- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

FOXBORO, Mass. — Before we get to the thrilling preseason finale between the Redskins and Patriots, let's talk for a few moments about Those Fabulous Replacement Officials. Everybody's all worried that the game won't be the same without the regular (locked-out) crews, that the offensive linemen won't be allowed to hold and the receivers won't be allowed to push off and the referees will forget what down it is.
But all these fears appear to be unfounded if last night's game is any indication. For starters, referee Al Hynes got through the coin flip without a single slip-up. That puts him one up on the illustrious Jerry Markbreit, who botched the flip in the Super Bowl one year. And far from being intimidated by their surroundings, the emergency zebras called a penalty on the Redskins' very first offensive play. (Cory Raymer was caught holding.)
I was particularly impressed with Hynes' handling of the first replay situation. New England's Bill Belichick challenged a fumble ruling against the Patriots' J.R. Redmond, and the ref turned on his microphone without electrocuting himself. He also explained what was going on in unmistakable English and, best of all, after an expeditious review the call was upheld. Who needs $200,000-a-year officials?
Hynes' crew didn't do quite as well on its second challenge. An intentional grounding penalty on Jeff George in the Washington end zone was reversed, costing the Pats a safety. But it wasn't as bad as, say, mistaking Vinny Testaverde's white helmet for a leather football and signaling a touchdown (as happened in a game three years ago).
You have to wonder where the NFL gets these guys, though. Head linesman Jim Guignan was listed as having "No College," and back judge Don Foushee was said to be an alumnus of "Sandhills CC." I'm pretty sure I played 18 holes at Sandhills CC one time. No. 4 is a brutally long par-4 with water on the right, if I recall, and you couldn't reach the par-5 17th in two without an illegal driver. (The snack bar, however, has great cheese fries.)
The game wasn't nearly as interesting as the adventures of the Rent-An-Officials, but then, preseason contests rarely are. Especially the last preseason game. The objective in that one is basically to get in and get out without requiring medical attention. So on that basis, at least, the evening was a success for the Redskins. No one rode to the airport in an ambulance.
But other than that … For the fourth straight game, the Redskins fell behind by two touchdowns in the first half (this time, 17-3). And for the fourth straight game, the opposition played with more enthusiasm. Most of the heavy hits last night were inflicted by the Patriots, including an open-field leveling of Dave Szott by Bryan Cox that evoked memories of the Jim Lachey-Jerry Robinson collision in 1989. (Unlike Robinson, though, Szott didn't need smelling salts.)
In his second start of the preseason, George still looked out of sorts. Of course, you'd look out of sorts, too, if you had to constantly pry pass rushers off your back. The line score in the first quarter was: one sack, two holding penalties (Raymer, Szott) and the aforementioned intentional grounding infraction. About the only thing missing was a completed pass to an ineligible receiver (guard Derrick Fletcher, perhaps).
Yes, the Redskins were missing Chris Samuels, but the fact of the matter is, the offensive line was springing leaks everywhere. If things don't tighten up and fast George won't make it to Week 4. (He did manage a nice drive at the end of the first half highlighted by a 36-yard pass to Michael Westbrook but it was hardly enough to change your opinion of the first-string offense's efforts. Putrid.)
The most encouraging development from a Redskins standpoint maybe the only encouraging development was that George hooked up three times with rookie Rod Gardner (for 45 yards). Since Gardner has already been handed a starting job, it would be helpful if he and his quarterback developed some quick chemistry with the regular season drawing near. George didn't seem to have any trouble finding No. 87 (though he's probably still looking for his blockers).
Nine days from now the games start counting. Good thing the last four didn't. There would be panic in the streets.

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