- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Has it really been a dozen years since the Redskins started the season 2-0? Wow. Life After Joe Gibbs has bitten even worse than I thought. Winning your first two games, after all, doesn’t mean the printing of playoff tickets is imminent. It just means there’s hope. It just means there’s possibility. It just means the team doesn’t have to spend Week3 in Full Spin Mode, trying to put a happy face on 1-1 or 0-2.

The Redskins’ 33-31 victory in Atlanta was certainly no work of art. It came, let’s not forget, against a club that was missing its starting quarterback (Pro Bowler Michael Vick) and No.2 receiver (Brian Finneran, the poor man’s Ed McCaffrey). But hey, at least Steve Spurrier’s warriors took advantage of the opportunity. That puts them one up on the five other Redskins teams since ‘92 that won their opener but couldn’t make it two in a row.

Remember ‘93, when the Redskins began with a victory over defending champ Dallas on Monday night — and then got upset at home by the Cardinals (with free agent defector Gary Clark leading the charge)?

Or how about ‘95, when they waxed Buddy Ryan’s Cards in Week1, only to have the Raiders bring them back to earth — again at RFK — in Week2?

Then there was ‘97, when the momentum from an opening win at Carolina was halted by a four-pick Gus Frerotte giveaway at Pittsburgh.

And on and on. Since Coach Joe left, the Redskins haven’t been able to get any traction in early September, haven’t been able to build up any speed coming out of the gate. In fact, believe it or not, this is just the fourth time they’ve been 2-0 in the last 25 seasons. Not to get you excited or anything, but the other three times they did it, they either won the Super Bowl (‘82, ‘91) or reached the NFC title game (‘86).

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. The next five weeks are, to say the least, challenging — home against the Giants and Patriots, at Philadelphia, home against the Bucs, at Buffalo. The season could easily, very easily, head south in a hurry. But at least the Redskins have given themselves a chance to be successful … and given their glory-starved fans something to fantasize about. A year ago at this time, you may recall, we were still sweeping up the debris from the 37-7 debacle against the Eagles.

Perhaps the most encouraging development Sunday was the Redskins’ ability to come back from 17 points down. They didn’t do much of that in Spurrier’s first season. They rallied from a 14-10 deficit to win at Tennessee and from 10-0 to beat the Rams at FedEx Field, but those are mere molehills by comparison. Against the Falcons, though, they refused to roll over, which would have been easy enough to do. As Jessie Armstead put it, “When you face adversity, you’re either going to give in to it or fight back.” The Redskins, to their credit, chose the latter.

Afterward, Laveranues Coles talked about the game confirming Patrick Ramsey’s status as “one of the leaders of this team.” That was another positive development, probably as big a one as the 17-point comeback. This wasn’t just a nice win for the Redskins, it was a rite of passage for their young quarterback. He showed his teammates he can bring them from way, way behind, even in the face of a heavy rush.

Speaking of which, Ramsey was on the receiving end of some serious hits Sunday — and sustained, among other things, a sprained left shoulder. He also got worked over pretty good by the Jets in the opener. In just two games, he has been sacked 10 times — an 80-sack pace. (To put this in perspective, in ‘91 the Hogs allowed nine sacks all season. And that was playing in the same division with quarterback stalkers Reggie White, Clyde Simmons and Jerome Brown of the Eagles and Lawrence Taylor and Leonard Marshall of the Giants.)

It simply can’t continue. The kid’s line has to start taking better care of him. And Spurrier agrees. “Our pass protection needs to be a lot more solid,” he says. “We’re having guys who are just getting beat up front. … I don’t think he got hit like that at Tulane [where he threw out of the shotgun].”

The Giants, you’d better believe, will be coming after Ramsey this weekend. They rattled Kurt Warner’s cranium to begin the season, and they’ll ransack Ramsey if they’re allowed. Chris Samuels and Co. have five days to seal off the access routes to their QB.

In a sense, the Redskins are returning to the real world this week — the world of first-string quarterbacks and offenses that are running on more than four cylinders. If there’s one number on their stat sheet that jumps out at you right now, it’s their average time of possession: 34:44, nearly 10 minutes a game more than their opponents. That isn’t expected to continue, however, when they go up against Kerry Collins, Tom Brady, et al. The Redskins defense figures to spend more time on the field (and thus, be less rested), and the opposition defense figures to spend less time on the field (and thus, be fresher in the fourth quarter, where the Redskins won both their games).

“We realize we’re pretty fortunate to be 2-0,” Spurrier says. “We won two close games, beat two teams whose quarterbacks were out. … We’re not a real good team right now. [And] for us to sit around thinking we’re hot stuff. … We’ve gotta play a lot better.”

That’s not false modesty. It’s an accurate view of the Redskins’ state of affairs. The Ball Coach — and his Ball Players — know the Jets and Falcons were just the first two steps along a very long road. But they also know, many of them from first-hand experience, that 2-0 sure beats the alternative.

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