- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

ANALYSIS

TAMPA, Fla. The Washington Redskins' offense found its regular-season rhythm last night.
The Redskins ran the ball effectively. The pass-to-run ratio was nearly even. The offensive line run-blocked well despite two coming changes.
All told, the Redskins romped without needing to beat up on opposing reserves in a 40-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Redskins' regulars led 16-7 at halftime over a Bucs team that had won with a shutout the previous week. Tampa Bay's defense tried to talk smack. Instead, Washington running back Stephen Davis smacked mouthy Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
The Fun 'n' Gun produced another runaway offensive effort that has become the preseason trademark. But unlike in a 3-0 start that was tainted by second-half comebacks against reserves, the starting offense was validated with a dominating effort. The Redskins scored two touchdowns and a field goal against the Bucs' starters after netting only a field goal against starters in previous games. Thus ends the second guessing over whether Washington's offense could beat a legitimate defense that could lead the Bucs to the NFC South title.
For the first time, the Redskins didn't rely exclusively on the pass. After opening with three incompletions, the Redskins threw 12 passes and ran 11 times before their starters departed at halftime.
And they did it without quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who was a late scratch with the flu. Left tackle Rod Jones departed early with a sprained right elbow, and tight end Walter Rasby sprained his left knee in the second quarter. Considering that new right guard Brenden Stai won't report until today, more than one-third of the offense was missing.
Not that quarterback Shane Matthews didn't make a serious bid to be named the starter over Wuerffel. Matthews has played well twice against starting defenses while Wuerffel has barely faced one. It's not Wuerffel's fault that he missed his chance last night, but with only one preseason game remaining, the Redskins soon must determine the starter.
Spurrier might have named the starter before Thursday's preseason finale against New England, but Wuerffel's illness could extend the uncertainty until the regular-season opener against Arizona on Sept.8.
Matthews completed eight of 15 passes for 97 yards with one touchdown and one interception in his half of action. The 23-yard touchdown to receiver Rod Gardner was a beauty; the interception into double coverage was ugly.
Meanwhile, Davis' 19 yards on five carries was encouraging as the Redskins finally established the run for the first time. Davis' best runs came up the middle, where he has thrived for three years. Fullback Ron Cartwright's eight-yarder was a stirring interior run.
The Redskins claimed they didn't worry about the run in the first three games, but the nearly 2-1 pass-run ratio doesn't work in the regular season. Washington finally showed it hasn't abandoned Davis after all. With left tackle Chris Samuels soon returning from a sprained ankle and Stai giving Washington a veteran right guard who could send improving guard Ross Tucker to the left side, the Redskins' line suddenly looks good enough to spring Davis regularly.
After all, Washington can't beat Philadelphia and the New York Giants come cold weather with just a passing game. Davis set two team single-season rushing records over the past three years. He should surpass Larry Brown as the team's No.2 career rusher later this year and has a shot at leader John Riggins next season if he remains now that preseason fears of his exile seem premature.
Gardner has emerged as the No.1 receiver, a distinction long expected but not earned until the past two games. Gardner has shown a combination of good hands and speed in his second season that sometimes was missing as a rookie. After a slow start in training camp, Gardner has clearly become the leader.
The identity of the No.2 receiver remains uncertain, though. Derrius Thompson was blanked in his first career start and drew Spurrier's ire when penalized for an illegal shift on first-and-goal at the 1 that forced the Redskins to later settle for a field goal for a 10-0 lead. Players have a way of disappearing after such gaffes. Kevin Lockett's two catches for 37 yards renewed his early preseason bid for a prominent role.

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