- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 12, 2003

A week of frustration over penalties, consternation over trash-talking and speculation over injuries comes down to this: The Washington Redskins must find a way to put together their first complete game of the season today against their toughest opponent to date.

A win over the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field would go a long way toward erasing the mistakes and doubts that surround the Redskins (3-2), though some continue to paint a rosy picture of the situation.

“Were OK,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “Were 3-2. Hey, weve got a better record than the Bucs. How about that? Did you all know that? And theyre considered the best team in the world.”

Despite a pedestrian 2-2 record, Tampa Bay is still considered the gold standard in the NFL. The defending league champs are coming off a devastating overtime loss to Indianapolis and are beset by injuries, but they still boast one of the best defenses ever assembled. And as coach Jon Gruden pointed out this week, the Bucs have the maturity to put Mondays 38-35 loss behind them and refocus on the task at hand.

“You cant live your life in the rear-view mirror,” Gruden said. “The life youve lived, the games youve played are all dead and gone, man. You cant get them back. We were 2-2 in our first quarter; we felt we could have done better than that. But there are a lot of people in pro sports who have to prove their mental toughness every day, and I feel real strongly about this group of men that we have.”

The Redskins are looking to rebound from a difficult loss of their own, 27-25 to the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite rallying late and falling one two-point conversion shy of a dramatic comeback, the team left Philadelphia in dour spirits, frustrated over the way it continues to beat itself with mistakes and penalties.

The Redskins committed 11 infractions in the loss, including seven false starts, and remain well on pace to break the NFL single-season penalty record of 158. The frustration boiled over Wednesday, when members of the offense called a players-only meeting before practice to discuss the penalties and the overall lack of production.

Though Spurrier, who has been blamed by some for contributing to the problem with his audible-heavy offense, continues to address the problem by bringing in college officials to monitor practice, some feel the Redskins might be better off clearing their minds and forgetting about the penalties.

“If we continue to harp on it and harp on it, its something thats going to become a sickness,” quarterback Patrick Ramsey said. “Were going to get it done. Were going to avoid it this week.”

The Redskins will have plenty on their minds without worrying about penalties, most notably the Bucs Warren Sapp, who became embroiled in a trash-talking war with LaVar Arrington this week that even caught the attention of the NFL.

Both teams were warned by the league to stay out of any pregame altercations after Arrington told Sapp that the Tampa Bay defensive tackle had better not disrupt the Redskins pregame stretching or else “Im going to get you.” Sapp danced through the Colts side of the field before Mondays game, and the NFL noted this week that players are subject to 15-yard penalties and possible ejection for such acts.

The Arrington-Sapp feud became national news, and surely those who arrive early at FedEx Field will be keeping a close eye on the two.

Redskins players, while offering their support to Arrington this week, also said they dont intend to get caught up in the pro wrestling-like soap opera.

“Im sure those guys are just going to go out there and play the game like they know how,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “Both teams have to go on the field and play the game, regardless of whatever else is said. Youre always going have situations like this with a little extra entertainment.”

For the third straight week, Washington goes into a game with injury questions on its offensive line. Starting guards Dave Fiore and Randy Thomas were bothered by swollen knees this week. Although Thomas appears OK to play, Fiores status wont be determined until this morning. Its the same routine Fiore was forced to go through the last two weeks, and if the pattern holds its form, the veteran guard will be inactive again, with rookie Derrick Dockery starting in his place.

The Bucs have far more serious injury concerns. Fullback Mike Alstott (neck) was placed on injured reserve this week and is out for the season. No.3 wide receiver Joe Jurevicius (knee) is out this week, and starter Keyshawn Johnson (quadriceps) is questionable. Cornerback Brian Kelly (pectoral) likely wont play, and speculation in Tampa is that with backup Tim Wansley in Grudens doghouse, the Bucs will shift safety Dwight Smith over to corner to compensate.

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