- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2000

They say bad news comes in threes. In the case of the Washington Redskins, it seems like three per day.

A week that started with an embarrassing loss before a national TV audience keeps getting worse:

• Owner Dan Snyder was booed at halftime of the Redskins' 27-21 upset defeat at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys on Monday, and quarterback Brad Johnson was booed for most of the game.

• Fullback Larry Centers, a key part of the offense, was injured and probably won't play Sunday.

• Tuesday produced a budding quarterback controversy as angry fans called for backup Jeff George to replace Johnson.

• On Wednesday, the team cut kicker Brett Conway, who took a few parting shots at his teammates and management.

• Late Wednesday night, defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield was arrested and charged with domestic battery.

• Yesterday, starting center Cory Raymer reinjured a knee on his first day back at practice. He could miss the rest of the season.

• In addition, the Redskin Park groundskeeper fired last year by Snyder filed a defamation lawsuit against his old boss this week.

And you thought your week was bad.

"It's been a rough one for us," said Raymer, who left practice on crutches yesterday. "It's not what we're accustomed to. The guys are laughing about how crappy a week it's been. Everybody talked about [reaching the Super Bowl] coming into the season, but a couple of losses put it in perspective.

"It's rather bleak and hard to imagine, but we could beat a lot of people on our schedule."

The Redskins have yet to reach the most difficult part of that schedule. The impatient owner hasn't gone ballistic. But, Team Turmoil already is showing the strain. The Redskins haven't fallen into a bunker mentality despite their 1-2 start, but the National Football League's first $100 million team isn't earning its money.

Suddenly, a team filled with marquee players who expected to lead Washington to its first Super Bowl in nine years are downplaying lofty preseason expectations. Super Bowl? Who said Super Bowl?

"There were some things I told you in preseason that you didn't want to hear," cornerback Deion Sanders said. "I can remember sitting behind all these cameras and saying, 'You know, this team [didn't do] this and that last year.' But you didn't want to hear that from me. Now you want to receive it. It's all coming to pass."

The unusually heavy throng of media, which widely predicted that the Redskins would reach the Super Bowl, have returned this week to chronicle one controversy after another. Johnson showed rare frustration Wednesday when he ended a group interview after being asked for the "10th time" whether George might replace him.

Attention to Johnson gave way yesterday to attention to Stubblefield, who said he had done nothing wrong. Attention to Stubblefield soon gave way to Raymer.

Many players said the unending dramas don't unsettle the team, but others wondered how much longer the craziness can continue without demoralizing results.

"On any team, you always try to stay on top of distractions," coach Norv Turner said. "When you're struggling, they become an issue. When you're going well, no one pays attention to them."

Indeed, many players didn't even know about Stubblefield's legal problems until lunchtime, when the lineman was circled by reporters.

"That's personal. That's not football related," Sanders said. "Half the team doesn't know it. They don't need to know it."

Some players see the distractions as a challenge: Better to test their mental toughness now than in the postseason. They merely ask fans for patience, a request that seems a little late considering the cascade of boos that greeted Snyder on Monday.

"The harder it gets, when the stuff starts falling apart, you're that much closer to your goal," Fryar said. "There's going to be some stuff that's going to try to keep us from reaching our goal. We have to realize the harder it gets, the more we have to press. Anybody who's played this sport for any given time knows you can't point the finger because you're not perfect. I've made my fair share of mistakes."

Said Stubblefield: "We're not going to be all together at once. It's not going to take a month. It takes longer than that. We have to focus on this game and not worry about what's down the road. We can't throw it away. There's a lot of ballgames left. For us, we have to go out and try to get this done."

September was supposed to be the easy part of the Redskins' schedule, coming just before a midseason stretch that includes the Final Four of last year's playoffs. The Redskins now face a "must win" situation against the New York Giants (3-0) on Sunday at Giants Stadium; a loss means their hopes of repeating as NFC East champions virtually will be ended.

"It's frustrating when you're trying to correct your problems. The teams you're playing are better and better, and the season is slowly dwindling away, and the hill is getting steeper," Fryar said. "We have to do it quick. We can't afford to lose this game."

Meanwhile, the Redskins have become the NFL's version of a "homecoming" opponent. Everyone wants to knock off the preseason Super Bowl favorites. The Redskins know each week brings the opponent's best game.

"Each and every week, they're always gunning for us," tight end Stephen Alexander said. "We're the team to beat. This is their Super Bowl. We're the marked team."

Turner downplayed that.

"When you're in Week 4, everyone has a target. Everyone is live," Turner said. "If you think the team you're playing isn't locked in on you, you're pretty naive."

Six buzzards circled over Redskin Park on Wednesday. They seemed to be in no hurry just waiting for something to happen.

Makes you wonder what they know.

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