- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2002

It's no longer about the playoffs. It's about the future and jobs.
The Washington Redskins (5-7) face the New York Giants (6-6) today at FedEx Field with only the slimmest of playoff chances remaining. A loss by Washington or a victory by Philadelphia (9-3) in any of the final four games eliminates the Redskins from NFC East title contention. A victory by New Orleans (8-4) or Atlanta (8-3-1) or a Washington loss will end the Redskins' wild-card hopes.
The Redskins didn't spend the week on false bravado, though. Instead, coach Steve Spurrier is starting a youth movement with running back Ladell Betts, receiver Darnerien McCants and quarterback Patrick Ramsey preparing for increased roles. Also, linebacker Kevin Mitchell and defensive tackle Carl Powell are replacing injured players, and there are a new kicker and punter.
This team isn't playing for the coach's job. Spurrier is expected to return although predecessors were fired the past two seasons. And those teams finished 8-8 a record that will be hard to match now. Instead, players are playing for their futures.
With the coach already saying next year will be different, with the passing game expected to be increased to "Air Coryell" levels, players know the final month is a second preseason of sorts. They either finish well or someone else wears their jerseys next summer.
"Different people have different motivations, and guys are playing for opportunities to play for this team or other teams," quarterback Danny Wuerffel said.
So the remaining games are a preview of the 2003 season, which figures not to include running back Stephen Davis, who literally only could shrug off his reduced role as the Redskins evaluate second-rounder Betts. Davis will still start against the Giants, but more than a dozen carries seems as unlikely as his quest for a team record fourth-straight 1,000-yard season. He needs 274 yards.
Unless Betts can prove he is a worthy successor to Davis, the Redskins will add running back to their long list of offseason needs. McCants also will get a second look after being benched for poor practice habits following a three-game stint. Ramsey could play today and probably will start the last two games against Houston and Dallas. Ramsey will replace Wuerffel today only if the game is a blowout or Wuerffel plays poorly.
Still, the next generation is trying not to concede more losses. The young players don't want to be seen as second-rate, even if they are second-teamers.
"We're not playing to not screw up," Ramsey said. "We're playing to make plays and win football games."
Coincidentally, the Redskins could be eliminated by the team that sent their playoff hopes spiraling. New York dropped Washington to 4-5 with a 19-17 victory Nov.17, when Redskins kicker James Tuthill slipped on a potential game-winning field goal. That narrow defeat still bothers many Redskins.
"We felt we gave them one more than they took it from us," receiver Chris Doering said.
Two meetings between the old rivals in a four-game span have left each team somewhat lethargic as they prepared. After all, it seems like they just met.
"We were watching the same [game films] we were watching three weeks ago, so it was a little redundant," Giants quarterback Kerry Collins said.
Said Spurrier: "We should know a little bit about them. It's the first time I've played [a rematch] in three weeks."
The Redskins aren't expecting the Giants to feature tight end Jeremy Shockey again, though. The rookie caught 11 passes for 111 yards in the first game, the most by a Giants tight end in 14 years. Then again, maybe the Giants will counter the Redskins logic and continue using Shockey extensively.
"You'd think the next time around, they'll try to take something away," Collins said. "We'll adjust. We never go into one game saying this will be the guy. We try to maintain balance."
But Washington also faces a tiring Giants defense that allowed 476 yards in a 32-29 overtime loss to Tennessee the most permitted by New York in 14 years. Add in a 16-14 loss to Houston and New York hasn't won since beating Washington and also is on the edge of playoff elimination.
The Redskins are still trying to decide whether Wuerffel will return next season, so he'll get his opportunities over the next two games before giving way to Ramsey.

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