THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Defensive end Bruce Smith said yesterday that he will announce early this week whether he will return to the Washington Redskins next season or end his Hall of Fame career and retire.
Smith declined to say whether he would return next year to pursue the 3 sacks he needs to pass Reggie White (198 sacks) as the NFL’s all-time leader. He always has resisted the idea of part-time duty, a role the Redskins have in mind for him in 2003.
“This is Darrell’s day and I’m not going to take anything away from that,” said Smith, whose contract was reworked in September to make it cap-friendly for 2003. “Probably tomorrow or the next day, I’ll come out and make an announcement.”
Smith has not committed to playing another season, which would be his 19th. He steadfastly has declined to say he would like to return, leading to speculation that he is seriously considering retirement.
Smith’s postgame mood yesterday wasn’t that of a man who had forced a fumble that was recovered for the pivotal touchdown in Washington’s 20-14 season-ending victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Instead, Smith seemed liked a weary 39-year-old who had brought his son to the office for Dad’s final day of work. The gash on his left hand, courtesy of a “cheap shot” from Cowboys offensive linemen Tyson Walter and Ross Tucker, only added to his weariness.
“The most consistent thing we did this year was turn the ball over,” Smith said. “If you don’t take care of the football, you lose. We’ve pretty much beaten ourselves all year. Today, we were able to overcome that.”
They overcame that thanks largely to Smith’s big play in the third quarter with the score tied. Dallas faced third-and-22 at its 15 with 7:19 left in the period when Smith burst past offensive tackle Flozell Adams, hit quarterback Chad Hutchinson and popped the ball loose.
Linebacker LaVar Arrington recovered in the end zone for the touchdown that put Washington ahead to stay and helped the team end its 10-game losing streak to archrival Dallas.
“We had been running [stunts] all day and I felt [Adams] was pretty much set up,” Smith said. “He bit hard inside. I came around and the quarterback was standing there with his back to me. I hit him and I didn’t know exactly where the ball went. All I heard was the crowd screaming and lo and behold, I tried to keep him pinned down and then I saw LaVar had the touchdown.”
Arrington said he hoped the Redskins could convince Smith to return. Defensive end Renaldo Wynn said, “I think Bruce wants to come back. He only needs three sacks. Why wouldn’t he come back? He has played well all year. I think he can do it again. Hopefully he’s with us.”
Smith’s situation is complicated by Ladairis Jackson’s knee surgery, which will keep his heir apparent out of action until training camp in July.
Ramsey’s No. 1
There’s no quarterback controversy for 2003. Patrick Ramsey will enter training camp as the Redskins’ No.1 passer.
Coach Steve Spurrier anointed Ramsey following the rookie’s second straight win. The first-round pick threw two interceptions against the Cowboys, but his steady progress has team officials content and they won’t be looking for a 15th different starting quarterback since 1993. Spurrier said the team may re-sign Danny Wuerffel or Shane Matthews, though the latter expects to leave.
“I’ve been very pleased with Patrick these last few games,” Spurrier said. “He made a few bad plays here and there, but he made a lot of good plays, too. He’s got a lot of potential because he can make all the throws. He’s got a chance to be pretty good.”
Ramsey was sporadic against the Cowboys, completing 17 of 31 for 209 yards, but he has improved this year. He finished 117 of 227 for 1,539 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“I was hopeful [becoming the starter] would happen,” Ramsey said. “I still feel I have to come in and play well in order to be the starter next year. With this franchise, you have to earn what you get. I still have to earn that starting spot.”
Ramsey’s emergence took most of the season after he missed the first 16 days in a training camp holdout that nearly caused the Redskins to trade him. Ramsey was clearly the No. 3 passer until Matthews was injured in the third game. Ramsey made plenty of mistakes in his first three games, with four interceptions against New Orleans. However, he has steadily reduced his turnovers and sacks.
“I’m about 10 times more comfortable,” Ramsey said. “I am running the offense more relaxed and am not as uptight about every single play. I am beginning to understand that you can’t throw a touchdown every play. You just have to take what the defense gives and try not to get sacked and not make mistakes.”
Gardner gets a grand
Receiver Rod Gardner became the first Redskins receiver in three years to gain more than 1,000 yards when he caught five passes for 59 yards. Gardner finished with 71 receptions for 1,006 yards.
“It really was an accomplishment that I wanted. It was my goal,” Gardner said. “Now I want to get 1,300 or 1,500 yards and make the Pro Bowl.”
Thompson, Johnson may return
Coach Steve Spurrier said he would like to re-sign unrestricted free agent receiver Derrius Thompson and guard Tre Johnson.
Thompson caught 53 passes for 773 yards this season. He fumbled on the 11 after a 25-yard catch and had three drops yesterday, but he still finished with four catches for 78 yards.
“I was disappointed with the way I performed,” he said. “I had the ball in my left hand with a bad wrist and the guy pulled it out.”
Conversely, linebacker Kevin Mitchell doesn’t plan to return. The 2000 starter, who regained his job over the past month following Jeremiah Trotter’s injury, grabbed a third-quarter interception.
“I just saw it up in the air and got it,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think it’s really going to hit me that I’m leaving until we have our checkout physicals [today].”
Making a statement
Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington finished his second straight Pro Bowl season with a bang: his 11th sack, his second career touchdown and two fumble recoveries.
“We really needed to make a statement today and I imagine that’s just what we did,” Arrington said. “We wanted to leave off on a good note going into next year. That was pretty big. It was a win that myself and a lot of other people thought was long overdue. And sending out Darrell [Green] the way we did was probably the most important thing we did and to give the fans something to think about for next year.”
Arrington was disappointed that the defense didn’t shut out the Cowboys Dallas’ offense scored with 3:10 remaining but he was thrilled about the big play.
“We were getting such a good push up front the whole game that after I got the first [fumble] recovery, I said to myself, ‘Don’t relax because something could happen,’ and sure enough the ball popped out,” Arrington said. “I was just hoping that I would be the one who got there.”
Redskins defensive tackle Carl Powell flipped literally over his sack of Cowboys quarterback Chad Hutchinson early in the fourth quarter. After dropping the rookie for a 7-yard loss, Powell did a cartwheel, perhaps in celebration of linebacker LaVar Arrington’s pregame promise to take him to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii on February 2 if he recorded a sack yesterday.
“I have no idea whatsoever where that came from,” Powell said, laughing. “I’ve never done anything like that before. It just happened. I’ll never do it again.”
Powell limped off the field after Dallas’ extra point with 3:10 remaining, but he said his left knee would be fine.
The future without Stephen Davis still seems reasonably bright. Running backs Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson enjoyed another solid game in place of Davis, who was out awaiting shoulder surgery and in line to be cut for salary-cap reasons in coming weeks.
Betts rushed 17 times for 98 yards, averaging an impressive 5.8 yards a carry. Watson averaged just 3.4 yards, but his 17 carries included a 5-yard touchdown and a 7-yard run on third-and-6 that iced the game at the two-minute warning.
The duo’s performance came one week after each rushed for more than 100 yards in a win over Houston, becoming the first Redskins pair to do so in 17 years.
Coach Steve Spurrier, looking ahead to 2003, said he is “fairly comfortable” with his running backs situation and repeatedly complimented Watson on his late run. Spurrier joked that the run was particularly crucial because punter Craig Jarrett has been so inconsistent.
“That was a nice little 7-yard run,” Spurrier said. “That was one of the big plays in the game a lot of people might not notice. [If Watson came up short and it was] fourth-and-1, I doubt if we go for it, and you know the punt’s not going to go very far.”
Betts did have one major gaffe, a fumble at the Dallas 1 on the tail end of a 26-yard run. Officials initially ruled the second-quarter play a touchdown, but Dallas challenged and received the ball after a review. The officials ruled that Betts’ fumble went out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback.
“I felt like I had broke free,” Betts said. “I didn’t even know there was anybody left. Next thing I know, [defensive end Greg Ellis] hit the ball out of my hand. I don’t know if he hit it right on the ball or what. The ball bounces funny in football sometimes.”
Two TDs gone
Ladell Betts’ fumble out of bounds in the end zone was one of two apparent touchdowns by the Redskins that were called back.
The other came in the waning seconds of the third quarter, when fullback Bryan Johnson picked up a fumble by kickoff returner Woodrow Dantzler and ran it into the end zone. Washington’s defense had started running on the field while the ball was loose, a penalty that nullified the touchdown and the turnover.
“Somebody said Fred Smoot bumped the ref on his way out,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “They called illegal participation. I’ve never seen that in all my days. I said, ‘Don’t we just get the ball right there?’ The guy said, ‘Nope. The fumble didn’t happen now.’”
Tight end Zeron Flemister admitted he was somewhat surprised that the Redskins extended his contract this week.
The club was looking to lock up a young player and, to a lesser extent, use up some of its remaining 2002 salary cap space, but Flemister has just 10 catches this season and didn’t have much leverage because he was scheduled to be a restricted free agent.
“I was a little bit [surprised] just because I felt my season wasn’t as productive as I wanted it to be,” Flemister said. “Talking to Mr. [Dan] Snyder, they see the potential in me. Now I’ve just got to go out and perform and show them that they made the right decision.”
Flemister’s deal was the second Washington extended during the 2002 season. Standout right tackle Jon Jansen agreed to a six-year, $25million extension earlier this month.
Samuels wins Block
Offensive tackle Chris Samuels was the Redskins’ Ed Block Courage Award winner. The Baltimore-based award recognizes players who have overcome adversity. Samuels played most of the season with several injuries.
“I was happy my teammates voted for me because I had a tough season,” he said. “At times when I was out there struggling and getting beat I was used to it and didn’t know how to handle it.”
Cornerback Todd Franz, running backs Stephen Davis and Robert Gillespie, tight end Leonard Stephens, offensive lineman Pat Downey and receivers Justin Skaggs and Richmond Flowers were inactive.
David Elfin, Rick Snider, Jody Foldesy