- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

If you don't think pro football is a humbling game, consider what transpired yesterday at Seahawks Stadium. On one sideline you had Mike Holmgren, the NFL's offensive genius of the '90s. On the other you had Steve Spurrier, the erstwhile Isaac Newton of college ball. So what kind of explosions did these two mad scientists set off? How many lights did they burn out on the scoreboard?
Try Redskins 14, Seahawks 3. Try 10-of-27 passing for Shane Matthews and zero Washington points in the last 42 minutes. Try an intentional grounding call against Seattle in the biggest series of the game because Matt Hasselbeck threw to a back who wasn't there. (The offense, alas, had lined up wrong.)
Missed receivers, sack-fumbles, botched red-zone opportunities the Redskins and Seahawks played a real stinker out here in Microsoft country. Spurrier doubted he'd ever won a game before in which his team had "pitched" only 10 completions. Ten completions? That was a good quarter's work for him at Florida.
"We didn't do a very good job of playing throw and catch," he said. "They had eight guys up there on the line most of the day; if we can't throw against that. We couldn't hit a hitch pass in the fourth quarter. Shane said the ball slipped out of his hand."
Matthews was almost as incredulous as his coach. "Is that all I had, 10 [completions]?" he said. "Last week was the worst completion percentage I've ever had in a game below 50 percent [48.6 to be exact]. And now this. I was losing the grip on the ball for some reason. But you're going to have your bad days. I'm going to try to get better."
This is uncharted territory for Spurrier. He's never had an offense like this before, never had an offense he couldn't make do what he wanted it to do. But here's the thing: Despite their struggles of the last two weeks, the Redskins have reeled off a pair of victories to raise their record to 4-4. More importantly, they've begun to win games the way they should be winning games by running the football and playing defense. That's what their talent dictates, and the Ball Coach, at long last, has recognized it.
A lot of people were deceived by the preseason fireworks, by all the yards the Redskins were throwing for and all the points they were putting up. Spurrier seems to have been one of those people, judging from the overly ambitious game plans he put together for the Eagles, 49ers and Saints. But now, even with Stephen Davis on the inactive list, he realizes the best not to mention safest play for his offense is the handoff. And if Davis can't be on the receiving end, then he'll just have to give it to unsung, undrafted, unassuming Kenny Watson.
In the first start of his NFL career yesterday, Watson did a pretty fair impersonation of No. 48. He ripped off runs of 12 and 23 yards in the first quarter and finished with 110 in 23 carries. Add the 37 yards rookie Ladell Betts gained and Matthews' touchdown passes to Darnerien McCants (11 yards) and Rod Gardner (19) and Redskins had just enough offense to hold off a 2-5 team.
"The goal [in the early going] was to come out and set the tone for the game," said Watson, "and I think we did that."
The defense, meanwhile, more than held up its end, limiting Shaun Alexander to 67 yards rushing and chasing Hasselbeck all over the lot. What jumped out at you on this day was how well Bruce Smith and Daryl Gardener have begun to complement each other. In fact, Bruce gave Daryl much of the credit for his two sacks, saying, "Any time you've got a guy playing next to you who's getting penetration like he is and is getting double-teamed, it opens up a lot of things."
Marvin Lewis' unit is finally starting to play up to expectations. It was a little rough in the beginning too many big plays, too many penalties, too many mental mistakes. But now the defense is carrying the team, just as it did in the latter part of last season. And the timing couldn't be better, given Davis' injury and Matthews' sudden inability to hit open receivers.
What Spurrier is discovering is that it's hard to be pretty in the NFL a lot harder than it is in the college ranks. The defensive coordinators are too resourceful, and the teams are too comparable, talent-wise. In November and December, particularly, you have to be able to grind out wins, because the weather isn't always going to be amenable to an air show (though it was yesterday).
Maybe next year or the year after, when he gets some different players, Spurrier can pitch it around the way he likes to. But right now he's got to play to his strengths. And if that means less Funnin' and Gunnin', and more Lowering of the Ol' Shoulder, so be it.

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