- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

The Washington Redskins took another clumsy spin across the NFL dance floor yesterday, repeating the one-step-forward, two-steps-back routine that has become their signature move in coach Steve Spurrier's first season.
A season-high 447 offensive yards kept the New York Giants from running away with a win, but the Redskins' tying a season-high with five turnovers and setting one with 12 penalties undid them in a 27-21 loss before 78,635 at FedEx Field.
And as remote hopes for the playoffs officially were dashed, the organization's future grew murkier as defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis caught a plane immediately after the game, apparently so that Michigan State could make a key pitch for him to become Spartans coach.
Thus a team that has been through four head coaches and four defensive coordinators since owner Dan Snyder bought it four years ago appears to be on the verge of further change and another drop in record. Washington (5-8) must beat Philadelphia, Houston and Dallas in its final three games to match its .500 records of the past two seasons.
"I'm tired of dealing with changes," linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "I just want to play and not worry about anything else just worry about playing. Everybody wants us to be a one-year champion. It's not working out that way."
Turnovers were the critical factor as the Redskins dropped to 0-4 against NFC East opponents under Spurrier and 1-4 overall since hitting midseason at 4-4 with legitimate hopes for the playoffs.
Three first-half turnovers set up a pair of touchdowns and a missed field goal for New York (7-6), and the Redskins needed a two-minute drill just to get on the board and cut the deficit to 17-3 at halftime.
Washington then grabbed momentum early in the second half, trimming the Giants' lead to 17-14 as New York went three-and-out on its first three possessions.
But Champ Bailey fumbled a punt with 2:09 left in the third quarter, setting up a Giants touchdown and relinquishing the momentum. Then, with 4:14 remaining, wide receiver Darnerien McCants fumbled at the New York 30 with Washington attempting to drive for the victory while trailing 27-21. From there the Giants ran out much of the clock and Washington's desperation drive fell short.
The five turnovers tied the season-high Washington set in the Oct. 13 loss to New Orleans.
"[The turnovers are] killing us, killing us," wide receiver Rod Gardner said. "It's like we're handing away the game. We can't keep shooting ourselves in the foot. That doesn't show improvement. That just shows we're making the same mistakes we did from Day One."
The Redskins did make progress in one area, though: quarterback Patrick Ramsey now is in position to finish out the season after playing well in relief of injured Danny Wuerffel.
Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin knocked Wuerffel from the game with 8:52 left in the third quarter, on New York's fifth sack of Wuerffel en route to tying a season-high with six. Griffin bear-hugged the former Florida star, lifted him up, turned him parallel to the ground and smothered him with his 300-pound frame.
The blow sprained Wuerffel's throwing shoulder the same shoulder he strained Oct. 6 at Tennessee, when Ramsey relieved him and led Washington to a big early-season win. Spurrier had been planning to start Wuerffel next weekend at Philadelphia before handing the offense to the rookie, but the club's fifth quarterback change of the season came earlier than expected and should be permanent.
"[Wuerffel] sprained his same shoulder, so he's probably out again," Spurrier said. "We'll give Patrick every opportunity to finish it up again."
Ramsey completed just 44 percent of his passes but led three scoring drives, including one in the third quarter he ended with a 13-yard touchdown throw to Gardner. Ramsey finished with 204 yards on 12-for-27 passing without an interception for an 82.9 rating. He was sacked just once, showing better awareness in the pocket than in his season's first stint.
The two quarterbacks combined to throw for 363 yards, a season-high and the first time Washington surpassed the 300-yard mark since the New Orleans game. Clearly Spurrier made good on his intention to re-embrace the passing game he called just 20 runs to 52 passing plays, an imbalance nearly as great as the 16-53 split in the Nov. 10 loss at Jacksonville.
"We tried to play a little more wide-open," Spurrier said. "Unfortunately we had a few backward plays here and there."
Perhaps an elimination of such backward plays will be the difference as Washington targets the playoffs in 2003. It certainly would have been yesterday as the Redskins refused to go away in a game that could have gotten ugly. But the prospect of further change leaves questions of whether the club ever will emerge from the mediocrity that has defined it since reaching the playoffs in 1999.
"How long has [Giants coach Jim] Fassel been coaching New York?" Arrington asked. Told six years, he replied, "These guys have systems they've been playing in. We're playing against a team that has had a system six years? And we're playing with one [year]? And we're still in the game, even though we turned the ball over five times?
"Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I'm delusional," he concluded. "But I think this team ultimately has had to overcome a lot of different things to get to the point where we're at."


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