- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

They held a four-point lead over Carolina in the fourth quarter and wound up losing 20-17. One week later, they opened up a 13-point lead over Miami in the fourth quarter only to surrender two late touchdowns and suffer a disheartening 24-23 defeat.

Clearly, the Washington Redskins’ defense is having trouble closing out games, and that’s one reason why coordinator George Edwards’ job security has come into question in recent days.

To that, the Redskins have this simple response: don’t blame him, blame us.

“Coaches don’t play the game. They don’t go on that field and go to war with us — they tell us what to do,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “It’s far from the coaches. It’s the players. We’re not winning the games.”

Edwards, who is in his first season as an NFL coordinator, has come under plenty of fire during Washington’s midseason skid. The former linebackers coach inherited Marvin Lewis’ fifth-ranked defense and has watched it plummet to the 26th-ranked unit in the league.

But Edwards’ players don’t believe the finger should be pointed at him, certainly not given his lack of previous experience.

“I think everybody on the defense deserves to be criticized,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “It’s not all him. We’ve got to play. We’ve got to play harder for him, we’ve got to execute better for him, make more plays for him. I think he’s done a pretty good job. This is his first year. He’s not just going to pick it up and roll with it right away.”

The usually reticent Edwards continues to downplay his situation.

Asked if he’s worried about not making it to his second season as a Redskins coordinator, he said, “No. Right now I’m focused on trying to get ready for the Saints [on Sunday].”

Edwards appears to have the support of Steve Spurrier. The coach spoke glowingly Monday of all his assistants and made a few veiled references to the players being culpable for missed assignments and tackles during their recent late collapses.

“We’ll talk about whatever we need to talk about at the end of the season,” said Spurrier, who controls the hiring and firing of his assistants. “But I think all of our coaches have done an excellent job and have tried their best to put our players in position to make plays.”

Redskins players say they had the opportunity to make a number of key plays during the fourth quarters of their last two games — they just didn’t make them.

Leading 17-13 with 4:19 to play at Carolina two weeks ago, Washington surrendered a 25-yard pass to Stephen Davis on fourth-and-1 (linebacker Jeremiah Trotter failed to cover the running back in the flat) and later came up just short of knocking the ball out of Davis’ hands before he crossed the goal line for the game-winning touchdown.

The defensive collapse Sunday in Miami was even more egregious. Up 23-10 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Redskins surrendered back-to-back scoring drives of 71 and 69 yards, both capped by Ricky Williams’ touchdown runs. With a couple of defensive stops in those games, the Redskins might be 6-5 instead of 4-7.

“There’s always a chance for a team to come back and win a game,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “When we’ve got a lead, we’ve got to learn how to put a team away. Have we learned to do that? Evidently not. But somehow, someway, we have to learn how to put a team away when we’re in that situation.”

Washington’s players don’t believe a new defensive coordinator is going to solve that problem. Edwards is already the club’s fifth coordinator in five years, and some veterans can’t bear the thought of yet another change.

“I’m sorry, they aren’t just going to put a Super Bowl team together just like that,” Smoot said. “You’ve got to let the coaches stay here and learn what they’re doing wrong and what they’re doing right. … I’ve been here three years, and they’ve blown it up at the end of every year. You’ve got to be patient. You’ve got to let the grass grow.”

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