- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 21, 2003

Neither the Washington Redskins nor the Chicago Bears have much to play for these days.

The Redskins (5-9) appear to have bought into that line of thinking. The Bears (6-8) have not.

While Washington was suffering through its first home shutout loss in a decade last Sunday, Chicago was grinding out an upset over first-place Minnesota. While the Redskins have gone 2-8 since early October, the Bears are on a late-season surge with three victories in their last four games.

The mood in Washington right now could best be described as edgy. The mood in Chicago might be described as hopeful.

All of which makes one wonder what might happen today when the teams meet at Soldier Field.

“I’ve said all along we’re going to try to play 16 games the best we can,” Redskins coach Steve Spurrier said. “And when it’s over, whatever our record is, that’s what we are.”

Hardly words of inspiration from the beleaguered Ball Coach.

Spurrier doesn’t have much to be inspired about coming off his worst loss, a lifeless 27-0 shellacking by Dallas. That set off yet another week of speculation regarding Spurrier’s future, as well that of his assistants.

Although they seemed to do their best to hang with the Cowboys through much of the first three quarters in the rain last week, the Redskins rolled over in the fourth quarter, surrendering 10 points and 94 rushing yards.

Spurrier did not question his players’ efforts, having learned his lesson from a loss at Buffalo earlier this season. But when asked Friday about his team’s collective effort over the season, Spurrier paused for several seconds before giving a carefully constructed answer.

“It’s been consistent, let me say that,” he said. “Our discipline and our effort and everything has been consistent. It’s about the same every week, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. It could be better, certainly. A lot of things could be a lot better.”

Pressed further on whether he feels his team has played hard, Spurrier replied, “Pretty much so. Could some play a little harder? Yes. But overall, it’s been pretty good.”

Those kind of questions weren’t being asked in Chicago this week. Fresh off a 13-10 upset of the Vikings, the Bears spoke glowingly about one another and the promise the club showed under rookie quarterback Rex Grossman.

Chicago started the season in a 3-7 tailspin and has been out of the playoff chase for some time, but the Bears have improved steadily each week — something coach Dick Jauron attributes to his players’ strong will.

“I’ve always felt very strongly about the caliber of player we have on this team — high character people, hard working people, people that really do want to win football games,” said Jauron, whose team might have saved his job with its late-season push. “They’re a great group to be around. When you’re in this business, you have to love to be around a football team. They are a good one to be around — practice-wise, game day, meetings. They do definitely work at it.”

The Bears rallied behind Grossman — Spurrier’s last regular quarterback at Florida — in his first NFL start. He put up rather pedestrian numbers (13-for-30, 157 yards), but Grossman won over his team with his poise and leadership, giving Jauron reason to believe he is the franchise’s quarterback of the future.

“We just felt it was the right time, under the right circumstances to get him on-the-field experience in the NFL and get him ready for his future,” Jauron said. “He handled it extremely well.”

Despite their overall losing record, the Bears have gone 5-2 at newly renovated Solider Field this year. A sellout is expected today for the home finale.

The Redskins, on the other hand, are 2-5 on the road, beating only the lowly Falcons and Giants. Another poor effort today and local fans might have a hard time finding good reason to attend Saturday’s season finale against Philadelphia at FedEx Field.

“Right now it’s all about trying to get the last two wins and trying to finish the season with some kind of positive note,” linebacker Jessie Armstead said. “You can’t get too much positive out of that, but you don’t want to be the one that doesn’t hold up your end of the bargain.”

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