- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

Call it the Fun 'n' Gun, the East Coast Offense or whatever you want. All that matters is the magical dimension Steve Spurrier's offense gives the 2002 Washington Redskins over their 2001 counterparts.
This team, unlike its predecessor, can make a mistake or two.
The Redskins were sluggish in yesterday's first half and lacked a kicker in the second but still got the Spurrier era off to a winning start. Thanks largely to the cushion provided by the new coach's famous offense, Washington put away the Arizona Cardinals 31-23 before a record 85,140 at FedEx Field.
"Some coaches like to do the old ball-control, win it with your defense, kick field goals," quarterback Shane Matthews said after a three-touchdown, 327-yard day. "But Coach Spurrier's philosophy is kind of like a gunslinger. We're throwing them down there for a purpose. That purpose may not be served until later in the game."
Former coach Marty Schottenheimer preached the "old ball-control" theory, and his Redskins clubs were left with virtually no margin for error. Losses last year, particularly three late-season ones at home with playoff implications (to Dallas, Philadelphia and Chicago), often came down to one big play that went the other way.
Now the Redskins have enough of their own big plays to overcome such mistakes. In yesterday's key example, kicker Brett Conway re-injured his kicking leg in the second half, leaving backup quarterback Danny Wuerffel to handle a kickoff with just more than 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Wuerffel, who hasn't kicked since his youth, managed to get it 41 yards upfield but spotty coverage put the Cardinals at the Redskins' 42. Three plays later, Jake Plummer hit David Boston for a 29-yard touchdown and pulled the Cardinals within 31-23.
One can imagine the 2001 Redskins trailing by a touchdown at that point and fans streaming for the exits. That team, after all, averaged just 16 points and scored more than 17 only five times all season.
But these Redskins had taken control of the game with three straight touchdown drives in the third and fourth quarters. These Redskins held on defense on three late series for the win. And these Redskins quickly jumped a game ahead of the NFC East-favorite Philadelphia Eagles, who were 27-24 losers at Tennessee.
"Every week, every possession we think about scoring," wide receiver Rod Gardner said. "Every time we're on the field, we don't ever think we can't make a big play."
That confidence has come from Spurrier, following a 4-1 preseason and, at one point, an NFL record of 35 or more points in four straight exhibitions. That performance and his five-year, $25 million contract, which made him the NFL's best-paid coach, generated tremendous scrutiny for the Redskins' opener.
Now, as the Redskins look ahead to next Monday night's game against Philadelphia, Spurrier sounds happy to be done with the hype.
"It'll die out. These Florida [reporters], they won't be back the next game," Spurrier said to laughter in his post-game news conference. "Yeah, the first one seems to be one with a little more interest than the others. But as I've said many times, this is the Redskins team owners, coaches, players, fans, management. It's all of us on the same team."
A strong second half by Matthews (11-for-13 for 171 yards and two touchdowns) helped Washington finish with 442 yards, the club's highest total since an Oct. 21, 2001 win over Carolina. Gardner (seven catches, 131 yards and a touchdown) and running back Stephen Davis (26 carries, 104 yards and a touchdown; seven receptions, 46 yards) also enjoyed big days.
Matthews didn't see some open receivers and leaned on underneath patterns to Davis, but he connected on 28 of 40 passes to finish with an impressive rating of 109.1.
"He had a very nice performance," Spurrier said. "There's some plays he could have played better, but a lot of them he played very well. He hung in there. He played good enough for us to win, certainly."
One of the key aspects of Spurrier's offense is the ability to audible and fit plays to certain defenses. That was on display immediately, as Washington opened in a no-huddle offense (something Spurrier previously had done in debuts in the USFL, at Duke and at Florida three victories) and Matthews audibled on the very first play.
The Redskins crept upfield on that possession and Conway kicked a field goal for a 3-0 lead, but Arizona came right back with a 12-play drive and field goal to tie. Matthews followed with a tipped pass off guard Brenden Stai that resulted in an interception to defensive tackle Barron Tanner, and the Cardinals scored two plays later when Plummer ran in a 7-yard bootleg for a 10-3 lead.
Washington's explosion came after halftime as Gardner and Davis heated up. A 71-yard drive ended with a 3-yard scoring run by Davis to put the Redskins up 17-13; a quick 70-yard possession finished with a 43-yard strike to Gardner for a 24-16 edge; and Matthews hit Derrius Thompson for a 17-yard touchdown and a 31-16 lead early in the fourth quarter.
"The first half, we struggled a bit," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said. "But the second half, we just stayed with the plan. We came in, talked about what we were doing wrong, how we were killing ourselves out there. We cleaned up the mistakes and started playing pretty good out there. But it was pretty much the same game plan."
Arizona had three chances to score, but each drive stalled. Good defense by cornerback Fred Smoot and a drop by running back Thomas Jones killed the first; a nice break-up by linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and third-down pressure ended the second; and an interception by Champ Bailey (his sixth career against the Cardinals) finished the game.
Arizona had shown early offensive potency and Boston, the league's leader in receiving yards last year, rallied for an outstanding day. But Spurrier's offense gave Washington a chance to win, and Marvin Lewis' defense took care of the rest.
"That's the key to a champion: bend but don't break," Smoot said. "And that's what I think we did. As long as we're doing that, as long as we're winning, I don't care what the stat sheet reads. As long as it's a 'W,' I'm happy."


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