- The Washington Times - Monday, November 11, 2002

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. This time, the law of average play caught up with the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins, once again trying to overcome their limited offense to beat a marginal opponent, lost the battle of field position and finally succumbed on defense. The result, a 26-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday at Alltel Stadium, dealt a big blow to Washington's playoff hopes as the season's second half began.
In the race for the NFC's final wild-card spot, the Redskins (4-5) now are 1 games behind Atlanta (5-3-1) and a game behind the New York Giants (5-4), their opponent at the Meadowlands next weekend.
But the loss left Washington with more fundamental concerns than playoff scenarios. Most pressing is the continued slide of the Redskins' offense, which has scored just 24 points since halftime of the Oct. 27 win over Indianapolis.
"The playoffs, that's too far away," offensive tackle Jon Jansen said. "We're scoring seven points. We've got to take one game at a time. Every game is a playoff game. We lose another one, it gets real, real tough to get in."
It wasn't supposed to be this way for coach Steve Spurrier, who cemented his reputation as an offensive mastermind in Gainesville, Fla., just 75 miles to southwest of Jacksonville. As Florida's coach, he averaged better than 10 wins a season while scoring touchdowns in bunches with his Fun 'n' Gun scheme.
But in the weeks leading up to yesterday, Spurrier shelved his preferred deep passes in favor of more conventional running plays. Then, back in a city that truly reveres him in front of many supporters who thought he should have replaced Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin during the offseason he struggled to spark his vaunted passing game.
The Redskins' touchdown came on the game's first series, and they were fairly balanced until quarterback Shane Matthews threw an interception at the Jaguars' 35 with 2:53 left in the first quarter. From there, Spurrier called passes on 18 of the final 20 plays of the first half, and for the game he ran just 16 times to 51 passes against a Jacksonville team that entered with four straight losses and a No. 26 ranking against the run.
"I guess I was dumb enough to throw it up and down the field," Spurrier said. "We ran a little bit here and there, had a little success early. And we got away from it too much. [Observers are] right. Second quarter I kept thinking, from midfield, we can throw the ball from there. But we didn't do it very well. So, looking back, I called a lousy game as it turned out."
The Redskins' failures on offense were exacerbated by the return of some spotty special teams play. The first three scores by Jacksonville (4-5), in fact, were set up by favorable exchanges of field position that resulted from poor offense and special teams by Washington.
Punter Bryan Barker, pinned back in the end zone on his first punt, booted it just 12 yards to set up a Jaguars touchdown early in the second quarter. And cornerback Champ Bailey, filling in for injured punt returner Jacquez Green, let two punts bounce that were downed inside the 10. In each case, Jacksonville got the ball back within easy reach of a field goal.
"Field position is the key to the game," said Bailey, who was thrust into punt return duty when Green suffered a cut leg in the first quarter. "If you lose field position, you're probably going to lose the game."
The defense, after doing a nice job in rising into the NFL's top 10 after a rough start to the season, did well to limit Jacksonville to the early field goals before finally breaking under the pressure.
Midway through the third quarter, Washington still was within a touchdown after Jacksonville's third field-position-induced score, at 13-7. But the offense couldn't take advantage of a big gain on its next possession a 33-yard pass to wide receiver Rod Gardner. A third-and-3 sack led to kicker James Tuthill hitting the crossbar on a 49-yard field goal attempt.
The Jaguars were able to move the ball fairly easily on their next two series. They went 51 yards for a field goal to make it 16-7 and Mark Brunell completed a 48-yard pass to wide receiver Bobby Shaw to set up a 12-yard touchdown run by Fred Taylor. The latter score made it 23-7 in the final moments of the third quarter, and Washington was as good as defeated.
"When the defense is out there a lot, you're going to get worn down," linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. "But that's not an excuse. You've still got to go out there and make plays."

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