- The Washington Times - Monday, September 16, 2002

It's an NFC East rivalry with bad blood and several intersquad defections. It's the clearest test to date for a new coach and his system, on "Monday Night Football" no less.
Oh, and it's only Week 2.
The Washington Redskins play a game full of early-season import tonight, playing host to the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field. As Washington (1-0) and former Eagle Jeremiah Trotter try to build their NFC East lead over Philadelphia (0-1) and former Redskins like James Thrash, Shawn Barber and Brian Mitchell, the Steve Spurrier-coached team takes its biggest step into the national spotlight.
"I think everybody knows the implications this game has," Redskins offensive tackle Jon Jansen said this week. "And setting everything aside, it's kind of a coming-out party for us. It's the first game where the whole nation's going to be watching coach Spurrier's offense and Marvin Lewis' defense."
The Monday night stage is always special for players, who get the rare chance to play live before all their peers. Big plays and critical gaffes take on special significance, and Pro Bowl campaigns on the bubble get an extra push in either direction.
"Like [Eagles defensive end] Hugh Douglas used to say, the whole neighborhood's watching," said Trotter, a two-time Pro Bowl player.
Said Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot: "This is the stage everybody's waiting on. This is prime time."
Washington already owns a one-game lead on the Eagles thanks to the Tennessee Titans' six sacks of Donovan McNabb and big second half last weekend in Nashville. A Redskins win tonight also would keep them ahead of the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, each of whom won yesterday to even their records at 1-1.
Less tangible, but just as important to many Redskins, is the respect that didn't come after a 4-1 preseason and an opening 31-23 victory over the mediocre Arizona Cardinals. The Eagles received the bulk of preseason accolades within the division, after reaching and nearly winning the NFC Championship game last winter. Now, Washington wants some of that attention.
"I saw [HBOs] 'Inside the NFL' last night and everybody picked the Eagles to beat us," safety Sam Shade said. "This is one of those games where we have to go out and show people that we're a good team and we're going to play hard this year."
But the Eagles earned their status. They are stocked with talent on offense, defense and special teams, from McNabb to Douglas to history's best return man, Mitchell. And this week they're eager to make amends for their opening loss.
"They're the team to beat," Trotter said. "And those guys are coming off a loss, so they're going to try to rebound. It's definitely a big game for them. It's going to be a war 60 minutes, four quarters and the best team will come out on top."
The Redskins offensively established themselves in several key ways against the Cardinals. First, they proved Spurrier's offense could succeed in an NFL regular-season game. Second, they got running back Stephen Davis 33 touches including 26 carries after scant use in the preseason. And third, their offensive line held up in its first action with current personnel.
Of course, this week Spurrier's East Coast Offense has to prove it all again against the much tougher Eagles.
"I think there will always be questions," Jansen said.
On defense, Washington wasn't pleased that it gave up 23 points to the Cardinals, but it often was saddled with poor field position. Its yards allowed actually left it tied for fourth in the NFL after Week 1.
Tonight, as Trotter deals with the excitement of playing his old team and the unit tries to contain the prolific run-pass threat of McNabb, coaches expect few if any contributions from defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, who needed another pain-killing injection in his back this week after spasms flared up. Carl Powell, who enjoyed a sharp preseason, is set to make his first career start in Gardener's place.
"[Gardeners back has] been an issue since coming here," defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson said. "We have the talent to keep it going and we hope Daryl comes back soon."
Washington similarly expects a solid first start from kicker James Tuthill, the replacement for Brett Conway, who tore his quadriceps in the opener. Tuthill is a big (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) kicker who impressed club officials and teammates with his strong leg, but he'll face tremendous pressure as he debuts in a series that historically has produced very close games (over the last decade, 18 of 21 have been decided by a touchdown or less).
The Redskins' other special teams know they'll play a big role as well, particularly in trying to contain Mitchell on kickoffs and punts.
"[The games] always do [come down to a few points]," said linebacker Eddie Mason. "My big thing on special teams this year [is] field position for our offense and defense. Don't try to do too much, just go out and do our job and do it in a sound fashion."
Mason will leave the "too much" to the media, which spent the long week building hype. By week's end, Davis was making fun of how little was left to say about the circumstances.
"An important game, a division game, we got to win it," Davis said with a smile before walking away.


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