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WT: Sum of parts don't yet make this a team


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Sum of parts don't yet make this a team

By Dan Daly



One of the more unusual aspects of the 2003 Redskins is that their most grizzled veterans — the top 14, if you can believe that — all began their careers in other organizations. Bruce Smith (Bills), Jessie Armstead (Giants), Kevin Mitchell (49ers) ... you can go right on down the list. The Redskins, in other words, have a rather limited collective memory. And their tribal elders, if you want to call them that, tend to be imported rather than home grown.

So when they get up on opponents like they've gotten up on the Falcons (33-24) and Patriots (20-3) the past three weeks, there's nobody in the huddle who can really say, "Come on, let's close this thing out. We all know the drill." The Redskins, after all, haven't been "we" for very long — nobody has been with the club longer than five seasons — and they don't have a vast storage of winning experiences to draw on.

Anyway, if you're trying to understand why the Redskins are having trouble finishing off foes — and why your blood pressure keeps shooting up on Sundays — there's one possible explanation for you. The Redskins, this theory goes, aren't truly a team yet. They're simply a collection of players, many of them still fairly new to town, who are trying to develop into a team. And part of that process is going through what they've gone through against Atlanta and New England.

Then again, maybe I'm over-thinking this. Maybe the Redskins just like to live dangerously.

"Bruce [smith] had a great comment after [sunday´s] game," Renaldo Wynn says. "He said, 'When you leave it to chance, anything is possible.' "

The Redskins were definitely staring Anything in the face in the final two minutes. Their 17-point lead had dwindled to a field goal, and the Patriots had a first down at the Washington 45 with plenty of time to score. But the defense slammed the door, didn't even let the Pats get close enough for a field goal try, and Patrick Ramsey knelt down in prayerful thanks to kill the remaining 37 seconds.

"When you go through the fire, you've got to rise higher," says Wynn. "I think that's the biggest test for most teams, trying to protect leads. A lot of teams that make the Super Bowl have a game or two that maybe they should have lost — but, for whatever reason, they didn't. Hopefully, we're done with these types of games. I certainly don't want to go through any more of them."

Steve Spurrier says the Redskins "haven't blown many leads [during his tenure] — and hopefully we won't." But the club has had a tendency to make life difficult for itself. Forget the Atlanta and New England games, how about the one against Indianapolis last season, when the Colts chopped a 20-0 deficit to 23-21 and had a two-point conversion to tie? Then there was the finale against Dallas, in which the Cowboys made it much too interesting in the late going by connecting on a 46-yard touchdown pass. (We won't even talk about the Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas, where the Redskins were ahead by 10 in the second half and couldn't put the Cowboys away.)

Spurrier's newness to pro ball might have something to do with it. In the Atlanta and New England games he may have gone into a clock-killing mode too early, not fully appreciating how easily those teams could come back. Patrick Ramsey threw just seven passes in the second half Sunday, and "maybe when we get a lead we have to throw the ball a little bit more [and try to] stay on the field," the Ball Coach said afterward.

Then again, he said yesterday, "If you have the quarterback drop back and throw — and he gets hit and fumbles and they return it for a touchdown — you're a fool. If you run it and punt, ... [at least] you're making the other team beat you."

Another explanation might be that the Redskins are still young in spots. Ramsey, whose two turnovers fueled the Jets' rally in the opener, is just a second-year man. And cornerback Ade Jimoh, the victim of ill-timed TDs by the Falcons and Patriots, is only a rookie. "This year is a growing experience," is the way Armstead looks at it.

And so far, the Redskins haven't paid too dearly for their mistakes. They're 3-1 and in an unfamiliar position — first place in the NFC East.

"We're showing that when the going gets tough, we can pull together," says Armstead. "When we need a stop, we know the defense can get it. When we need a score, we know the offense can get it. Sometimes you're on teams where that's not the case. The offense is limited. It doesn't have the firepower."

Some people will tell you "the close games even out." Others will tell you "nothing in life evens out." We'll see, in the weeks ahead, how it breaks for the Redskins. Will they get better at handling these situations, better at wrapping up victories, or will they continue to tempt fate — and pay the awful price?

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