- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

For the Washington Redskins, Maalox’s team, Sunday’s was a typical game. The last two minutes featured two scores, two onside kicks and a two-point conversion try that could have sent things into overtime.

In Week 3, the game did go into OT. In Weeks1 and 4, it nearly did. In Week2, the Redskins turned Atlanta into Mylanta before escaping the Georgia Dome with a 33-31 victory.

The Redskins might be last in the league in sacks allowed, but they’re numero uno in acid indigestion. Every one of their games has been an invitation to an ulcer — 16-13 against the Jets (win), 24-21 against the Giants (loss), 20-17 against the Patriots (win), 27-25 against the Eagles (loss), plus the aforementioned Falcons squeaker.

Who’s coaching this ballclub, anyway — Steve Spurrier or Al Kaseltzer?

Five straight games, all of them decided by three points or fewer, to open the season. In case you were wondering, that’s never happened before in the NFL. (Not even in the ‘20s, when half the final scores were 3-2.) These Redskins are definitely on a roll — as in Rolaids.

“I’m sure I’ve gone through a stretch like this at some point in my long career,” Bruce Smith said yesterday.

Actually, Bruce, you haven’t. In ‘88 the Bills began the season with three nail-biters (13-10, 9-6, 16-14), and in ‘96 they had four Pepto Bismol specials in five weeks (10-7, 16-13, 25-22, 28-25), but five in a row is uncharted territory even for a geezer like you. Here, have a Tagamet. And wash it down with a Bromo for good measure.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “It’s been exciting, but it’s been tough. The heartbreaking losses. … The close games weigh heavily on your mind, more so than getting blown out. But I’m convinced we’re headed in the right direction.”

This is a new experience for Spurrier, too. “I’ve never had this many close games in a season,” he said. Heck, at Florida, 49-27 qualified as a close contest. But in pro ball, each week is an ordeal. It’s not about burying your opponent — though that happens from time to time. It’s about the endgame. It’s about grinding out the wins.

The Ball Coach seems to be getting better at this — as much as anything because his players are giving him so much practice. The Redskins put together a nice drive in the final minutes against the Jets to set up the winning field goal, and they did likewise against the Giants to force overtime. They nearly pulled out the Eagles game as well, after trailing by nine with 4:10 left.

These near-death experiences, difficult though they are, are part of the growing process for a team. And they often determine who goes to the playoffs and who doesn’t. The ‘97 Redskins, you may recall, wound up home for the holidays essentially because they lost games by scores of 14-13, 20-17, 17-14 and 23-20 (and had an almost incomprehensible tie to boot).

“We need to win the close games,” Jon Jansen said. “So far we’ve been able to win three, and we came close on the other two. We’ve made some mistakes that have cost us, but I don’t think we’ve had anybody quit, throw in the towel.”

No, the Redskins haven’t packed it in the way they did at Jacksonville last year — or in a couple of games the season before (e.g. Kansas City 45, Washington 13). They’ve fought back from deficits of 17-0, 21-3 and 10-0 to give themselves a chance to win. That’s progress.

But there’s still the nagging feeling around Redskin Park that the club could have — perhaps should have — come away with more than three victories in the first five weeks. The loss to the Eagles, who had three Pro Bowl defensive backs out, was particularly galling to Smith.

“Basically we were in control of our own destiny, and we screwed it up,” he said. “It’s one thing if you’re getting beat physically, but that’s not the case. Like I’ve told the team: ‘I don’t necessarily worry about the opponent. I wonder about which Redskins team is going to show up, whether we’re going to beat ourselves [with silly penalties and faulty judgment].’”

Such is the agony of the two-point defeat. Every play gets put under a microscope — not just by the fans, but by the players themselves. The day-after videotape session can be almost as exhausting, emotionally, as the game itself. Which raises the question: How much longer can the Redskins go on like this, winning by three, losing by two, week after week? Doesn’t it, at some point, begin to take a toll?

“If you play a bunch of ‘em and lose, I’d say it takes a toll,” Spurrier said. “But we all realize it’s a 16-game season, and you go through stretches of winning [close games] and losing ‘em.”

Pass the Pepcid AC.

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