- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2001

CHARGERS 30, REDSKINS 3

SAN DIEGO The Washington Redskins' first regular season under Marty Schottenheimer began the way their supposedly meaningless preseason ended with an ugly, offensively futile performance.

The Redskins generated just 161 yards yesterday in a 30-3 drubbing by the San Diego Chargers before 60,629 at Qualcomm Stadium. The offense fumbled seven times, losing two, and quarterback Jeff George threw two interceptions before being replaced in the third quarter by Tony Banks.

The defeat followed a preseason in which Washington dropped three of four and ranked last in total offense (not to mention last in total defense). The Redskins were outscored in the preseason's first halves 75-23, but the club had said its performance would improve greatly once the regular season began.

It clearly didn't.

"It's like the preseason went on. We didn't turn it around," tight end Stephen Alexander said. "This is when the real bullets are flying. There's still a lot of football left 15 games. We've got plenty of time to do it. But it's got to be done now."

Washington (0-1) lost its debut under Schottenheimer, who was hired as coach and director of football operations on Jan. 3. Helping guide San Diego (1-0) was former Redskins coach Norv Turner, who was fired on Dec. 4. Hiring Turner as offensive coordinator was one of many moves this offseason that were expected to lift San Diego from its 1-15 record last season.

George was yanked with the club trailing 20-0 in the third quarter, after completing just eight of 18 passes for 66 yards and two interceptions. His quarterback rating was 14.8.

Banks didn't do much better, hitting seven of 14 for 53 yards. Banks guided (if it could be called that) Washington's only scoring drive, which lost six yards but still managed a 40-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 20-3 late in the third quarter.

In the preseason Schottenheimer said he had never had a quarterback controversy in his previous 14* seasons as an NFL coach, and he promised there would not be one in Washington, where quarterback controversies are an intractable part of the team's history. However, he felt a move had to be made yesterday because the offense was stagnant with George.

"I'm charged with one thing, and that's finding a way to win," Schottenheimer said. "I felt at that moment that we would go ahead and make the change and see if something happened."

There appeared to be a heated exchange between Schottenheimer and George on the sideline at one point, but the coach later insisted that wasn't the case. Several offensive players said they were stunned by the move. George declined comment.

Schottenheimer did not name a starting quarterback for next week's game against the Arizona Cardinals but team sources said it likely will be George.

"It wasn't all Jeff's fault," Schottenheimer said. "But we had three first downs with about [5*] minutes left to go in the third quarter. We ended up turning the ball over too many times. I'm not going to stand for turning the football over."

Three of the team's seven fumbles belonged to running back Stephen Davis, who lost one key one on the goal line in the third quarter when Washington trailed 20-0. That fumble and one by George on the Redskins' first drive of the second half were the two that resulted in turnovers. George fumbled another snap, in the first quarter, and a third snap by center Cory Raymer got past Banks in the third quarter.

Davis said his goal-line fumble occurred when he tried to leap over the line, a tactic he rarely attempts.

"[Linebacker Orlando Ruff] made a phenomenal play," Davis said. "I can't do [that]. That was the only opportunity we had to put seven points on the board and try to get some momentum back. I can't do that."

The Redskins' poor special teams also played a role in the loss, as the Chargers' Tim Dwight scored on an 84-yard punt return less than 3* minutes into the game. Also, each of San Diego's subsequent five scores were set up by substandard special teams. Four scoring drives came after Redskins punts, one after a kickoff; two started in Redskins territory, the other three at at least the Chargers' 35.

The Chargers' key possession needed just six plays to go 45 yards for a touchdown. It came early in the second quarter, after a 33-yard knuckleball punt by Bryan Barker. Wideout Curtis Conway picked up 16 yards on an end-around with quarterback Doug Flutie as the lead blocker, tying up his former teammate, defensive end Bruce Smith and tight end Freddie Jones got another 16 on a well-designed screen over the middle.

Rookie tailback LaDainian Tomlinson capped the drive with the first of two touchdown carries, a 3-yarder up the middle, to make it 17-0.

Tomlinson, the draft's fifth overall pick, keyed the victory with 113 yards on 36 carries in his NFL debut, but clearly his club was aided by Washington's myriad miscues in the game of field position.

"I learned a long time ago about this business, and it's about field position," Schottenheimer said. "We ended up on as short a note in field position as I can remember… . The worst thing in the world you can do is go into some arena, on the road, and let happen what happened to us on the initial punt return, because all of a sudden it set a tone, and everything we did after that was uphill."


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