- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

Playoff hopes are dimming. The weather should be abysmal come kickoff. Fans are growing impatient. Even the coach admitted he overestimated the ability of his passing game.
The Washington Redskins (4-5) and quarterback Shane Matthews reach a crossroad against the Giants (5-4) in New York on Sunday. A loss would, in essence, end the Redskins' playoff hopes and, with six games remaining, force them to start planning for next season.
For Matthews, there is much at stake as well. With a loss, the Redskins would consider playing rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey or Danny Wuerffel, who's finally healthy after five weeks with a sprained shoulder, for the final month. However, coach Steve Spurrier would prefer to stay with Matthews and avoid making a fourth quarterback change this season.
A victory postpones a decision. A loss makes it a more immediate call.
"We still believe Shane's the best guy to win games," Spurrier said. "If there's a point where we think another player is best to go in the game, then at that time we'll make a decision. We're trying not to zig-zag around every week."
Matthews envisioned having a much more productive year when he requested Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen's No.9 before the season began. Matthews settled for an inverted No.9 he wears No.6 a fitting symbol of his topsy-turvy performance this season.
Matthews was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after the season opener but was sent to the bench two games later. He threw for 10 receptions against Seattle and had 50 attempts at Jacksonville the past two weeks. Matthews has lost 10 points on his pass rating in two games and has completed a career-low 54 percent this season.
"The last two games have been two of the worst games I've played in the NFL throwing-the-ball-wise," Matthews said. "It's the most frustrated I've ever been in the league."
He doesn't want to be the scapegoat if the Redskins lose. Then again, Matthews never understood why he was pulled the first time. He still manages to avoid costly sacks and turnovers for the most part. However, the Redskins scored a meager 24 points in the past 10 quarters, prompting Spurrier to again consider using a run-oriented scheme against the Giants instead of relying on Matthews' arm.
"I missed a few throws here and there, but I'm not throwing it that poorly," Matthews said.
The Redskins may look for next year's quarterback whenever this season appears to be lost. Washington has started an NFL-high 14 quarterbacks since coach Joe Gibbs' retired in 1993, so turnover has been the only constant.
Brad Johnson (2000) was the sole starting quarterback in the past four years to return to the Redskins for another season. First-round draft choice Ramsey undoubtedly will return next season, but Matthews and Wuerffel have one-year deals.
But Spurrier isn't looking that far ahead just yet. It would be risky to pull Matthews before the Redskins face the St. Louis Rams on Nov.24, a game expected to be a shootout against a surging team. The Redskins can't afford to lose many more games by breaking in another quarterback and still reach the postseason. However, Ramsey could resurface in the final weeks if the Redskins' chances of making the playoffs are dead.
"If we get in that predicament down the road, we'll worry about it," Spurrier said. "Right now we're going on the [plan] that Shane will play better than he has recently and we'll beat the Giants and get back in the division hunt."
However, a nor'easter is expected to hit New York on Sunday, and the heavy rain and wind could ground the Fun'n'Gun. The Redskins, with running back Stephen Davis back from a two-game absence because of injury, may be forced to run frequently. Washington backs carried the ball just 16 times in last week's 26-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"We're not going to abandon the passing game even in bad weather," Matthews said. "If you can get a grip on the ball, bad footing is more of a problem."
Giants Stadium's notorious crosswinds often bedevil passers even in good conditions. Matthews said playing six seasons at Soldier Field in Chicago prepared him for bad weather. He also has played twice in the rain at Giants Stadium.
"I have an advantage knowing how the wind blows, but you try not to worry about it and throw it the best you can," Matthews said. "In Chicago, a lot of times the wind would blow hard off Lake Michigan, and sometimes you had no passing game because the wind blew so hard."
Cornerback Fred Smoot understands Matthews' challenge. Last year he saw a Giants pass veer more than 15 yards.
"I remember a fade route that started on the hash mark and ended out of bounds," Smoot said. "It could discourage a quarterback because he probably thinks there's something wrong with his mechanics."


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