- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

Making the playoffs is impossible. The defensive coordinator might leave. Several starters know they won't return next year.

The Washington Redskins are about as focused as Mr. Magoo.

On a snow-bordered artificial field under icy conditions yesterday, players struggled to find common motivation to avoid the Redskins' first losing season since 1998. Washington (5-8) must sweep its final three games, beginning at Philadelphia on Sunday, for its third straight 8-8 season, but that doesn't seem a big priority.

Washington's earliest playoff elimination since 1994 they finished 3-13 in coach Norv Turner's first season has the Redskins seemingly relaxed. There's no pretense of worrying about victories. They're not even playing to save the coach's job for a third straight year.

Maybe that's a good thing. Coach Steve Spurrier's first season has been noticeably low-key compared with predecessor Marty Schottenheimer's lockdown state. Not that Spurrier hasn't been above chewing out the team in the locker room, even after victories.

Players aren't being bothered by petty rules and being assigned airline seats or roommates, though. They still play dominos spiritedly during lunch and grab parts of burgers and fries from unsuspecting rookies returning from nearby fast food restaurants who haven't learned to eat in their cars or bring extra.

"You filter out the stuff and just focus on winning the last three games," linebacker Eddie Mason said. "If we take another attitude, then we're in left field when we should be in right field."

It's not always easy to keep players focused. There was a snowball fight during practice recently and a film projector was shut off in a team meeting because no one was paying attention. But there are also enough young players trying to remain next season that the enthusiasm hasn't completely waned.

In contrast to veterans like running back Stephen Davis, offensive tackle Jon Jansen and quarterback Shane Matthews who probably won't return, there are quarterback Patrick Ramsey, running back Ladell Betts and kicker Jose Cortez trying to earn a prominent role next year.

There is an individual approach to playing well in the final weeks. Some have incentive clauses that could pay handsomely. A few could still make the Pro Bowl.

A number would like to repay Philadelphia for the nationally televised 37-7 Monday night beating Sept.16. The Eagles play their last regular-season game at Veterans Stadium, and the Redskins want to ruin the exit.

"It's a great opportunity for us to be the spoilers," tight end Walter Rasby said. "It's kind of like [people say]: 'If I'm going down, everybody else is going down. I'll take as many people with me as I can.' We don't have anything to lose. They have everything to lose. I'm sure that's in the back of their mind."

Players disagreed whether defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis' uncertain status has affected his unit's preparation.

"Put it out there it's a distraction," defensive tackle Daryl Gardener said. "We're trying to win games and now we're talking about a coach that's leaving that people feel they can play for. We just have to keep playing no matter what the situation is."

Said cornerback Fred Smoot: "It's not bothering anything. If Marvin has to make a move, then he has to make a move. We're not going to let it bother us."

Defensive end Bruce Smith was stranded after practice when two teammates "borrowed" his idling truck near the Redskin Park entrance. Smith countered that there was still time for paybacks before season's end. It seems he has a reason to come to work today after all.

Note Spurrier is willing to convert two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey into a full-time receiver next year, but the latter said it's not worth it.

Spurrier said Bailey would have to commit to playing receiver by minicamp in April, but the coach thinks the move could provide more impact than Bailey playing cornerback.

"He's played pretty well this year, but he's not been put in the position to make the difference in the game that much," Spurrier said. "How many interceptions does he have all year [three]? You don't have a chance to influence the game that much. If he's a difference-maker, you have to get the ball in his hands."

Bailey has long lobbied to play receiver occasionally but has only been a sporadic decoy after fumbling against Philadelphia.

"Limiting what [an opponent] can do [is] probably more gratifying than catching a pass for a touchdown. It's just amazing what you can do on [the defensive] side of the ball," he said. "I know I can be just as good at offense, but I wouldn't just give up [defense] to play it. I would like to be given the opportunity to play both. [Spurrier] doesn't know what he's missing, I guess."

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