- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003

Funny what even the most stubborn of coaches is willing to try when faced with a four-game losing streak.

He hands over play-calling duties to his offensive coordinator for the first time in his lengthy coaching career. He defies conventional wisdom and goes for it on fourth-and-1 at his 25 in the fourth quarter of a tie game. He calls for a gadget play — a wide receiver pass — with 1:57 to go and the game on the line.

And when it all comes together, as it did for Steve Spurrier yesterday, he can resurrect a lost season and offer a football team something it hasn’t had in almost a month: Hope.

“I was willing to try anything,” Spurrier said after his new-look Washington Redskins scored a 27-20 upset of the Seattle Seahawks. “What we’d been doing lately hadn’t been working very well.”

It remains to be seen whether the beleaguered Spurrier sticks with his new approach. But even if for only one afternoon, the Ball Coach proved he is willing to change, especially when it results in the Redskins’ most satisfying win of the year.

The team that came out of the home locker room at FedEx Field yesterday looked nothing like the one that lost its last four games. That team was teetering on the brink of collapse; this one was determined to regain control of its destiny.

“We’re not back in the hunt by any means,” tackle Jon Jansen said. “But we have a chance to be back in the hunt.”

A chance is all Washington (4-5) could ask for after a month of turmoil. It’s also all the Redskins could ask for after nearly blowing yesterday’s game early before rallying to produce a dramatic victory.

Long before receiver Rod Gardner connected with tailback Trung Canidate for the game-winning touchdown, fellow receiver Laveranues Coles made the play of the game, forcing a fumble on a potentially game-sealing interception.

With the Redskins trailing the NFC West-leading Seahawks 14-3 in the second quarter, quarterback Patrick Ramsey was picked off by Seattle’s Damien Robinson, who raced down the sideline for what looked like a sure touchdown. Coles, though chased down Robinson and stripped the ball loose. Guard Randy Thomas fell on it in the end zone, giving the ball, and new life, back to the Redskins.

If not for Coles’ play, Robinson would have scored and the Seahawks (6-3) would have been ready to run away with the game.

“We’re down 21-3 and look like we’re in dire straits and going nowhere,” Spurrier said.

Instead, Washington got the ball back and (thanks to another interception wiped out by a pass interference call) got its first touchdown drive of the game.

From that moment on, the Redskins looked like a new team.

With offensive coordinator Hue Jackson calling most of the plays for the first time, Washington’s previously stagnant offense clicked on all cylinders. Fill-in running back Rock Cartwright ground out a career-best 81 yards on a career-high 13 carries. Ramsey had his best performance in a month, passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns, and wasn’t sacked at all. And his struggling receiving duo of Coles and Gardner made play after play, combining for 13 catches and 206 yards.

“Everybody around me played great today,” said Ramsey, who used three-step drops and designed roll-outs to avoid defensive pressure. “The receivers played great. The offensive line gave me enough time to throw the ball. The backs blocked. It was a good team effort today to get the win.”

It took a complete team effort to pull off the game-winning drive, an 11-play, 84-yard march that broke a 20-20 tie.

The drive nearly stalled before it produced a single first down. When Cartwright was stuffed by linebacker Chad Brown on third-and-1 at the 25, Spurrier faced his toughest decision of the day.

He gambled, leaving his punter on the sideline and sending Ramsey and Co. back on the field to pick up the first down. Cartwright responded with a hard-earned 2 yards to keep the drive alive and save Spurrier from endless second-guessing.

“When you’ve lost four in a row, you don’t have to play too conservatively or carefully,” Spurrier said. “You’ve got to try to make something happen to win the game. Just about all the players said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ They were excited.”

“You’d have had five really upset guys if we hadn’t gone for it,” said Jansen, speaking for his offensive linemates. “Sometimes, you have to take chances.”

A reinvigorated Washington offense wasted little time moving down the field. Ramsey found Coles for a 12-yard gain, then hit a sliding Gardner for 20 more yards. Cartwright added 21 with a burst up the middle.

And with his team facing third-and-5 at the Seahawks 10, Spurrier reached deep into his bag of tricks and called for the wide receiver pass.

It was a play the Redskins had been working on for several weeks but hadn’t yet had an opportunity to use in a game. Ramsey threw a quick lateral to Gardner on the left side. The play looked like one of Washington’s frequently called receiver screens, but this time Gardner pulled up, spotted Canidate on the other side of the field and floated a perfect pass to the wide-open tailback in the end zone.

“Coach always told me he was going to run that pass sometime,” Gardner said. “It couldn’t have come at a better time.”

“He was talking about how he was going to make it look pretty,” Canidate said. “I was like, ‘Just get it to me.’ It was pretty, though.”

The Seahawks had one last chance to come back, but after driving his team to the Redskins 35, Matt Hasselbeck was picked off by cornerback Fred Smoot along the left sideline.

With only 39 seconds still showing on the clock, Ramsey only needed to take a knee, point to the crowd of 80,728 and begin enjoying what should be a significantly less-tense week for the Redskins.

“God, I hope so,” Jansen said. “I hope it’s a less-tense month.”

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