- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 22, 2002

The Washington Redskins are readying for a Texas two-step. The Redskins face the Houston Texans today and the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday at FedEx Field, finishing a slow waltz to another nonplayoff season.
"Hopefully, we can clean out the whole state of Texas in the next two weeks," cornerback Fred Smoot said.
The Redskins (5-9) and Texans (4-10) are essentially vying for the same draft pick, with the loser getting the edge should they finish with the same record. Because it could be as low as the sixth selection in April and because the teams have similar needs, today's loser may gain an impact player before the other can take him.
At the end of a season that first-year coach Steve Spurrier once projected would bring an NFC East championship, the Redskins want to at least avoid their worst mark since 1994. Winning the last two games would mean not finishing last in the NFC East.
"Can't lose to Houston," receiver Rod Gardner said. "This is a two-game season. If we win these, we go into the offseason with a positive [approach] because 7-9 doesn't sound as bad as 5-11."
The Redskins are 6-point favorites, their largest margin this season, over the NFL's worst-ranked offense. However, the Texans' No.11 defense is only one notch worse than the Redskins'. Considering that Houston's 16 former Redskins employees, led by general manager Charley Casserly, have been delivering payback messages to the locker room all week, it's not the usual meaningless game against a first-year team.
"You think expansion, you think easy win, and I don't want to be clouded by it," Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey said.
Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener is tired of the team's mediocrity, which has produced five losses in the last six games. He was particularly irked by the 27-20 loss to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, when the Redskins blew a 10-point lead and lost to Dallas for the 10th consecutive time.
"I'm not really worried about the Texans. If we do what we do, we're going to win," Gardener said. "We need to get that Dallas thing solved now. I don't feel the losing now. I'll feel it when I go home in a couple of weeks and turn on the TV and watch other teams in the playoffs. Or when I hear in the offseason, 'Oh, you play for the Washington Redskins? You guys [stink].'
"Every player in here ought to go into the offseason determined not to make the same mistakes we did this year," Gardener said. "If we do make the same mistakes, we didn't learn anything."
The Redskins figure to pass even more often out of an offense already throwing 58 percent of the time, the team's highest ratio in 14 years. Rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey seemingly could secure the 2003 job by finishing strongly after his three-touchdown performance in last week's 34-21 loss to Philadelphia.
With Stephen Davis idled by a separated shoulder, Kenny Watson and Ladell Betts will share the rushing load. Because Davis figures to become an offseason salary cap casualty, the Redskins essentially are beginning the training camp competition seven months early.
Washington also will try a new punt returner, Bruce Branch, following fumbles by Bailey in consecutive games that led to critical touchdowns. Redskins assistant coaches spotted the Richmond native, just promoted off the practice squad, in the offseason while scouting another player.
Defensive end Bruce Smith and linebacker LaVar Arrington figure to draw a bead on the Texans' David Carr, whose 70 sacks are two short of the NFL single-season record against a quarterback.
Arrington wants to eclipse Ken Harvey's sack record for Redskins linebackers (14). He has 10 and has earned a second straight Pro Bowl trip.

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