- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 22, 2001

Judging by talk around town, it appears that another city has lost faith in quarterback Tony Banks. But the Washington Redskins remain confident about their passer, and some statistics show that his first season here has been better than perceived.

Overall, Banks' passer rating is just 73.0, 12th in the NFC and only a few points above Jim Miller (71.3), the Chicago Bears' starter whom the Redskins face tomorrow, and Carolina rookie Chris Weinke (64.4).

But Banks' rating suffers from a poor start following the unexpected release of Jeff George. And it doesn't show that he has a .500 record (5-5, not including the Denver win, in which he was injured in the second quarter), that his rating was 94.6 or higher for four straight games (Weeks 5-8), or that he has thrown for at least 200 yards in each of the past three games.

Just two weeks ago, Banks had a 109.5 rating in a 20-10 win at Arizona. But public opinion of him dropped precipitously following two fourth-quarter, red zone interceptions in last weekend's 20-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Playing for his fourth team in six NFL seasons, Banks believes that he is making progress in this offense, though he says his strides are difficult to see because of the scheme's limited nature. He blames himself for being too aggressive on last weekend's interceptions.

"Sometimes I feel like I try to do too much in this offense, because as the game goes on I don't feel like we've had any chances to put the ball down the field or score some points," Banks said yesterday. "Last game that bit me in the [rear end]."

Said Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer: "He's had an opportunity to get familiar with what we're doing. I think he shows the ability to throw the ball effectively down the field. He's got mobility. He's a very, very strong competitor. And as I've said before, unlike the way some have characterized him in the past, I do believe it's very important to him."

Banks concedes that this season's final three games are more than a playoff run for him: He's still trying to show the Redskins or another NFL team what he is capable of doing. He had just one chance to join a team as a starter (Dallas) last offseason, and his free-agent options could be similarly limited this spring if Washington doesn't re-sign him.

"I'm still auditioning," Banks said. "No matter how many games you win in a row, it's always the end result. It's going to end up after 16 games, with 14 starts, how I'm going to be considered around here."

There has been one misconception regarding Banks. Contrary to reports, he was never approached about extending his one-year deal. Not only have the Redskins not had the salary cap room (currently about $70,000) to work an extension without a structure that makes it more sensible for both sides to wait until after the season, but both Banks and a team source frankly denied that he was asked to negotiate.

"Somebody told me I declined to negotiate, and that was not by any means accurate," Banks said. "When I was asked [the question by a reporter], I said that the situation was the same for both parties that they would like to wait and I would like to wait."

Of Banks being asked to negotiate, the team source said, "That's an absolute falsehood."

Skilled punter

One of the Redskins' biggest challenges tomorrow will be Bears punter Brad Maynard, who ranks second in the NFC in two categories: net average (37.7 yards) and times pinning opponents inside their 20 (30). Maynard, one of seven unrestricted free agents still with Chicago after signing last offseason, was named NFC special teams player of the month for November.

"I've had people tell me that his presence on that team has been the most significant change," Marty Schottenheimer said. "He's an excellent punter directionally, [and] he does a great job inside the 20-yard line."

Success at coffin kicks is nothing new for Maynard, who consistently ranked among the best in his first four NFL seasons (all with the New York Giants). In 1997 he was first in the NFL, in 1998 he was second in the NFL, in 1999 he was first in the NFC and last season he was second in the NFC.

Health watch

Running back Stephen Davis (knee) returned to practice and is expected to play. Linebacker Kevin Mitchell (ankle) remained in a protective boot and is all but certain to be out. Tight end Stephen Alexander (ankle) is out. Reserve offensive lineman Matt Campbell (knee) is expected to be available.

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