- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

The Washington Redskins closed an otherwise promising preseason last night with a bit of a reality check.

The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots handed coach Steve Spurrier his first loss, a 28-14 defeat before 70,118 at FedEx Field. Washington particularly its first-string offense was soundly outplayed five days after handling a very talented Tampa Bay team on the road.

"We're still a pretty good team, but we're not as great a team as maybe a lot of people think," Spurrier said. "We've got to earn our victories from now on. I think we all know that. We sort of know where we are. Maybe we'll look back and say this was good for us."

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Shane Matthews won the quarterback race with a solid third quarter. Danny Wuerffel struggled for a second straight time against starting competition both times at FedEx Field. Although Wuerffel lit up reserves for 371 yards and four touchdowns in the first two exhibitions, his two starts resulted in just 9-for-18 passing for 82 yards and one interception.

"I just really feel that right now there's less pressure to go play on Shane," Spurrier said. "Danny struggled in this ballpark, so right now Shane looks to be our best player to go play. It's as simple as that. Maybe four or five weeks from now he's banged up or something, it may be Danny."

Otherwise the game had little impact for the Redskins (4-1), who looked dominant at times in scoring the most points in club history (164) this preseason. A third-quarter touchdown pass from Matthews to Darnerien McCants gave Washington 157 points, breaking the 1975 club record of 156, which was set in seven games.

A smattering of boos came as the Redskins went to locker room trailing 21-0 at halftime. The poor performance in the significant part of the game mirrored a 17-0 halftime deficit against Pittsburgh on Aug. 18, a contest Washington's backups rallied to win 35-34. However, last night players already were looking ahead to the Sept. 8 opener against Arizona.

"It is [sobering], but we're 0-0," tackle Jon Jansen said. "We're focusing on Arizona and getting ready. The one thing we do need to do is play better at home."

Just five days earlier, Washington enjoyed its best effort, dominating Tampa Bay 16-7 in the first half and ultimately winning 40-10. That performance capped an NFL-record run of four straight preseason games with 35 or more points, easily making Washington the league's most prolific club.

But the starting offense couldn't handle the Patriots' unusual 3-4 defense. Wuerffel once again failed to impress while playing against starters; Matthews hit eight of nine passes for 104 yards while playing the third quarter. His 37-yard scoring pass to McCants came late in the period, while his one incompletion was an interception to Jimmy Hitchcock.

"We got it going there in the third quarter, but their first unit played great in the first half," Matthews said. "They disguised [their coverages] as well as anybody I've seen in the NFL. They were pretty plain in the second half."

All 19 of Washington's points against starting defenses came with Matthews playing (three at Carolina, 16 at Tampa Bay), making a fairly convincing case for the job. And although Spurrier said he won't rotate passers, the coach and Matthews emphasized that Wuerffel will be needed at some point.

"Both of us are going to have to play this year," Matthews said. "We're going to have to work together. We have to play well at the quarterback position to be successful in this league."

Just like against Pittsburgh, Wuerffel's mediocre performance last night had a lot to do with those around him. Two weeks ago it was dropped passes and a penalty; last night it was constant pressure yielded by the offensive line. Washington's line, playing with new right guard Brenden Stai after just two full practices, allowed Wuerffel to be sacked five times and stripped three times.

Not much else went right for Washington in the first half. The starting defense played well in its two series, but a mixture of starters and reserves gave up an 80-yard touchdown drive on New England's third possession. Meanwhile, Washington's punt coverage allowed returns of 47 and 45 yards and rookie tight end Robert Royal starting in place of injured Walter Rasby suffered a sprained left ankle and had to be carted to the locker room for X-rays.

Wide receiver Derrius Thompson also missed a second chance to prove himself against starters. Thompson, who dominated the first three games in reserve action, had finished a second straight start with no catches. He got hit hard while trying to make a reception over the middle in the first quarter and did not return.

Veteran Jacquez Green, a former Florida star who was injured and otherwise uninspiring in the early preseason, might return to the starting lineup after Spurrier got a look at Thompson, Chris Doering and Kevin Lockett in more significant roles.

The Redskins' starting defense yielded just 6 yards in two series despite missing linebacker LaVar Arrington, who had a sore hamstring and bruised knee but should be healthy well before the opener. New England's second drive didn't move at all despite being set up at Washington's 40 by Troy Brown's 47-yard punt return; the Patriots punted into the end zone after a rush for no yards and two incompletions.

New England's first touchdown drive began with 3½ minutes left in the first quarter, after Antonio Pierce lined up illegally on a punt Washington downed at the 1. Bryan Barker re-kicked and the Patriots started at the 20. New England converted four third downs on the 14-play march, including a third-and-9 when Darrell Green interfered with Troy Brown in the end zone. Two plays later Smith plunged in from the 1 for a 7-0 lead with just over three minutes gone in the second quarter.

Backup quarterback Damon Huard had relieved Tom Brady by the time New England began a late second-quarter drive at the Redskins' 19. Faulk returned a punt 45 yards to set up the possession; on third-and-4 safety Ifeanyi Ohalete couldn't handle rookie tight end Daniel Graham in coverage and cornerback Mark Washington missed a tackle as Graham caught a 13-yard scoring throw for a 14-0 lead.

Washington then went three-and-out for the third straight time; the Redskins, after scoring 100 first downs to their opponents' 64 in the first four games, had just four in last night's first half. Huard guided a 13-play, 66-yard drive in the two-minute drill, hitting Graham on a 2-yard scoring pass for the 21-0 halftime lead.

New England kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a 40-yard field goal on the Patriots' opening drive of the second half, and Matthews, after an interception, eventually threw the scoring pass to McCants. However, the Patriots responded with a 36-yard touchdown pass from rookie Rohan Davey to Fred Coleman to go back up 28-7 early in the fourth quarter.

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