By Guy Curtright
The Washington Redskins are back in the NFC playoff picture and one of the reasons why is an undrafted rookie offensive tackle from Maryland who was a late bloomer at Brookwood High School.
Stephon Heyer introduced himself to NFL fans at the beginning of the NBC telecast Sunday night and then took away one of analyst John Madden's main storylines.
Michael Strahan - the all-time sack leader - didn't exploit the inexperienced Heyer. In fact, he didn't get to the Redskins quarterback once in the 22-10 Washington victory at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.
"I just got my hands on him as much as I could and that helped slow him down a whole lot," Heyer told the Washington Post. "I think I did pretty well."
The Giants led the NFL in sacks, but they got to Todd Collins just once. Justin Tuck, coming from the other side, tackled the Redskins' fill-in quarterback.
Given time to throw, Collins - starting his first game in 10 years - completed enough passes in the treacherous winds to complement the running of Clinton Portis as the Redskins won their second consecutive game after the murder of teammate Sean Taylor.
The massive Heyer, who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, has started at right tackle in both of the victories and continues to win the trust of coach Joe Gibbs.
A rookie making his third career start isn't supposed to be able to contain a future NFL Hall of Famer like Strahan. Especially one who went undrafted after a knee injury that cost him a season and set him back.
"Stephon . . . is real talented and everything, (but) this would be a huge challenge for anybody in the league," Gibbs had told reporters late last week. "You are going up against one of the premier defensive ends."
But Heyer passed the test against Strahan while also helping open holes for Portis, who rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown.
"When you run the ball well like that, yeah, it is fun," Heyer told the Washington Post. "We were able to open up the offense a little bit," he added. "We got to dictate what we wanted to do with the ball instead of just sitting back and letting those guys get a good rush up field and get in Todd's face."
The Redskins are just 7-7, but remain in the NFC playoff picture because they have Minnesota - another wild-card contender - next Sunday before finishing the regular season against Dallas.
With the emergence of Heyer, Gwinnett County has three starting offensive tackles in the NFL. Jeff Backus has started every game in his career at left tackle for Detroit and Jon Stinchcomb is the starter at right tackle for New Orleans.
Stinchcomb's Saints, who made it to the NFC Championship Game last season, are 7-7 like the Redskins and also still holding on to faint playoff hopes.
Houston is out of the AFC picture at 7-7, but has won two straight since rookie free agent Darius Walker cracked the lineup. The former Buford and Notre Dame standout gained 66 yards on 13 carries and also caught a pass last Thursday as the Texans beat Denver.
SideBar: GWINNETT NFL PLAYERS
Week 15 update on NFL players from Gwinnett County:
' Jeff Backus, OT, Lions (Norcross)
Started 109th straight game in 51-14 loss to Chargers
' Jason Elam, PK, Broncos (Brookwood)
Kicked two field goals in 31-12 loss to Texans
' David Greene, QB, Chiefs (South Gwinnett)
Spent second week on practice squad
' Stephon Heyer, OT, Redskins (Brookwood)
Got third start in 22-10 victory over Giants
' David Irons, CB, Falcons (Dacula)
Played on special teams in 37-3 loss to Bucs
' Jon Stinchcomb, OT, Saints (Parkview)
Started in 31-24 victory over Cardinals
' Darius Walker, RB,
Rushed for 66 yards in 31-13 win over Broncos
' Mansfield Wrotto, OG, Seahawks (Brookwood)
Inactive for 13-10 loss against Panthers