Portis was Job One, Pierce didn't flinch.
"Oh, Job One, Two, Three, Four," Pierce said.
The big difference between the clubs, of course, is that New York is a dominant team romping its way through the league, while Washington has straddled a balance beam of close games to the point that every week is getting billed as Armageddon. A loss this week would give the Redskins a pretty much insurmountable deficit behind the Giants for the division title and would leave Washington a game behind Dallas for second place.
"This is going to make or break our season," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "We have a chance to win our division, but we've got to win on Sunday. We have to win on Sunday if we want to stay on top of the race as far as making a wild card. This will tell us who we are. We can talk wanting to be a championship team; we can talk about wanting to be in the playoffs. If we can't beat one of the better teams at home, then we don't deserve to be there."
Much has changed since the Giants last made the trip, when they rescued their season with a second-half comeback and a last-minute goal line stand that prevented an 0-3 start early in the 2007 season.
New York went on to experience the ecstasy of winning a Super Bowl, while Washington dealt with the tragedy of the shooting death of safety Sean Taylor. The Redskins will mark the first anniversary of Taylor's death by inducting him into the team's Ring of Fame during a pregame ceremony Sunday, rekindling powerful memories of the difficult games they had to play immediately before and after Taylor's funeral.
"I think it is going to be big," Portis said, "but I think we went through the bigger ceremony last year, and we were able to make it through that."
Said Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs: "The best way to honor him is to go out and play very well, and that's what I'm going to do."
Copyright AP - Associated Press