- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2003

They’re 2-0 for the first time in 12 years. They boast the NFL’s third-ranked offense and second-ranked defense. And they’re sitting all alone atop the NFC East standings.

So why is everyone so skeptical about the Washington Redskins?

“There’s always going to be people who are skeptical,” quarterback Patrick Ramsey said. “If we’re 12-0, there are going to be people who are skeptical.”

Perhaps it’s the fact the franchise has been to the playoffs once in the last 10 years. Perhaps it’s the fact the first two victories came against teams without their starting quarterbacks. Or perhaps it’s simply human nature to be wary of the Redskins, who have been known to tease their fans and the rest of the NFL.

Whatever the case, there is a sense around the league Washington, despite its superior record to the New York Giants (1-1), needs to prove something in today’s game between the division rivals.

With a win over New York, the Redskins could suddenly find themselves one and a half games ahead of the pack in the NFC East and then start to be considered legitimate playoff contenders. A loss would drop them to 2-1, and with the Patriots, Eagles, Bucs and Bills waiting the next four weeks, the Redskins would surely continue to have plenty of doubters.

“Big game, a huge game,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “This team, the Giants, all the media experts picked them to win our division. We’re off to a good start. We haven’t played exceptionally well. We’ve played well, but I think we can certainly play better. And to beat the Giants, we probably need to play our best game of the year.”

The Redskins won’t be facing another backup quarterback this week. New York’s Kerry Collins, unlike Chad Pennington and Michael Vick, is healthy. Still, Washington’s stroke of good fortune hasn’t completely faded.

The Giants are a tired team, physically and mentally, after a rough week. They are playing on short rest after Monday’s overtime loss to Dallas stretched well into Tuesday morning. Their young, makeshift offensive line remains a major question mark. And they’ve been harassed all week by fans and the oppressive New York media who are still trying to figure out who was to blame for the 35-32 loss to Dallas.

Was it coach Jim Fassel’s fault for sending kicker Matt Bryant out to kick what should have been the game-winning field goal with a full 14 seconds left? Was it Bryant’s fault for inexplicably landing his ensuing squib kickoff out of bounds and setting up the Cowboys’ last-ditch drive? Or was it the defense’s fault for allowing Quincy Carter to complete a 26-yard pass along the sideline to Antonio Bryant, opening the door for Billy Cundiff to send the game to overtime with a 54-yard field goal?

The Giants insist there will be no carryover effect from the agonizing Dallas loss.

“Last week is over,” defensive end Michael Strahan said. “It’s professional sports. You win, you forget about it. You lose, you forget about it.”

The Redskins’ uncanny run of good luck was halted at least momentarily Thursday, when cornerback Fred Smoot suffered a mild concussion after he ran into safety Matt Bowen during practice. Though he insists he feels fine, Smoot won’t be cleared to play unless team doctors say so.

“The medical people will make that decision,” said Spurrier, who would give Rashad Bauman his first career start if Smoot can’t go. “They might make it right before kickoff.”

With or without Smoot, the Redskins have plenty to overcome today. They did not fare well against the NFC East in Spurrier’s first season, needing a Week 17 victory over the Cowboys to finish 1-5 in the division.

They’ve also lost four of the last five games to the Giants, who don’t want to put too much stock in late September standings.

“You can’t discount that they’re 2-0,” Fassel said. “We’d all like to start 2-0. But we’d still say the same thing, that it’s too early. You play the first half to three-quarters of the season to position yourself for the final race.”

A race the Redskins would love to lead from start to finish.

“It’s early in the year,” Spurrier said. “A lot can happen.”

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