- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

When the preseason Super Bowl favorite Washington Redskins lost back-to-back home games to fellow NFC contenders to fall to 7-6 last season, owner Dan Snyder fired coach Norv Turner. Snyder hoped the move would re-ignite a fading team that was still in contention. It didn't work as the Redskins lost their next two games and were eliminated.
The Redskins have repeated those consecutive home losses the past two weeks but, at 6-8 after Sunday's 20-15 loss to Chicago, are already out of the playoff chase, so there's nothing to spark. And unlike Turner, a holdover from the previous regime, Schottenheimer is Snyder's hand-picked coach and has a four-year, $10 million contract and control of the team's football operations to prove it.
So despite Washington's elimination with Sunday's loss, Schottenheimer remains firm in his resolve about his job security and his game plans.
"I've got a job," Schottenheimer said yesterday when asked if he believed it was on the line in the final two games against New Orleans and Arizona. "I haven't had an opportunity to talk to Dan yet."
Refuting the idea that these games are about the future, Schottenheimer said he has no plans to play such rookies as quarterback Sage Rosenfels and receiver Darnerien McCants.
"The next two weeks, every decision we make, everything we do, every purpose we have is about winning," Schottenheimer said. "That's what has driven us from the outset and will continue to drive us. We're not in the mode of trying to play young players to develop them. That's what you do during the offseason, training camp and the preseason. What we're about is trying to work our tails off to find a way to win those next two games."
But as Schottenheimer said, "I don't have a whole lot of experience in this situation." His teams made the playoffs in 11 of his 14 full seasons with Cleveland and Kansas City and were eliminated this early only once.
Eight Redskins starters quarterback Tony Banks, receiver Michael Westbrook, fullback Donnell Bennett, guards Ben Coleman and Dave Szott, center Cory Raymer, defensive tackle Kenard Lang and linebacker Robert Jones are in the final years of their contracts. Coleman and Lang have said they would like to re-sign. Szott and Bennett are longtime Schottenheimer proteges. Raymer and Jones both figure to be reasonably priced. Banks and Westbrook are less likely to be back, depending on the alternatives.
Banks, signed on waivers from Dallas in August, is 5-6 as a starter (not counting the Denver game in which he was hurt and backup Kent Graham rallied Washington to victory). Banks is 13th of 15 quarterbacks in the NFC passer ratings, ahead only of Chicago's Jim Miller and Carolina rookie Chris Weinke. The offense has averaged just 14.6 points in Banks' 11 full games. But that's still better than twice its average in the other three games.
"I'd like to see how Tony performs the last couple of weeks … gives us a better opportunity to evaluate him," Schottenheimer said. "The ultimate decision [about the starter in 2002] will be driven by one factor: what gives us the best opportunity to win."
The Redskins have played well enough on defense this season to be in the playoffs, but only Cleveland has scored fewer points and only Dallas has been worse in the red zone.
"There's no mystery," Schottenheimer said. "Our inability to convert in the red zone has hurt us. We had a number of rushing plays [against the Bears] that we got nothing out of, starting with first-and-goal at the 8. On second-and-1 at the 3, they had 10 guys on the line of scrimmage. It's hard to run the ball [in that situation]. When they've got that many people up there, they're always going to have one more than you, and that one guy [usually] makes the play.
"We had an opportunity to make a couple of plays, and we didn't make them. You have to find a way to make these plays, and if you do, you're not bemoaning the fact that you can't put it in the end zone from inside the 10-yard line. We're working on it. We're trying to get it done. The players have given everything they've got. But we've just come up short. You have to be careful that you don't become paranoid about it."
Linebacker Kevin Mitchell appears likely to miss a second straight start because of a sprained ankle Sunday night against New Orleans. Tight end Stephen Alexander could well sit out a third straight game with a leg injury. Robert Jones and Walter Rasby, respectively, will fill in again.

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