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Tampa game sign of future

By Warner Hessler

Published August 26, 2002

TAMPA, Fla. -- Now that was a game Washington Redskins fans can hang their hats on.

Though it was just another preseason game, Saturday night's 40-10 drubbing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was not to be so easily dismissed as unimportant, because it was everything the first three games, victories all, were not.

It was not, for example, a game where the reserves won the game. This time the starters, who had been outscored 34-20 in the first three games, took it to what should be a very good Bucs defense and led 16-7 when they called it a night at halftime.

It was not a game where coach Steve Spurrier's pass-happy offense ran up gaudy passing numbers against a defense that just sat back in a base formation all night. The Bucs stunted linebackers up the middle, blitzed safeties and cornerbacks and gave Washington's offense as much of a regular-season look as it can hope to get in August.

And it was not a game where the Redskins' defense just went along for the ride on Spurrier's sleek sports car of an offense. This time, coach Marvin Lewis' defense was as overwhelming as Spurrier's offense had been in the first three games. It allowed 241 total yards and 10 points, covered four fumbles and intercepted three passes.

The Redskins weren't as perfect as the final score might have indicated. Had they been, the score might have been something like 70-10. "We only scored 26 points on offense," Spurrier fumed.

But preseason games are for evaluating, and from that standpoint, the Bucs gave the visitors some good looks.

Those who wondered what would happen if the other team's defense tested the middle of the Redskins' offensive line with stunts and blitzes found that the starters did OK (four quarterback hits, no sacks) and the backups were awful (four sacks).

Those who wondered what would happen when Lewis took the handcuffs off his defense found that the starters were very good (two takeaways, one touchdown given up) and the backups were even better (five takeaways, two touchdowns of their own).

Oh, one other thing. This was not another game where Spurrier filled the air with passes and called a running play when he thought it was time to let his receivers catch their breath.

After opening the game with five receivers and no huddle, a gimmick that produced three incompleted passes and took all of 18 seconds, Spurrier called 11 runs on the next 23 plays and averaged a preseason-best 4.6 yards per carry. That's not exactly establishing the run, but it's as close as you're likely to get under Spurrier. What's important is the Redskins came close to having a decent running game for the first time this preseason, and they did it against a team known for good run defense.

Though it was just another supposedly unimportant preseason game, it had some meaning in that it answered some of the "what if" questions that had been hanging around training camp this summer.

Warner Hessler can be reached at 247-4648 or by e-mail at whessler@dailypress.com

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The guy who wrote it is notoriously negative. I have seen a change in his writings over the last 4 weeks. He was a little negative when SS was hired, but he is getting on the Band wagon, I think it's really weird, because I have never seen him this positive. His weekly column during the season starts with "What's wrong with the Redskins"

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