- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2003

With little to play for but their pride — what’s left of it — the Washington Redskins close out the 2003 season tonight against the same opponent that three months ago cast them into a downward spiral.

It seems like eons ago, but the last time the Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles met, the Redskins were 3-1, playing an exciting brand of football and dreaming of the playoffs.

What has happened since has been rehashed ad nauseam. The Eagles proved to be far superior to their division rivals in a 27-25 victory at new Lincoln Financial Field, and the Redskins haven’t been the same since.

Eleven turbulent weeks later, the teams meet again under far different circumstances. Philadelphia (11-4) needs to win to clinch the NFC East title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. Washington (5-10) just needs this season to be over with.

There is almost nothing riding on this game for the Redskins. Sure, the club would like to avoid its worst record since the 3-13 fiasco of 1994, and sure, it would like to end the season by dealing a hated rival a harsh blow. But that’s about all the motivation Washington’s players and coaches can reasonably muster up for this one.

There are no jobs on the line. Coach Steve Spurrier says he has seen everything he needs to make offseason roster decisions, and though the jobs of some assistants are in jeopardy, there is little reason to believe their statuses will change based on tonight’s outcome.

The lack of incentive was obvious around Redskin Park this week. Players took things easy, some appearing to be more concerned with their holiday plans than preparing for the Eagles.

Never was the prevailing carefree attitude more apparent than Thursday, when tight end Zeron Flemister and defensive tackle Darrell Russell showed up late for practice. Team sources said yesterday Spurrier will deactivate the two for tonight’s game, but neither has been a major contributor.

Spurrier himself has run out of things to say. Asked on three occasions this week about his team’s effort and motivation, the coach hardly offered inspirational words.

• On effort: “We tell them every week to try to play hard, play their assignments, play with effort. Obviously, it doesn’t always look that way. So we keep harping on it.”

• On incentive: “I thought we had a little extra incentive for the Dallas game [two weeks ago], and we probably played our worst of the year [in a 27-0 loss]. We’re all professionals. We’ve got a ballgame to try to win. Hopefully, our team will do that.”

• On their chances against the Eagles: “Hopefully, we’ll compete and play as hard as we can. And if the ball bounces our way, we can beat Philly.”

Contrast that with the sentiments coming out of Philadelphia this week. More than a few Eagles players have said they are approaching this as a playoff game.

“Definitely — it all starts now,” quarterback Donovan McNabb said. “We want to end things on a good note, so we’re going to be fired up.”

There are a handful of compelling storylines from the Redskins’ perspective. Quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, who rebounded from a 0.0-rating performance against the Cowboys to play well last week in Chicago, is facing his old team for the first time.

Hasselbeck, who was cut by the Eagles each of the last two preseasons, holds no ill will toward his former employers. Still, he would relish the opportunity to pull an upset.

“It definitely would be something they’d be ticked off about going into the playoffs,” Hasselbeck said. “It would be a great way to end the season for this team.”

Bruce Smith has little reason to care what happens to the Eagles, but the NFL’s new sack king will seek to end his 19-year playing career on a high note.

Smith still won’t say with 100 percent certainty he is retiring, but he has been speaking lately about his career in reflective tones.

“Life is filled with bumpy rides and ups and downs,” he said. “It’s times like this that build character in an individual.”

Whether the rest of the Redskins have the character to close out their disappointing season in admirable fashion remains to be seen.


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