- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO The Washington Redskins' rapid descent from playoff hopeful to thorough mediocrity continues.
Making mistakes on offense, defense and special teams yesterday against a San Francisco 49ers club that wasn't in top form and lost Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia in the second half, the Redskins stayed close but never really threatened to win a 20-10 decision at 49ers Stadium before 67,541.
"There's nowhere really to point [the finger] we lost as a team," linebacker Jessie Armstead said. "We've got to get turned around as a team."
An open date gives the Redskins (1-2) more time in that endeavor, but it's quickly becoming apparent that this team has big problems from suspect talent to continually flawed execution to growing sources of controversy.
The first point of controversy is quarterback. Starter Shane Matthews was pulled in the fourth quarter despite being healthy and he was relieved, once again ineffectively, by Danny Wuerffel. With an open date this week, rookie Patrick Ramsey now might be groomed to start a move that could send Washington into full-fledged rebuilding mode.
The other brewing contention is on defense, where some players, notably Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington, are clashing with coordinator Marvin Lewis. The unit was expected to rank among the league's top 10 but yesterday it gave up 252 rushing yards more than at any point last season under Marty Schottenheimer, including during that 0-5 start.
The blooming conflicts solidify a pessimistic picture when viewed in combination with Washington's generally ineffective play and extremely difficult schedule following the open date: at Tennessee, vs. New Orleans, at Green Bay and vs. Indianapolis.
"Everything's a concern for the Redskins right now," coach Steve Spurrier said. "There's a lot of ball left. We're going to hang in there. We're only 1-2. Hopefully we can improve as we go."
The 49ers (2-1) resumed their expected journey toward the playoffs despite losing Garcia to an illness early in the second half. The star passer played essentially one long series after intermission (San Francisco punted on the drive but immediately got the ball back when Jacquez Green fumbled the return), giving way to third-year player Tim Rattay.
But it made little difference as Washington's defense repeatedly failed to stop the run. Running backs Garrison Hearst (19 carries, 97 yards) and Kevin Barlow (15 carries, 94 yards, one touchdown) propelled an effort that averaged 6.1 yards per rush, and wide receiver Terrell Owens provided the game's highlight with a 38-yard touchdown run that proved to be the winning points.
Lewis, who rose to preeminent status among NFL assistants by guiding the Baltimore Ravens' record-setting defense in 2000, was supposed to provide Washington with an instant defensive powerhouse. But the effects of having four defensive coordinators in the past four years are becoming increasingly apparent.
"It's called growing pains," Arrington said. "We've got a new defensive scheme, a new coordinator, and it takes time. Again, we're trying to get used to a new system."
Key negative plays and mediocre play by Washington's defense left the Redskins in a 17-10 deficit at halftime, and the team certainly had the chance to rally. But Washington went three-and-out on its first three second-half possessions and then on their next (and final) three they failed to gain a first down once they reached 49ers territory. The 49ers ran out the final 7:59 by sticking to their successful ground game.
The Redskins' offense was plagued by problems in the second half, from Matthews' and Wuerffel's ineffectiveness to continued poor blocking. The failures neutralized the promise of two long scoring drives in the first half.
"We've just got to come together as a team," said Pro Bowl tackle Chris Samuels, who probably had the worst game of his career. "Right now we're a bunch of individuals. On offense, when one guy breaks down the whole unit breaks down."
The 49ers' first two scores were set up by Redskins errors. A fumble by running back Stephen Davis led to a 14-yard scoring drive less than six minutes into the game and later a 25-yard punt return by Jimmy Williams, immediately preceded Owens' scoring run.
Owens' run was the critical blow. He took an end-around handoff and thought about throwing it as he ran to the right side of the field. However, he took off when Arrington and defensive end Renaldo Wynn blew tackles in the backfield. He then bolted all the way back to the left sideline, where cornerback Champ Bailey also missed him before he stepped into the end zone for a 14-3 lead.
"Two guys had him and the others went to sleep," Lewis said. "You can't beat people when you tackle like that. We're just going to keep getting better. If we've got to use boxing gloves, we're going to keep getting better."


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