The way Phillip Daniels has been playing football the past month has prompted a debate at Redskins Park. Redskins coaches say Daniels is playing the best ball of his 10-year NFL career, but Daniels himself casts aside such ideas.
Whichever side you take, there's no denying that the 6-5, 290-pound defensive end needs to be a leading force for the Redskins' defense on Saturday afternoon in Seattle.
Daniels says it will be special to go up against the team that brought him into the NFL as a fourth-round draft pick (99th overall) out of Georgia in 1996. But at the same time, he hopes to be able to help hand the Seahawks their first home loss of the 2005 season after eight straight wins.
"They gave me an opportunity to play in the league," Daniels says of Seattle. "I can't thank them enough for that. Now, I'm on the other side of the ball, so I have to go out and get a victory. Seattle gave me an opportunity. They drafted me. I was there for four years, but it has been a while since I've been there. Now I'm with the Redskins. We have to go out and try to win."
After four seasons in Seattle and four in Chicago, Daniels joined the Redskins in 2004. His first season in Washington was hampered by a series of injuries. This year, he's made up for lost time.
Daniels started all 16 regular-season games and produced 72 tackles and a team-leading eight sacks. He was superlative in the 35-7 win over Dallas on Week 15 at FedExField, registering four sacks to tie a Redskins record previously held by Dexter Manley and Diron Talbert.
In the 17-10 Wild Card win at Tampa Bay, Daniels came up with three tackles and a key sack on Bucs quarterback Chris Simms. Including the playoffs, Daniels has seven sacks in his last four games.
Those 72 tackles by Daniels equal his career high, set with the Bears in 2001. His eight sacks this season are one short of his career high, set twice, at Seattle in 1999 and at Chicago in 2001.
Although he's a defensive end by trade, Daniels has produced some of his best plays this season in situations when he's lined up at the defensive tackle position. Regarded as one of the team's strongest players, Daniels has been a competitive power lifter for much of his NFL career.
On Saturday, when he looks across the line of scrimmage, Daniels will see a former teammate and one of the NFL's top offensive tackles year after year in Pro Bowler Walter Jones, the 6-5, 315-pound nine-year veteran.
Asked about the matchup versus Jones and the Seahawks, Daniels said: "It's going to be good. Walt and I know each other. We'll go out there and keep fighting. He knows that he has to play well for his team to win and I know that I have to play well for my team to win. It's just two guys going out and doing the best they can to help their team win games."
Said assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, speaking of the Daniels-Jones matchup: "Both of those guys are playing very well. It's going to be a huge part of the ballgame. What kind of pressure will we get there? What can they do to stymie us?"
Daniels adds that he doesn't have any new wrinkles that he can throw at Jones and the Seattle offensive line in Saturday's second-round confrontation.
"There's nothing new that you can come up with to surprise Walt," Daniels insists. "I think that Walt is one of the best tackles in the league, if not the best. You have to go out, play a solid game, and do your thing.
"Hopefully, you can get him a couple of times and make something happen. Walt is one of those guys who has good feet and is athletic. He's gotten better and better every year."
For now, Daniels says he doesn't agree with those who suggest the current season is his best in the NFL.
"I had a couple of good years in Seattle. My last year in Seattle was probably my best year, but it's close," said the Donalsville, Georgia, native. "It's close. You could toss a coin to see which one was better. I was hurt last year. This year, I wanted to come out and prove to everyone that I could play. I still can play. Nothing has gotten old on me but my clothes."
Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs is among those who say Daniels is on top of his game in 2005. The two were teammates in Seattle between 1997 and 1999.
"Phillip's playing as well as I've ever seen him play," said Springs, who missed last week at Tampa Bay with a groin injury but is expected to return to action in Seattle. "He's playing real well. When we were at Seattle, he was our run-stopping guy. You couldn't even run the ball to his side. Now he's making it so that you can't even throw the ball to his side. I told Phillip I want to come over and play on the right side because he puts so much pressure on the quarterbacks.
"If he keeps playing like that, it's going to be big. It'll be personal for Phillip, too. He likes going back to Seattle and playing against Walter. He has his hands full."
Perhaps Williams put the debate best in perspective.
Asked if he also thought Daniels' 1999 season in Seattle was his best, Williams replied: "Over an entire season, it may have been his best statistical season."
Then Williams added: "I would even mention that these last several weeks here rival that whole season."
While the debate rages, the Redskins are simply hoping to get another first-class effort out of their veteran at right defensive end on Saturday.