- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Washington Redskins quarterback Jeff George is no closer to the permanent starting job, despite guiding what many observers are calling the biggest win of coach Norv Turner's seven-year career.

George fired three touchdown passes in Monday night's 33-20 victory at the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, but Brad Johnson will resume starting duties when his sprained left knee heals, Turner said yesterday.

Asked if George might continue to start when Johnson is healthy, Turner replied: "I don't see that."

However, it remains unclear when Johnson will return from the MCL injury he suffered in the fourth quarter of Washington's previous appearance on "Monday Night Football," a 27-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 30.

Redskins officials could not predict when Johnson, who has missed two straight games, will return to practice or whether he will be able to play in Sunday's key NFC East contest against the first-place Philadelphia Eagles.

"We'll just increase his work," trainer Bubba Tyer said. "He did more last week, and he'll do more this week."

Said Turner: "We'll get through the week and see where we're at. I expect Jeff to start [against the Eagles], but that's without having seen Brad in practice."

The Redskins (7-4) stand just a half-game behind Philadelphia (8-4) in the East and just a game behind St. Louis (8-3) for the second first-round bye in the playoffs. Washington also is in a four-way tie for the NFC's three wild-card playoff berths and would be invited based on the tiebreaking formula.

In Monday's win at the TransWorld Dome, George completed 24 of 34 passes for 269 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. For the season George has a 1-1 record and an 80.0 quarterback rating, compared to Johnson's 6-3 record and 81.2 rating.

"Everyone knows Jeff's a starting quarterback in this league," Turner said. "Everyone knows my feeling is that Brad Johnson is our starting quarterback. We have two guys I believe we can win with. If Brad's healthy, there's things he does to help us win. If not, obviously Jeff showed last night he does things to help us win."

Turner complimented George's ability to regroup after throwing an interception on his first pass, and the coach acknowledged George's big-play potential. But Turner also cautioned to remember St. Louis' defensive deficiencies the Rams rate 28th in the NFL when evaluating Monday's performance.

"Sometimes it's not what you did, it happens to be who you're playing and what they did," Turner said. "People who watch the Rams realize they've had a tough time [defending] some of the things we were able to get on them."

Nonetheless, George's daring, risk-reward style was on display. He rifled passes to wide receivers, fullbacks and running backs and even sent one to tight end James Jenkins in the end zone. Jenkins, who has just 15 catches in a 10-year career, did not make the grab.

The wide receivers responded with their second 13-catch game of the season and their third multi-touchdown game. Albert Connell had five catches for 96 yards, James Thrash five catches for 51 yards and a touchdown and Irving Fryar three receptions for 58 yards and another score.

"We felt our one-on-one matchups, our receivers against their corners, were matchups in our favor," Turner said. "Some weeks they're not in your favor."

With George in the lineup, Washington appeared to utilize more passes to the reverse side of the field. Turner acknowledged that strategy yesterday but said it was triggered by St. Louis' defense, not George's particular talents.

George rated third in the NFL last season after assuming Randall Cunningham's starting job and guiding the Minnesota Vikings to an 8-2 record. Johnson, in his first season with the Redskins, earned his first Pro Bowl invitation and rated fifth in the league.

The two quarterbacks became teammates in the offseason when George, 32, signed a four-year, $18.25 million contract, which instantly precipitated speculation that Johnson's starting status would be challenged.

Those questions increased when Johnson, 32, struggled to complete deep throws in the season's first three games, while the Redskins, despite a league-record payroll approaching $100 million, started 1-2.

But Turner stuck with Johnson, and the ninth-year veteran responded by leading five straight wins before the loss to Tennessee. George's first start then resulted in a disappointing defeat, 16-15 at the last-place Arizona Cardinals.

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