- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

If the last three Redskins games have taught us anything, it's that there isn't much difference between Brad Johnson and Jeff George. As Norv Turner puts it, "We've shown we can win with both quarterbacks, and we've shown we can lose with both quarterbacks." So it probably doesn't matter much which of them calls the signals from here on out; the end result will be about the same.

Turner announced yesterday that Johnson, now fully recovered from a sprained knee, would regain his starting job this Sunday against the Giants. But if Norv had said that George would start, would anyone other than maybe Brad have fainted? After all, George has been playing the past month while Johnson has been watching. It's entirely possible he would stand a better chance of beating New York.

"You certainly can [look at] every possible scenario," Turner said yesterday. What it came down to for him, though, is "the comfort level Brad has with our offense everything we do… . He's our starting quarterback."

It's a tough call, you have to admit. And had George completed that little flat pass to Larry Centers on Sunday the one from the Philadelphia 3 in the fourth quarter the Redskins likely would have defeated the Eagles and Norv might have decided to stick with him at QB. But the throw was a touch long and, well, by such small margins are starting positions won and lost.

"Thank God it's not my decision to make," Centers said of the quarterback quandary. "But no matter who's in there, we have to protect him better and give him a chance to win the ballgame."

Here's why going back to Johnson makes sense for the Redskins: Because he's 3-0 against the Giants over the past two years all of them fairly convincing victories (50-21, 23-13, 16-6). In fact, he's the first Redskins quarterback to beat the Giants three times in a row since Joe Theismann in the early '80s. That means a lot in a backs-to-the-wall game like this. You don't want to insert an unknown quantity (e.g. George) into the equation.

If the Redskins lose Sunday, it's going to be hard for them to make the playoffs. But if they win improving their record to 8-5 and completing a sweep of New York their postseason prospects will improve dramatically. A division title will even be within reach, depending on how the tiebreakers go. So it behooves them to look at this as a one-game season.

And that, of course, is the approach Turner is taking. "I don't want to hear all the tiebreak scenarios," he said. "Hey, we need to find a way to beat New York."

After they accomplish that, though, they need to find a way to beat Dallas. And Johnson is, um, 0-3 against the Cowboys since coming to Washington. See? This Brad-or-Jeff business is more complicated than it seems.

OK, moment-of-truth time: If it were up to me, I'd start George not because I like him any better but because of the circumstances. Johnson, as mentioned earlier, hasn't taken a snap since Oct. 30. And now you're going to play him in the biggest game of the year (so far)? Pretty risky.

Something else to consider: If the Redskins and Eagles finish tied for the NFC East lead with 11-5 records, the title would probably go to the team that had outscored its division opponents by the wider margin. Right now, Philly has a 39-point edge in this department, so the Redskins need to win and win big in their remaining games against the Giants, Cowboys and Cardinals. For the record, the Washington offense is averaging 22.7 points a game with George at quarterback nearly four more than it's averaging with Johnson (18.9).

I can't help thinking of the '87 strike season, when Joe Gibbs kept going back and forth between Jay Schroeder and Doug Williams. In the big game against the Giants that year, Gibbs invited much second-guessing by reinstating Schroeder, who had been benched, as the starter. Jay rallied the Redskins to victory that afternoon, but he struggled thereafter and Coach Joe ultimately turned to Williams for the playoff run.

Yes, Gibbs, the Hall of Fame genius, got it wrong the first time. Has Turner gotten it wrong, too, or is starting Johnson the right move? We'll know by 4 p.m. Sunday.

Say this much for Norv: He stands by his convictions. He has said all along that Johnson is his quarterback, and he's not weaseling out now. Even if his boss might disagree with him.

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