- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

Before you get too delirious, Redskins rooters, keep in mind that this was Arizona the Redskins beat yesterday. The league moved the Cardinals into the NFC West this year but, truth be known, you could move them into a division with Guam, Taiwan and the Netherlands Antilles, and they'd still have trouble making the playoffs.
They came to Washington in typical disarray, having gone winless in four exhibitions and having failed to sign their first-round draft pick. Their record against the Redskins is historically horrific, so there was every expectation the home team would handle them again by a bucket of points, perhaps.
Why, even Steve Spurrier was calling for calm after the Redskins' 31-23 victory in his regular-season debut. "Philly [his teams next opponent] is a lot better than " he began and then he caught himself and switched over to Standard NFL Coachspeak. His amended (and much more politic) comment: "Philly, I think, is a little bit better than Arizona."
Actually, Spurrier had it right the first time. But let's not dwell on what the Cardinals are or aren't. Instead, let's dwell on what the Redskins are or aren't. And what they are, at this point, at least, is a highly intriguing 1-0.
Remember that blizzard of passes the Redskins threw in the preseason? Well, Shane Matthews still winged the ball 40 times against the Cardinals, but a far more telling statistic was Stephen Davis' 33 touches (26 rushes and seven receptions for a total of 150 yards). Clearly, Spurrier was snookering everybody and saving Davis for the Real Games.
"We aired it out a lot [in exhibitions]," Chris Samuels said, "and I think teams were expecting us to do it in the regular season, too. But we always knew we had Stephen back there."
Heck, the Redskins even ran the ball on their first offensive play surprising their own coach, who couldn't remember ever beginning a season that way. The original call was a pass, of course, but when Matthews saw the Cardinals were in a zone defense, he changed it to an off-tackle run by Davis. So the Spurrier Years began not with a bang but with a wimpy 1-yard gain.
(Talk about anticlimactic. I, personally, was looking forward to a double reverse or some other crowd-pleasing creation maybe a tackle-eligible play to Jon Jansen out of the single-wing formation. You know, something special to usher in the Fun 'n' Gun era. But, no, we got Stephen Davis grinding out three feet.)
That might have been the only disappointment, though, for the hyped-up crowd of 85,140 at FedEx Field from the offensive standpoint, at least. Spurrier doesn't leave you wanting for much. He's a kitchen-sink kind of coach, the type who throws whatever he's got at the opponent. Yesterday that included not only the usual suspects (Davis, Rod Gardner), but also Derrius Thompson (who carried once on an end-around), Kevin Lockett, Chris Doering, Zeron Flemister and, in the late going, even Kenny Watson.
What you also have to like about the Redskins' performance is how they came out in the third quarter and took control. So many games are won and lost in the locker room at halftime, and what separates the best from the rest is often the ability of a coaching staff to make the necessary adjustments on the fly. Spurrier and his assistants certainly aced that part of the exam. The Redskins scored touchdowns on their first three possessions in the second half to turn a 13-10 deficit into a 31-16 lead. There were a few nervous moments in the final minutes, but only because the offense kept killing itself with holding penalties when it was trying to run out the clock.
After one of those penalties, Spurrier showed more emotion than we saw in a month of Schottenheimer Sundays by tearing off his headset and, in the process, tearing open the skin on his right middle finger. Another time, when a squib kick didn't squib enough to suit him, he slammed down his play sheet. Not to worry, though. His finger is fine, and he's been listed as probable for the Eagles game. (The headset, on the other hand, will likely be put on waivers.)
But back to those halftime adjustments. More than anything, the Redskins just started doing a better job on first down in the second half. In the first two quarters, they drew four penalties, threw their only interception and didn't have any big plays on first down. In the last two, they threw touchdown passes of 43 and 17 yards (to Gardner and Thompson respectively), consistently gained good yardage and didn't saddle themselves with so many third-and-longs. It made all the difference.
The Redskins defense didn't have quite as satisfying a day. Indeed, had the Cardinals' Thomas Jones not dropped a pass on fourth down with 5:39 left, we could have had a 31-29 game with Arizona lining up for a two-point conversion to tie it. Part of the problem for Washington was an injury to Brett Conway that prevented him from driving his kickoffs deep and resulted in the Cards' enjoying great field position all afternoon. But a pass rush that produced zero sacks and an inability to contain the Cards' one dangerous receiver, David Boston (seven catches, 138 yards, one TD), also contributed to the situation.
LaVar Arrington and Co. need to play better, and they know it. "We're still rough around the edges," Fred Smoot conceded. "We still aren't where we want to be."
As beginnings go, however, it sure topped the lifeless display in San Diego last season (Chargers 30, Redskins 3). That was less a beginning than the beginning of the end for Marty Schottenheimer. Spurrier, though, looks like he'll be around longer than Marty was that is, as long as his cut finger receives proper medical attention.


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