- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

Thanks to a group of emerging playmakers on offense, an opportunistic defense and, yes, some good fortune, the Washington Redskins made it through the first quarter of the 2003 NFL season with an impressive 3-1 record.

Today the real fun begins.

The Redskins have reached the most daunting portion of their schedule, a three-game stretch leading into the bye week that includes today’s against the Eagles at Philadelphia’s new Lincoln Financial Field, at home against Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay and at vastly improved Buffalo.

Despite its lofty record and standing atop the NFC East, Washington isn’t going to get much respect around the league until it proves it can stack up with other healthy, playoff-hopeful teams. For that reason, the Redskins looked last week like a team with something to prove.

“I don’t think we’re playing with a chip on our shoulder — we’re just playing with a purpose,” quarterback Patrick Ramsey said. “That’s to go in, try to win football games and prove ourselves as a legitimate contender.”

A victory over the Eagles today would be a good first step.

The Redskins have had little success against NFC East rivals since coach Steve Spurrier was hired last year. An overtime loss to the Giants two weeks ago dropped Spurrier’s division record to 1-6, including two convincing losses to Philadelphia last year.

“They beat us both times last year fairly easily,” Spurrier said of the Redskins’ 37-7 and 34-21 losses. “Right now, they probably feel very confident playing us. We have to go up there and prove we can play with them because we haven’t done that yet.”

Washington also will have to prove it can handle playing under the national spotlight. Today’s contest could be the NFL’s most anticipated game of the year so far, not so much because of its implications in the standings but because of the controversy that surrounds it.

All eyes will be on Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who plays his first game since commentator Rush Limbaugh called him overrated by the media because he is black. The furor spawned by Limbaugh’s on-air claim last Sunday (leading to his resignation from ESPN) took on a life of its own, with seemingly every news outlet in America chronicling McNabb’s every move.

Simple luck of the draw has the Redskins serving as McNabb’s opponent today. Of greater concern to Washington than McNabb’s handling of the Limbaugh controversy, though, will be his penchant for slicing through the Redskins’ defense.

The Redskins have had little success over the years containing the multi-talented quarterback, who changes the way opposing defenses have to play the game.

“I think the correct choice of words is playing disciplined,” defensive end Bruce Smith said. “You have to be very conscious of your rush lanes when you’re playing Donovan, because he can take off and make a big play at any time. And usually the biggest plays he makes are when no receivers are open downfield, so he takes off and starts scrambling. That’s when he has the ability to be able to beat you with his arm and his legs.”

McNabb might have to beat the Redskins on his own today because a host of injuries has left the rest of the Eagles (1-2) seriously undermanned, particularly on defense.

In keeping with its season-long theme of facing opponents decimated by injury, Washington will face a Philadelphia team minus two (and possibly three) members of its secondary. Free safety Brian Dawkins and cornerback Bobby Taylor are out with foot injuries, and Pro Bowl corner Troy Vincent is questionable with a pulled hamstring.

The Eagles also are without linebacker Keith Adams (concussion) and defensive end Jerome McDougle (ankle), and starting right guard Jermane Mayberry (elbow) will be a game-time decision.

Despite all that, the Redskins are 5-point underdogs. It’s just another sign that many around the league believe Washington hasn’t been good so much as it’s been lucky.

“I’m glad they think it’s luck because people will still underestimate us,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “The people that we play, I don’t think they underestimate us. They’ve got to come out ready to play because we’re a good football team.”

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