- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

Washington Redskins quarterback Shane Matthews will start against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept.8 after a shaky finale by Danny Wuerffel in the 28-14 loss to the New England Patriots last night.

Coach Steve Spurrier said Matthews was playing best as the team readies for the regular-season opener. Spurrier said he had no timetable for Wuerffel to start later in the season.

"I just feel there's less pressure on Shane right now," Spurrier said. "He looks to be our best player right now. As long as he's playing well he'll stay in there. We don't jerk them [in and out]."

Wuerffel was sacked five times and fumbled thrice in the loss that ended the Redskins' (4-1) chance of an undefeated preseason for the first time since 1985. Matthews threw a dazzling 37-yard touchdown in relief, but was also intercepted during his two possessions before rookie Patrick Ramsey played the fourth quarter.

Wuerffel didn't score against a starting defense during the preseason, though he only played the opening quarter against Pittsburgh before last night. Wuerffel ended the preseason 33 of 54 for 463 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.

Wuerffel completed seven of 13 for 58 yards against New England. The Patriots' rush often came around end, with rookie left tackle Reggie Coleman allowing two sacks. Wuerffel fumbled twice during sacks and saw the ball slapped away once, though the Redskins recovered each loose ball. Washington's starters were blanked and gained only four first downs before departing at halftime trailing 21-0.

Matthews opened by completing his first five passes for 48 yards before underthrowing receiver Chris Doering at the New England 5-yard line for cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock's pickoff. He then hit all three passes in the next drive, including a 37-yard touchdown to receiver Darnerien McCants. Matthews finished 8-for-9 for 104 yards.

Uncovered coverage

Special teams struggled on punt coverage, allowing 47- and 45-yard punt returns, with the latter leading to a touchdown for a 14-0 Patriots lead. Washington's best punt a 43-yarder downed on New England's 1-yard line was offset by an illegal formation penalty.

The Redskins also received few returnable punts, with two of three first-half punts unreturned.

Many happy returns

Receiver Jacquez Green appears to have the edge over cornerback Champ Bailey as the punt returner because of his experience. Green averaged 15.1 yards per return as a rookie in 1998 and 8.9 yards in 1999 with Tampa Bay. However, Green returned only two in 2000 and none last year.

Bailey was a standout college returner, but previous Redskins coaches have been reluctant to use the Pro Bowl cornerback as a receiver or returner for fear of injury. Bailey returned a punt 54 yards against Dallas in 2000.

Special teams coach Mike Stock won't name the returner until next week but conceded Bailey needs more experience.

"The more reps they get, the better they're going to be in making the decisions," Stock said. "We're not going to have one guy get half of this, one guy get half of that it won't help them or the team. It's going to be one who takes all the reps so he can feel comfortable."

No SI jinx

Sports Illustrated picks the Redskins to finish tied for third in the NFC East in its current issue. The Redskins are tabbed to go 7-9, along with the New York Giants while Dallas is 8-8 and Philadelphia 11-5.

SI football guru Paul Zimmerman, aka "Dr. Z," rated the Redskins 18th overall.

Overlooked? You bet

The Redskins' preseason success didn't impress oddsmakers either. Washington is 20-1 to win the Super Bowl compared to 14-5 favorite St. Louis, according to Bet World Wide Tele-sports (betwwts.com), a leading offshore bookmaker. Comparatively, the Redskins were the 5-2 favorite entering 2000 after spending $94million on marquee free agents like cornerback Deion Sanders and quarterback Jeff George only to finish 8-8.

Washington is 9-1 to win the NFC championship, behind heavy 7-5 choice St. Louis, and 2-1 to take the NFC East, after 5-9 choice Philadelphia.

Linesmakers figure Washington is headed for eight or nine wins. Naturally, the over/under wager on Redskins victories this season is 8½.

Running back Stephen Davis was the only Redskin featured among propositional wagers. Davis is 4-1 to lead the NFL in rushing, with Kansas City's Priest Holmes the 2-1 favorite.

Health watch

Tight end Robert Royal's sprained ankle appeared the worst of several injuries. Royal was injured when blocking on a three-yard run with nearly six minutes remaining in the first half.

Royal's injury should assured tight end Zeron Flemister of remaining when the final 15 players are released by Sunday given Walter Rasby will miss another three weeks with a sprained knee. If Royal can't play against Arizona, Washington may also have to keep tight end Leonard Stephens.

Linebacker Antonio Pierce suffered a bruised lower left leg. Linebacker Kevin Mitchell continued to play despite a left shoulder stringer.

Quick hits

Center Dustin Keith finally made his preseason debut in the fourth quarter. He was the last member from the original training camp roster to play. Still, Keith is among the expected final cuts.

Linebackers Eddie Mason (shoulder) and LaVar Arrington (hamstring) and defensive tackle Daryl Gardener (back) were scratched along with defensive end Bruce Smith (rested).

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