- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

The danger of a coach talking about Next Year when it's still This Year is that his players might come out and play like the Redskins did for 30 minutes yesterday. The point of every game is to win, of course, but Steve Spurrier also talked last week about getting youngsters like Darnerien McCants and Ladell Betts on the field more, which some would call a mixed message.
At any rate, the Redskins' first half performance against the Giants may well have been the nadir of their discouraging season. They acted not like a club that still had playoff possibilities, remote though those possibilities were, but like one that was partaking in a preseason scrimmage. Seriously, how often have you seen the Redskins play with less enthusiasm than they did in falling behind the Giants 17-0? And the New Yorkers, let's not forget, had scarcely more to play for than they did and were missing even more starters.
The FedEx crowd certainly didn't like the aroma emanating from the Washington sideline. It booed when Danny Wuerffel threw one place and Rod Gardner ran another, booed when Wuerffel pegged a pass right to the Giants' Ralph Brown, booed when Wuerffel handed off to Betts out of the shotgun formation near the end of the half. By the start of the third quarter, the fans were booing Wuerffel's very existence though plenty of others were contributing to the catastrophe.
And that was all it took, really. Thirty minutes of wandering about, aimlessly, as if the Redskins had left their hearts in Texas Stadium. Thirty minutes of turnovers and uncovered receivers and what Spurrier termed "silly little penalties." Patrick Ramsey led a nice comeback in the second half after Wuerffel got hurt, but it wasn't enough to overcome a 17-point deficit, wasn't enough to avoid a 27-21 defeat.
"Strange fortunes," Wuerffel said afterward. He was referring to himself, to a season in which he's been knocked out of the lineup three times by illness and injury, but he could just as easily have been referring to the team. The two games against the Giants alone were like Shakespearean tragedies the first being lost when the Redskins' kicker slipped on a 40-yard field goal try in the last seconds, the second getting away from them because of two fumbles deep in New York territory by receivers.
Then there was the blown 20-10 lead in Dallas. I won't even get into the particulars of that gag job.
"It's been like this almost since I got here," said Champ Bailey, who hardly helped the cause by fumbling a punt and being in the vicinity of two touchdown catches. "We've gotta find a way to win somehow."
But will they? Twice during his post-mortem, Spurrier said his staff had done "a lousy job" of teaching the receivers to secure the ball in the first instance and the offensive linemen to avoid false start penalties in the second. That's not real encouraging to hear. It suggests that either (a) the Redskins' coaches can't coach, or (b) the players are too dumb to learn. Unless perish the thought the answer is (c) both.
If anything good came out of this game, it's that Ramsey has re-established himself as the No.1 quarterback. The difference between his physical abilities and Wuerffel's or Matthews', for that matter is striking. Repeatedly against the Giants, he moved around in the pocket (or what passed for a pocket) and found open receivers. He did it twice in four plays at the start of the fourth quarter, hitting Derrius Thompson for 36 yards down the left sideline and then Rod Gardner for 18 on fourth-and-9. Had one of the other two QBs been in there, we might have been looking at sacks or throwaways or INTs.
"I can't say I'm on a par with Danny and Shane," said Ramsey. "They know so much. But I feel good about my progress."
Problem is, Spurrier had hoped to spare him another New Orleans-type battering by playing Wuerffel against Philadelphia this week. And it probably would have been a good idea, given how the Eagles get after the passer. But what can the Ball Coach do now? Danny's laid up with a bad shoulder again, and Patrick just threw for 204 yards in less than a half. Spurrier's gotta go with the kid.
So the Redskins are 5-8 with three to play and their owner is staring his first losing season straight in the puss. Funny as it may sound, this might be the best thing that could happen to the Snydermen. When you finish 8-8, as they have the last two years, it's easy to go into the offseason thinking: We're not that far away. A play here, a play there, a player here, a player there, and we're contenders.
But when you finish 7-9 or 6-10 or heaven forbid 5-11, the emperor has no clothes. He has to swallow some of his ego and say, "We can't keep going the way we've been going. We obviously need lots of help in lots of areas."
From the top down, I might add.

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