- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

Toward the end of his post-game session with the media yesterday, Steve Spurrier was told that Dallas his team's opponent three days hence had beaten Jacksonville for its first win in five weeks. Spurrier's face registered mild surprise, but only for the briefest of instants.
"Anybody can beat anybody," he said, shaking his head at the wonder of it all, " as we know."
If there's anything Spurrier will take away from his first season as coach of the Redskins other than some psychological scrapes and bruises, that is it's how hard it is to win a game in the NFL. Any game. In any week. Spurrier is far removed from the land of 56-23 (Florida's winning margin over Maryland in the last Orange Bowl). And the Redskins' white knuckler against the Rams yesterday was yet another agonizing reminder of that.
Consider: At the 6:08 mark of the fourth quarter, the Redskins had no turnovers, no punts, a decided edge in time of possession and their quarterback, Danny Wuerffel, was having a career day. (This, with the defending NFC champs, a club that had won five in a row, providing the competition.)
And what was the score at this stage?
Try Washington 20, St. Louis 17.
Yup, Spurrier was being forced to sweat out a game in which his team had played pretty close to perfect in many respects. Just as he'd had to hold his breath at the end of the Indianapolis game after watching most of a 23-7 lead disappear.
Once again, the Redskins hung on, but only after LaVar Arrington had forced a Kurt Warner fumble gobbled up by Daryl Gardener at the Washington 13 with 11 ticks left. Which moved an obviously spent Spurrier to say, quite rightly: "That's not the kind of game I'm accustomed to."
No, it isn't. But then, his team doesn't play its home games in a place called "The Swamp," like his Gators did. It plays them at FedEx Field, where it has lost almost as many as it has won. That's just one of the many differences Spurrier has discovered between the colleges and the pros. The home-field advantage ain't nearly as, well, advantageous in the NFL.
And games are often decided not by one club scoring torrents of touchdowns but by whether that club makes or misses its kicks. Last week the Redskins lost a killer to the Giants because James Tuthill slipped and fell trying to boot the winning field goal in the closing seconds. And yesterday they found themselves nibbling their fingernails in the last few minutes because Tuthill misfired twice more from makeable range and holder Bryan Barker botched an extra-point try. That's seven points the kicking game blew, enough to reduce what should have been a 27-17 cushion in the late going to 20-17.
Until the fourth quarter palpitations, there was much to like about the Redskins' performance. They could easily have packed it in after falling behind 10-0 early in the second quarter, but the defense tightened up and the offense kept hammering away with Stephen Davis. Davis' numbers 31 carries, 88 yards, three TDs don't look all that impressive, but he was absolutely the key to the game, the main reason Wuerffel had time to complete 16 of 23 for 235 yards without getting sacked.
Stephen's day was reminiscent of the kind John Riggins regularly churned out in the glory years of the '80s. Riggo wasn't a five-yards-a-carry back or even a four-yards-a-carry back. In '83, his best season, he had rushing totals like these: 30 carries for 83 yards, 26 for 91, 23 for 61, 22 for 78, 23 for 87 and 27 for 89. And guess what? The Redskins won all those games. Just running the football makes life easier for your offense, regardless of the gain, because it allows your offensive line to be more physical (which O-linemen always enjoy) and keeps the defense from coming so hard after your QB.
Not that the Rams were inclined to blitz. As Chris Samuels put it, the Rams "blitzed a few times, but a lot of times they just stood back and took us on." This was a curious strategy against Wuerffel, who had been blitzed to distraction by the Patriots in the preseason and, let's face it, isn't exactly Michael Vick back there. But St. Louis allowed him to get comfortable, and except for a couple of errant deep balls he threw as well as any Redskins quarterback has this season.
Spurrier called some nice plays for his former Florida quarterback, too: a double pass (which didn't pan out), a pair of throwbacks to the fullback (first Bryan Johnson, then Rock Cartwright), an option pitch to Kenny Watson for a big first down. If it wasn't the kitchen sink Spurrier threw at the Rams, it was at least the dishwasher.
But, hey, it worked. The Redskins won to stave off virtual playoff elimination. And winning is no easy matter in the NFL, as Steve Spurrier can tell you.


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