- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The cold rain fell harder and harder. Coach Steve Spurrier's once-vaunted Fun 'n' Gun offense grew more and more ineffective. And the Washington Redskins' playoff hopes all but washed away.
Only a miraculous run now can revive Spurrier's debut season. The Redskins, battling a nor'easter and their playoff hopes dwindling, generated a season-low 166 yards and didn't score in the game's final 26 minutes in losing 19-17 to the New York Giants before 78,727 at Giants Stadium.
The Redskins went up 17-10 early in the fourth quarter only to give New York great field position on punt coverage, a fumbled kickoff return and an interception. The Giants' three field goals on those series put them ahead 19-17, and Washington's 42-yard field goal attempt to take the lead with 4:04 left was blocked when kicker James Tuthill slipped.
The second straight loss dropped the Redskins (4-6) 2 games behind the Atlanta Falcons (6-3-1) in the race for the NFC's final wild-card spot, plus two games behind the Giants (6-4) and three in back of the Philadelphia Eagles (7-3) in the NFC East.
"We've got an uphill battle," quarterback Shane Matthews said after a third straight game with a passer's rating under 60.0. "Nothing's ever over until it's over. But we've got to turn around quickly."
The performance of Spurrier's offense left him calling the day "disappointing and frustrating" and hinting at further personnel changes, likely a fourth switch at quarterback. This week Danny Wuerffel, who got the starting nod in Week 5 but injured his throwing shoulder on that day's first series, could return behind center.
"We'll look at [a quarterback switch]," Spurrier said. "We'll look at anything to try to give some excitement to this offense."
But the odds of Spurrier being able to spark his scheme are getting longer and longer. Yesterday, star running back Stephen Davis returned from a sprained knee, but nine of the Redskins' 14 possessions went five or fewer plays and didn't produce a score.
There no longer seems to be an identity for the Fun 'n' Gun, which, with its deep passes, gained fame during Spurrier's 12 seasons at Florida. First, in Weeks 7 to 9, the coach switched to a run-based attack, conceding that he didn't have the manpower to play a wide-open game. Then, Washington passed 51 times (to 16 runs) and scored only seven points in last week's loss at Jacksonville.
Spurrier admitted that he called too many passes in that game but was back at it again yesterday. Washington threw 37 passes to 21 runs in the narrow loss despite the nasty conditions. Early in the fourth quarter, Davis opened a drive by rushing 14 yards off left tackle; Spurrier then called three straight passes, and the Redskins were forced to punt.
"I don't know why we did that," Spurrier said. "I don't have all the answers for why we try to throw and then don't throw, and then we try to run and we run a little bit and then don't run. We're just sort of struggling right now. The Giants put a lot of guys up near the line of scrimmage. They forced us to throw."
Davis was extremely frustrated after the game. Before he cut his interview session short, he said: "What we do best is run the ball. We've got to do more of that. We passed the ball when we had an opportunity [to run it]."
The Redskins' defense also continued a season-long trend of giving up just enough big plays to undermine its efforts.
Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey, a rookie, did the most damage, catching 11 passes for 111 yards. His 15-yarder on third-and-10 in the second quarter set up New York's only touchdown, a 35-yard pass to Amani Toomer on which the Redskins, in a rare instance, covered the talented Toomer with a zone instead of Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey.
But the real damage came in the second half, after the Redskins took advantage of an interception by safety David Terrell and scored on an 11-yard pass to Rod Gardner to go up 17-10 with 11:53 left in the third quarter.
About 6 minutes later, the Giants' Delvin Joyce returned a punt 28 yards to set up a field goal. Toomer converted a fourth-and-10 against Darrell Green en route to those points.
Then, as the three-minute mark came and went, rookie Ladell Betts fumbled a kickoff return to set up another score. New York needed just one play, a 23-yard run by Tiki Barber, to move into field-goal range.
Finally, Matthews threw an interception to Jason Sehorn with 1:07 left in the third quarter. Shockey converted a third-and-3 with a 13-yard catch, and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was called for roughing the passer on third-and-9 (Green also was flagged for illegal contact on the play, but that penalty was declined). Matt Bryant booted a 19-yard field goal, 3:04 into the fourth, for the winning points.
Washington got a final chance and drove into field-goal range late in the fourth quarter. But Tuthill, and the Redskins' season, slipped on the muddy, divot-strewn turf.
"All we can do is go back to the drawing board, continue to fight," Trotter said. "We can't give up, so we've got to fight. We've just got to keep our heads up and continue to try to motivate ourselves to win this thing together."


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