- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO.
At least the Redskins will be able to watch the tapes of yesterday's game without covering their eyes. That's a big improvement over the Monday Night Massacre at the hands of the Eagles and especially comforting with a bye week coming up. But as their 20-10 loss to the 49ers showed, Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gunners are still a team in search of itself. Unless, of course, what we've seen is what we're going to get.
But let's hold that thought for a moment and deal with more immediate matters such as an offense that continues to have trouble scoring and a defense that, despite three Pro Bowl linebackers, had a lot of difficulty slowing the Niners' rushing attack. You're not going to win too many times in the NFL when you put up only 10 points and allow 252 rushing yards, as the Redskins did at 49ers Stadium. You're also not going to have much success if you can't keep your quarterback from getting creamed, and Shane Matthews served as a veritable tackling dummy for most of the afternoon. (One of the hits he absorbed, which drew a flag for overexuberance, was "probably the hardest I've ever taken," he said.)
Clearly, though, the Redskins' problems aren't limited to their players. Their coaches also did and said some curious things yesterday. Spurrier, for instance, benched Matthews in the fourth quarter after the offense failed to move the ball on four straight possessions, even though Shane had had a productive first half (14 of 19 for 150 yards and a touchdown). In came Danny Wuerffel, and all it took him were four plays to put a ball up for grabs again and kill one of the Redskins' better scoring chances (from the San Francisco 40 following a punt). The week before, against Philly, he'd done the same thing.
"I thought it might change something up [for us] by going with Danny," the Ballcoach said. "I thought he might revert back to his preseason play."
But Wuerrfel didn't. He "chucked it down there," as Spurrier put it, in the far-too-general direction of Rod Gardner, and free safety Zack Bronson easily intercepted. The Redskins coach, it seems, has a blind spot when it comes to his former Heisman Trophy winner. Either that or he's just looking at the world through Gator glasses. Wuerffel was ineffective at the end of the preseason, ineffective in the Eagles game and ineffective again yesterday. Three strikes and you're the third-string quarterback, perhaps? Or is that too much to hope for?
Then there's Marvin Lewis. Asked if he was disturbed by all the rushing yards the 49ers racked up, Lewis replied, "I didn't feel like [their] running the ball was a problem until the end of the game" when San Francisco held the ball for the last 14 plays and only threw it twice.
You've gotta be kidding me. Even if you take away Terrell Owen's 38-yard touchdown run, the 23 yards Jeff Garcia and replacement Tim Rattay scrambled for and all 59 rushing yards the Niners had in their last drive which is quite a bit of subtraction you're still left with 132 yards. Sorry, but that's too many for a defense with the kind of talent the Redskins have.
LaVar Arrington got closer to the truth when he said, "It's called growing pains. A new defensive scheme, a new coach, a new team it takes time."
Jessie Armstead also refused to pull punches, describing the number of mental errors the 'D' is making as "staggering."
The Redskins have next Sunday free, so they've got two weeks to try to sort things out. This much is obvious, though: All the excitement they generated in the first four preseason games is gone. The hard reality of NFL life that exhibitions are meaningless has begun to settle in like a thick San Francisco fog. Just as obviously, the team's problems are across the board, not merely limited to this player or that unit. The offense managed only one first down on its own in the second half yesterday. The defense, meanwhile, continues to miss too many tackles and the special teams play has been very spotty. Which raises the question: Where exactly are the coaches supposed to begin?
In some respects, it's easier this way. Nobody at Redskin Park should be pointing any fingers unless he's looking in the mirror. Everybody's to blame for the disappointing 1-2 start. Heck, the club's biggest stars were guilty of some of the most grievous sins yesterday. Stephen Davis fumbled on his first carry to set up the 49ers' first score, Chris Samuels gave up two sacks and drew a holding penalty and Arrington was one of many who missed Owens on his hither-and-yon TD run.
The Redskins are in a bad place right now. They have nothing to really lean on, nothing that's working the way it's supposed to be working. And their first four opponents when they return to action will be Tennessee (there), New Orleans (here), Green Bay (there) and Indianapolis (here) not a gimmie in the bunch. It could get worse, in other words, before it gets better. Now there's a horrifying prospect.


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