- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

Well, they are the defending Super Bowl champs. What the Patriots did to the Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun last night that is, squash it like Tony Siragusa stepping on an empty beer cup isn't something they haven't done to other offenses. The Pats are no one-year wonders, folks. They're going to do some damage this season, too.

Still, when Danny Wuerffel has three sack-fumbles in three possessions and the Redskins gain a grand total of 10 yards in the second quarter 10 days before the real games begin it's certainly permissible to gulp. And when your punt coverage unit springs not one but two leaks, giving up returns of 47 and 45 yards, um, that's not terribly encouraging either, is it?

Extracting meaning from an NFL preseason game can be like trying to translate "Mein Kampf" with a French-English dictionary. Sometimes, it all seems like a jumble of this club's first-stringers going against that club's second-stringers, of one team playing with five days' rest and the other playing with four, of differing goals and interest levels.

That said boy, what a stinker as far as the Redskins were concerned, at least. You don't necessarily want to set offensive records in your final exhibition tuneup, but you do want to look smooth, to give the impression there was some point to training camp. Wuerffel and Co., though, were anything but. Danny, in fact, resembled a quarterback who hadn't played in two weeks which, of course, he hadn't (after sitting out the Tampa Bay game with the flu).

And the first half against the Patriots resembled the first half against the Steelers 11 days earlier, the Redskins' only other preseason game at FedEx Field. Pittsburgh took a 17-0 lead into the locker room in that one, though Washington rallied to "win" against the Steelers backups. Last night the halftime score was 21-0, and the final was only slightly better 28-14.

Has a Spurrier club ever passed for 29 net yards in a half? (In a half-minute?) Has a Spurrier club ever failed to convert a third down for two periods? Hard to imagine when that would have been. Maybe when he was quarterbacking the expansion Tampa Bay Bucs in '76. It couldn't have happened to him as a coach at Florida or Duke and probably not in the USFL.

But those were the numbers the Redskins put up against the Pats. They crossed midfield once in the first half, reaching the New England 40, but Bill Belichick put an end to that by calling a series of blitzes that pushed the Redskins back into their own territory. Granted, Washington's offensive line is still making do without Chris Samuels and is just beginning to work Brendan Stai into the mix, but still

And how's this for an added "bonus"? Wuerffel, the front-runner early in camp, has been nosed out for the starting job by Matthews for now, anyway. Who knows what the future may hold?

"We're going to open with Shane [against Arizona]," Spurrier said. "There isn't much difference between the two, but for some reason Danny struggled tonight. This is the first time I've seen him struggle like this and [in his defense] the pass protection and the plays were not the best."

Matthews was hardly looking at it as a lifetime appointment. The defenses Wuerffel faced in the first half and ones he faced in the second half were "like night and day," he said in defense of his fellow Florida Gator. "They just played basic, soft, deep zones in the second half. In the first half, they disguised their coverages as well as anybody I've ever seen. I'm happy to be the opening day starter, but I need to play well and find a way for us to win."

Matthews and Wuerffel have always been marginal NFL talents, and there was no reason to believe one would score a clean knockout over the other. But Spurrier had to be hoping for a little more certainty at the QB spot than has right now. Wuerffel has been ineffective, bordering on wretched, in his last two outings; and Matthews, while moving the ball well at times, hasn't reminded anybody of Sonny Jurgensen.

It's really more of a choose your poison situation as Matthews showed in the third quarter. The Redskins were at the New England 22, first down, and Spurrier called a deep out to Chris Doering near the goal line. But the pass took forever to get there, and Jimmy Hitchcock stepped in and made the interception. Sage, come back!

There were other reasons for Spurrier to be alarmed as well an illegal-formation penalty against Antonio Pierce after the Redskins had downed a punt at the Patriots 1, a personal foul against Ross Tucker that sabotaged their second series. These are not winning plays, as coaches like to say.

A 4-1 preseason is nothing to apologize for, but Spurrier and the Redskins clearly have work to do. The Fun 'n' Gun has been effectively holstered twice (admittedly by two of the best defenses in the league), the quarterback position could be a merry-go-round all season long and special teams need tightening. Let's face it, the Redskins would have had trouble beating anybody last night, even the usually accommodating Cardinals.

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