Spotlight on Spurrier

Remember early in the year when Steve Spurrier was going for it on fourth down in all kinds of different situations, on fourth and ten in his own territory, on fourth and two almost anywhere? His decisions were put under scrutiny, his very sanity questioned by many. Given the state of the Washington Redskins' kicking game, however, the Ballcoach could have been forgiven if he'd had thoughts of returning to his early-season madness.

Three attempts for an average of almost seven yards per is a great rushing stat, a decent passing line. This, however, represents a disastrous punting performance.

To be sure, rookie Craig Jarrett did punt a total of seven times and if you take away the three aforementioned boots he averaged 40 yards per punt. Consistency, however, is the name of the game when you're playing for field position.

Spurrier estimated that the Redskins lost some 200 yards on exchanges of punts. This fourth-quarter sequence is a good example.

After recovering a fumble on a kickoff, the Redskins can't move and punt from the Houston 41. Jerrett's kick goes out of bounds at the 31. The Texans can't move and punt 50 yards and get another 10 yard of field position on for a holding penalty on Washington. The Redskins go three and out and Jarrett's punt from the Washington 23 is blocked cleanly. The ball bounces into the end zone where Houston falls on it for a touchdown. It was kind of like an eight-play, 69-yard touchdown drive only the Texans didn't have the ball for the majority of the snaps.

"That scared me there, that if we had to punt, we could be in trouble," said Spurrier of his thoughts after the block happened.

Kicker Jose Cortez contributed to the special teams woes by missing field goals of 48 and 46 yards before finally connecting on a 23-yard chip shot in the fourth quarter. To be sure, field goals are about a 50-50 proposition from those distances in the NFL, but the odds were he should have hit one of them, right?

The special teams debacle was hardly a new thing. One could argue that poor play here has moved the Redskins from a team on the fringes of playoff contention to its current status of having clinched a losing season. It started when the Redskins were 4-4 and in the playoff hunt.

--In Jacksonville Bryan Barker got off a 12-yard punt that gave the Jaguars the ball at the Washington 21, giving them an easy march to the game-tying touchdown. After that, the Redskins continued to suffer from poor field position as they failed to field punts and the balls rolled deep into Redskin territory.

--Against the Giants the next week, James Tuthill slipped and his 42-yard field goal that would have tied the game with 3:11 to play was blocked.

--On Thanksgiving Day in Dallas, another Tuthill field goal got blocked. Barker, the holder, suffered one of the worst broken noses you'll ever see in the ensuing scramble for the ball, forcing Tuthill to punt. His first two efforts were solid, going 53 and 50 yards, but he lost his stroke after that, shanking one 18 yards to set up Dallas' final points on a field goal. Tuthill also missed an extra point.

--In the third quarter of the return matchup against the Giants, the Redskins had just scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion to make the score 17-14 New York. Some of the air came out of the comeback balloon when the ensuing kickoff was returned 46 yards to midfield. The Washington defense stiffened, however, forcing a punt. Champ Bailey muffed the catch, the Giants recovered and scored the clinching TD.

Just as he delegates complete control of the defense to Marvin Lewis, Spurrier handed the keys to the special teams to Mike Stock. Stock has an admirable record, once having been honored a special team coach of the year when he was with Kansas City. Such was his reputation that he was one of two holdovers from Marty Schottenheimer's staff.

After the season is over after Sunday's game, the Redskins will begin to evaluate their personnel needs for next year. A speedy wide receiver, one or two guards, and a defensive end will certainly be on the list. In the parity-driven NFL, however, special teams can make the difference between playing in January and yet another year out of the playoffs.

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