- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

A season that began with so much promise for the Washington Redskins is suddenly on the verge of collapse.

After opening their season with a surprising 3-1 record, conjuring up visions of their first playoff berth since 1999, the Redskins have lost three straight games and now appear to be mired in the lowest point of the Steve Spurrier era.

Washington’s latest setback, a 24-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, exposed its weaknesses in a number of areas and raised plenty of questions about the direction the franchise is headed. Barring a stunning turnaround following this week’s bye date, the Redskins seem headed for another winter of discontent.

“We’re going to try to regroup here with the open date,” Spurrier said yesterday. “If we’re going to try to get back into the thick of things, we need to do it real quickly.”

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, not after owner Dan Snyder revamped his roster in the offseason with more than a dozen free-agent signings. And certainly not after Spurrier emerged from his first season in the NFL a wiser, more humble coach.

But personnel changes and altered coaching philosophies have not translated into a better product on the field. The Redskins have lost four of their last five games and are beating themselves with the same mental and physical mistakes.

Through its first seven games, Washington has committed 73 penalties, the most in the league and on pace to break the NFL single-season record of 158. The Redskins’ much-maligned offensive line has surrendered 25 sacks, also tops in the league, and has let second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey take a pounding on a weekly basis.

“It’s hard to come up with answers,” said Ramsey, who was taken out of Sunday’s game with a bruised hand and hip. “In very, very critical parts of the game, we don’t do what we should do. I think a lot of that falls on us. We just have to find a way to get that done.”

The Redskins face a difficult task in reclaiming their season. Their next four opponents, beginning Nov. 2 at Dallas, are a combined 19-5.

If Washington can’t turn things around in short order, changes could come. Mr. Snyder has shown a willingness to dismantle his team and start over on more than one occasion during his five-year ownership. The Redskins have had four head coaches and five defensive coordinators under Mr. Snyder, and there is growing suspicion that Spurrier’s tenure could end soon.

A highly successful college coach during his 12 years at the University of Florida, Spurrier has been unable to convert his winning ways to the pro game. Since signing a five-year, $25 million contract with the Redskins, making him the highest-paid coach in the NFL, he has a 10-13 record.

In Spurrier’s mounting frustration, he questioned his players’ effort after Sunday’s game. That reaction was a hint that the coach might walk out on the final three years of his contract at the end of the season. Mr. Snyder, who fired coach Norv Turner with three games remaining in the 2000 season, could also decide to eat the remainder of Spurrier’s contract and make a coaching change. However, there have been no indications the owner will make such a drastic move.

Fan reaction during the Redskins’ losing streak has been decidedly negative. A scan yesterday of various Internet message boards revealed criticisms on all manner of topics, from those who are calling for Spurrier’s firing and those who are blaming Mr. Snyder to those who are questioning whether Ramsey will make it through the season in one piece.

The Redskins begrudgingly admit the backlash is merited.

“You all saw it,” Spurrier said. “Whatever criticism we get, we probably deserve it. It’s as simple as that.”

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