- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

Regroup or retreat? The Washington Redskins may discover today whether they're still a potential playoff contender or headed for another disappointing season.
The Redskins (1-2) visit the Tennessee Titans (1-3) after a week off that left the coaches trying to figure out why the offense virtually vanished and the vaunted defense was overrun in two straight losses. With heavyweights New Orleans (3-1) and Green Bay (3-1) looming in successive weeks, Washington needs an upset victory over Tennessee, or a second straight 1-5 start is possible.
"I wouldn't call it desperate," safety Sam Shade said. "It's not the end of the world, but [both teams] want a win. We don't want to start out the way we started out last year. … Are there enough guys that were part of what happened last year here to make a big difference? I know I don't want to go through that again."
Said cornerback Fred Smoot: "We have to set the tone for the rest of the season. The future is right now."
Washington coach Steve Spurrier named Danny Wuerffel the starting quarterback yesterday as the Redskins try to resurrect the Fun'n'Gun offense that produced a team-record 164 preseason points. Washington's offense was blanked in a 37-7 loss to Philadelphia on Sept.16 and scoreless in the second half of a 20-10 loss to San Francisco on Sept.22. Spurrier has moved Wuerffel and receiver Kevin Lockett into the lineup and installed Chris Doering as the probable third receiver in hopes of restoring the August success.
Tennessee's defense, with three injured starters, certainly is vulnerable. The Titans are 26th overall and 29th against the pass after being embarrassed by Oakland 52-25 last week. Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher joked about having watched three years of Florida game film, but he did concentrate on gimmick plays the Redskins might adopt from the Gators.
"[Spurrier] does a great job of finding weaknesses and attacking them," Fisher said. "There's no rhyme or reason. It's difficult to anticipate his next move."
No defensive lineup changes were made over the break, but the lack of a pass rush and the 80 points allowed in three games are perplexing for a unit expected to rank among the top 10 in the league. The Redskins are the only NFC team without a fumble recovery and have only two interceptions.
Washington's defense, 27th overall and 30th against the run, will face its first power back this season in Tennessee's Eddie George, whose 2.7 yards a carry belie his traditional dominance. With George and mobile quarterback Steve McNair on the field for the Titans, Washington's front four must play better to avoid being overrun. However, Fisher wouldn't openly challenge the Redskins' line.
"They can play the run," Fisher said. "You just don't line up and hammer them with expectations it will be successful every time."
Certainly, Spurrier's return to Tennessee will be among the subplots. The Johnson City, Tenn., native is often hated in his home state because of the intense rivalry between Florida and Tennessee. There will be many Volunteers fans inside the Coliseum. Preseason games at Tampa Bay and Carolina saw home mascots beating up a Gator wearing a Redskins jersey.
Spurrier downplayed the expected boos, saying, "One of the Nashville media asked, 'What are you going to do if they boo you down there?' and I said, 'I will consider it a compliment.' I have a lot more concerns than worrying about those things."
Cornerback Champ Bailey, who faced Tennessee when he played for Georgia, knows locals haven't forgotten Spurrier.
"College football is bigger than the NFL down there," Bailey said.
Defensive end Bruce Smith said the Nashville crowd is underrated. It's Washington's first game at the 4-year-old stadium (the Redskins played a game against the Titans at nearby Vanderbilt in 1997) but Smith faced Tennessee when he played for Buffalo. Tennessee is 19-7 at the Coliseum, including 7-0 against NFC teams.
"We have to start fast. We can't allow their fans to get involved. The more excited they get the louder it gets," he said. "I believe it's probably the loudest stadium in the National Football League."

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