- The Washington Times - Monday, November 11, 2002

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.
'Twas a black day, indeed, for the Redskins yesterday. The Giants pulled one out against the Vikings. The Rams did likewise against the Chargers. The Falcons rallied to tie the Steelers. All the teams that figure to vie for the NFC's last wild card berth skirted defeat.
And then the Redskins took the field. That was the cruelest blow of all to their playoff hopes. Needing a victory to keep up with the other postseason hopefuls, they couldn't even hang with the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that had dropped four straight one of them at home to expansion Houston. Their 26-7 loss to the Jags wasn't as bad as, say, the 37-7 annihilation at the hands of the Eagles; but it was more dispiriting, because it revived all the doubts that swirled around the club when it was struggling back in September.
The first one being: Are they good enough? (Or even any good?)
After yesterday's disappointing performance, you have to wonder. You have to wonder again about Steve Spurrier's playcalling. You have to wonder again whether Shane Matthews is capable of leading the Redskins anywhere. You have to wonder about the special teams, especially the punting game. You have to wonder about a lot of things.
Spurrier's insistence on throwing the ball against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league was easily the biggest mystery of the day. In recent weeks, he'd seemed to come to grips with the reality that his offense is better suited to running, but I guess it was just a case of temporary sanity. After Kenny Watson traipsed through the Jaguars for 33 yards in his first four carries, the Ball Coach called his number only four more times the rest of the first half (and lived to regret it).
Now why on earth would he do that? Did he get carried away with being back in Florida and wanting to put on a good show for the Gator faithful? Did he look at the tapes of the Redskins' last visit to Alltel Stadium, when Albert Connell torched the Jags for 211 yards and three touchdowns, and say, "Heck, we can do that against these guys." Or did he simply forget how his team had won its last few games by pounding the ball?
"I guess I was dumb enough to throw it up and down the field," he said. "We had a little success [running] early, and we got away from it. I called a lousy game, as it turned out."
At least he admits it. But the only way those words mean anything is if Spurrier never calls a game like that again, never turns his back on the one thing his offense does reasonably well. The Redskins are what they are, and their coach had best accept it. When you put together a passing attack of "cheap and available" quarterbacks and receivers, well, you tend to get what you pay for.
That's why it's hard to dump on Matthews, as poorly as he's played the last two weeks. He really isn't playing any differently than he has his entire pro career. Still, it's kinda scary to hear Spurrier say, "Shane is our best quarterback" basically because it's true.
Matthews couldn't have done much less to help the cause yesterday. His day began with a throwaway he seems to specialize in those, even when he doesn't appear in any particular jeopardy and didn't get a whole lot better after that. Fifty passes for 256 yards ain't Funnin' and Gunnin', it's Dinkin' and Dunkin'.
Matthews almost killed the first drive with an inexcusable intentional grounding penalty at the Jacksonville 15, but he regrouped and pegged a 20-yard touchdown pass to Rod Gardner for the Redskins' only points. The next series, which looked equally promising, he did succeed in sabotaging by throwing an end-zone interception on first down at the Jags' 35. His biggest failing, though, was his inability to pick up a single first down not one the three times the offense was backed up inside its 10 in the middle of the game. Three and out, three and out, three and out, over and out.
"That's where the momentum kinda turned on us," Chris Doering said. "We had a chance to make a move and kinda let it slip away."
The Jacksonville fans must have been aghast at the futility of Spurrier's passing game especially since it's built around so many former Gators. And where oh where were the Superior One's halftime adjustments? But none of this really should have been surprising. The Redskins' quarterbacks have been missing more than they've been hitting all season, and the last three games the offense hasn't done much of anything in the second half.
(As for the punter, my only comment is this: If he shanks any more 12-yarders, he's going to be the most infamous Barker since Ma.)
"If we played them again in another week," Tre Johnson said of the Jaguars, "I think everybody [in the Washington locker room] believes there'd be a different outcome. But now we've got to play the Giants."
Yes, and the surging Rams the week after that. And the Cowboys in Dallas four days after that. The Redskins sure could have used a win yesterday. But their $5 million coach lost his head, and so they lost the game.

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