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Times Dispatch:Despite coming close, Skins have long way to go


Will Spurrier be back in 2004  

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Despite coming close, Skins have long way to go



Sunday, November 30, 2003

LANDOVER, Md. It was another one of those "close" losses, but the Washington Redskins are kidding themselves if they think they're close to anything except the end of another bad season.

They probably deserve some credit for coming as close as 24-20 to yesterday's opponent, the always talented but fundamentally unsound New Orleans Saints. The Skins actually led in the fourth period, just as they did two weeks ago in Charlotte and last week at Miami.

They lost those games, too. After a 3-1 start, they've lost seven of eight, bringing them two thirds of the way to what could very well be a 1-11 finish.

"I can't believe it would come to that," said cornerback Champ Bailey. "In so many of these games, we're right there. We just can't finish the deal."

"I don't know what it means," Redskins coach Steve Spurrier said. "For a lot of us, this is a new thing . . . trying to win the close ones. Six of our eight losses have been by seven points or less, but all of our wins have been by seven points or less, too.

"Where that puts us, I don't know."

How about nowhere?

In today's NFL, playing close games isn't particularly indicative of anything. About half of all NFL games are decided by seven points or less with roughly one fourth of them decided by three points or less.

These numbers are dramatically higher than they were 15 or 20 years ago, but close games would seem to be an almost inevitable byproduct of a system that discourages stability with a salary cap and punishes success with draft and scheduling formats that reward failure.

"A lot of teams with good records seem to play close every week, too," said offensive tackle Jon Jansen. "Whatever it is, we're missing something. One of the reasons I can't handle all this losing is that I can't explain it."

A few theories:

The Redskins' crucial defensive weakness is against the run, so opponents tend to hammer away at them with the run. New Orleans' Deuce McAllister rolled for a cool 165 yards yesterday. You can win a lot of games controlling the ball and the clock, but you don't win many of them 44-14.

There seems to be a general sense of denial among the Skins' defenders that their unit is as bad (ranked No. 25) as it is. Yesterday, cornerback Champ Bailey was called for 63 yards' worth of penalties. Afterward, Bailey said "You know, other than those three plays, I thought I played pretty well."

Washington's starting quarterback vs. the Saints was Tim Hasselbeck, who'd been cut by four other NFL teams and was working on a construction crew as recently as mid-October. My guess is not too many teams win games with QBs making the transition from siding to sidelines.

Spurrier still seems to be undergoing an inner conflict as a play-caller. He wants to throw the ball and threw it 42 times yesterday, even though his options were severely limited by both Hasselbeck's lack of experience and his lack of an NFL-caliber throwing arm.

He kept throwing despite the fact that yesterday was also one of the rare days when the Redskins had success running the ball, with Trung Candidate scampering for 115 yards on only 16 rushes. Jansen was very up front in questioning why the Redskins went away from the run in the second half.

What the Redskins do with the run, though, is counterpunch. Spurrier likes to call runs on nominal passing downs. What he can't do, particularly with a scatback type such as Canidate, is power out first downs late in a game to protect a lead. Canidate's running helped the Redskins stay in the game but couldn't help them win it.

The Redskins' excellent kicker, John Hall, makes them look better than they are. While the Saints were 1 of 3 on field goals, Hall was a typical 2 for 2, slamming one in against a light wind from 49 yards.

The team hasn't quit on Spurrier, giving him another good effort yesterday. With the money at stake in today's NFL, however, it's fairly rare when a team totally spits the bit. You can praise the Redskins, as Spurrier does, for "hanging in there," their gold stars for trying hard haven't been enough.

Yesterday, they ran a kickoff back for a touchdown. Given something approaching carte blanche on offensive holding by the officials, they held the Saints without a sack. All it did was produce the same sort of illusion you get when you look in your car's side-view mirrors.

Warning: Objects are not as close as they may appear.

Contact John Markon at (804) 649-6891 or jmarkon@timesdispatch.com

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