- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

Burgeoning optimism for the Washington Redskins' chances under first-year coach Steve Spurrier took a hit last night from one of the NFL's powerhouse clubs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, 13-3 last season and narrow losers in the AFC Championship game, dominated early before the Redskins rallied for a 35-34 preseason win before the remnants of 70,310 at FedEx Field. Washington committed six turnovers and struggled defensively in Spurrier's home debut after dazzling in much of its first two exhibitions.
The Redskins (3-0) were shut out 17-0 in the first half after running up 75 points in the first two games. Washington's halftime deficit came essentially in starters-vs.-starters action, though the first-stringers for Pittsburgh (0-2) exited late in the second quarter while leading by 14 points.
The Redskins finally scored 4:05 into the third quarter on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Shane Matthews to Derrius Thompson, trimming a 24-0 deficit with reserves playing for both teams. The fourth quarter eventually saw Sage Rosenfels throw three touchdown passes, including a 5-yarder to Darnerien McCants with 2:11 left, for the dubious win.
"The was one interesting game," Spurrier said. "One thing about the crowd, they didn't boo us in the first half. I know that's what happens in the NFL. They could have booed our butts out of the tunnel, but they didn't, and our guys came back and gave them something to cheer about."
Sharp late play by players like Thompson (eight catches, 129 yards, two touchdowns) and fellow wideout Chris Doering (seven catches, 73 yards, one touchdown) led Spurrier to say, "Maybe we need to re-evaluate all of our guys. It seems like our seconds and thirds are doing well against other teams' seconds and thirds."
Washington quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who was spectacular in backup work the first two games, endured a rough quarter in his first action as a starter. Wuerffel completed two of five passes for 24 yards and one interception, failing to seize the starting job. Coming in Wuerffel had passed for 371 yards and four touchdowns.
The rest of the Redskins' offense didn't help Wuerffel. Two drops (by wideouts Kevin Lockett and Reidel Anthony), a botched center exchange and a penalty (by fullback Bryan Johnson) that nullified a 19-yard completion undermined Wuerffel as Washington picked up just one first down in three series.
"We started off slow," wide receiver Rod Gardner said. "But once we made the adjustments, it was up and down the field. You never know what would have happened if [the starters] had stayed in there."
Pittsburgh's offense, meanwhile, was spectacular after stalling early. Momentum went the unit's way with a 36-yard pickup on a third-and-10 screen pass to Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala late in the first quarter. That set up Pittsburgh's first touchdown, and following a Washington punt the Steelers drove 99 yards for a second touchdown.
The Steelers' final first-half score was set up by an interception by Rosenfels, who nearly had several other picks in the second quarter and seemed to be telegraphing his passes. Reserve corner Nijrel Eason returned the interception 27 yards, and Tee Martin advanced Pittsburgh down a short field for a 28-yard field goal by Todd Peterson and a 17-0 lead.
"Anytime you give up 17 points in the first half it's not a good performance at all," linebacker Jessie Armstead said. "It's preseason. We'll go back in and evaluate the film, and the coaches will make the corrections. You never get too high from a win or too low. You've got to keep a level head and learn from this game."
About all the Redskins' starting defense was able to do was sideline two quarterbacks. Both Kordell Stewart (mild concussion) and Charlie Batch (cut on chin) were knocked out, by linebacker LaVar Arrington and defensive tackle Del Cowsette, respectively. The latter hit drew one of the first half's 14 penalties; the lengthy game ultimately had 27.
Rosenfels, who seemed to be third in the quarterback race entering the game, was rough in the second quarter but got hot in the fourth quarter to finish 17-for-25 for 244 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Matthews had been scheduled to play the whole second half, but Spurrier subbed Rosenfels back in after Matthews took a shot to the chin and the Redskins looked hopelessly behind.
Spurrier said rookie passer Patrick Ramsey would have made his debut had Washington stayed behind by several touchdowns midway through the fourth quarter.
Rosenfels' early action saw him get stripped on the first play of his second series when fill-in left tackle Rod Jones let linebacker Joey Porter get in for a blind-side sack. Rosenfels' third series ended with the interception, while a fourth series was cut short by the clock after the Steelers' field goal came with 1:26 remaining.
Jones, signed to play guard but struggling at that spot, was filling in for injured left tackle Chris Samuels, who is expected to miss at least one more week with a sprained ankle. Washington's starting offense also was missing wide receiver Jacquez Green (ribs), while the defense did not have first-string tackle Daryl Gardener (back).
Defensive lineman Carl Powell suffered an elbow injury in the second half and was taken to the locker room for X-rays. Running back Ladell Betts endured a sprained right ankle.
Rosenfels' second quarter saw him go 6-for-10 for 54 yards and an interception, but his poor 35.0 quarterback rating was about double Wuerffel's 15.8. Ultimately the preseason's "best" work by a Washington quarterback against a starting defense came from Matthews at Carolina: 7-for-13 for 65 yards with an interception.
Matthews opened last night's second half with an interception and threw another late in the third quarter, but he managed to lead a pair of touchdown drives in between. Following a solid first half at Carolina, Matthews completed 14 of 21 passes for 137 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
After Matthews' early interception, Martin drove down another short field and hit super rookie Antwaan Randle El for a 17-yard touchdown pass. Randle El, an option quarterback at Indiana, also scored on a 32-yard second-quarter reverse, weaving through some sharp blocking against Washington's starting defense.
Randle El was among the standout receivers for Pittsburgh. Starters Plaxico Burress (four catches, 57 yards) and Hines Ward (three catches, 48 yards) also looked sharp on a rough night by Washington corners Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot.


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