- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

OSAKA, Japan Sage Rosenfels and Danny Wuerffel made strong first statements in the Washington Redskins' quarterback battle Saturday night, putting the pressure on Shane Matthews to play well next weekend in the second exhibition.
Matthews, who sat out the 38-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Osaka Dome, remains in line to play about three quarters at Carolina, coach Steve Spurrier said early yesterday morning. The plan for the fourth quarter still is in doubt, particularly because rookie Patrick Ramsey is likely to sign this week.
Rosenfels endured a rough opening series but made some big plays in the second period and ultimately combined with Wuerffel for five touchdowns and 434 passing yards. Teammates played down the significance of the exhibition but looked forward to a continued close race at the game's crucial position.
"Shane didn't even play tonight, and you never know what he would have done," receiver Chris Doering said. "There's four more preseason games left, and you've got to come out and sustain the success. I think it's wide open."
Rosenfels completed just two of eight passes for 21 yards in the first quarter, making three poor throws including an interception on the first series. The period's struggles were significant because it was the Redskins' only work against San Francisco's starting defense. Rosenfels attributed his play to rust (not having played a game since last preseason) and nerves.
"You're nervous. You want to do well," Rosenfels said. "I was pressing a little bit. And I've never been in a game with this coaching staff."
He did not, however, think his strong second quarter was due to the 49ers' reserves.
"I think I felt a lot more comfortable [in the second period]," said Rosenfels, who finished 10-for-20 for 172 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. "They did a lot of things with the second-team defense that they did with the first team. The offensive line did a great job, the receivers did a good job and we just executed."
Wuerffel's success also came against the 49ers' reserves, tempering impressions of his outstanding effort. The former Florida star hit 16 of 25 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns, guiding Washington to points on each of his four possessions. Wuerffel seemed almost unstoppable at times, finding running back Robert Gillespie for a 20-yard screen as he was being sacked and hitting Derrius Thompson for a 31-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1.
"Anytime you go in later in a game, you're not playing against the best people on the team," Wuerffel said. "But you still have to do what you can do, do your best and see how it goes."
Wuerffel quietly has positioned himself as the front-runner in the race (though many still expect Matthews to win the job), performing the most consistently in the offseason and training camp and then standing out in Japan. The offense seems to bring out the best in him.
Rosenfels, meanwhile, appears to have gotten ahold of the mental part of the scheme. His bad plays Saturday seemed to come on poor throws, and several of his completions including a 65-yard touchdown to a wide-open Thompson in the second quarter followed audibles at the line of scrimmage.
"That's the key to this offense: try to figure out what the defense is doing," Rosenfels said.
Anticipation for Spurrier's offense raised the level of interest in the preseason game. He was one of the college game's top minds before becoming the NFL's highest-paid coach, and everyone in the league wants to know whether his scheme can succeed at this level. After its debut, some Redskins gave the offense all the credit.
"Once you know the system, the system's going to work," said receiver Darnerien McCants, who caught two touchdowns from Wuerffel. "This isn't about an individual. This is about the offense, the team. Everybody believes in this offense. It works."
Matthews also has Wuerffel's familiarity with the system and might benefit Saturday from an improved running game. One of the most impressive aspects of Washington's success passing was that the club rushed for only 45 yards and a paltry 2.1 yards a carry.
But Redskins receivers might not be as sharp; against San Francisco, they caught virtually everything thrown their way. And the Panthers are a team with a lot more to prove than the 49ers, who won 12 games last season and obviously didn't put much into the exhibition.
Regardless, the quarterback battle looks unlikely to end anytime soon.
"I think everybody's got a lot of opportunity," Wuerffel said. "I don't think there's ever been a better time for three guys to get a fair shake."

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