Marty finishes strong but will he be back?

The coaches walked around to the players, shaking their hands and thanking them for the season. Marty Schottenheimer teared up in his press conference, talking about one of his players. Then he ended it by thanking the media, as if he might not have that chance again.

But Schottenheimer also left the locker room with a grin. After all, his team started 0-5, then won eight of the last 11 games, including Sunday's 20-17 win over Arizona. He also made it clear about his coaching desire--even as speculation surrounds his future.

''I would like to come back,'' Schottenheimer said. ''I love coaching and if it's arrogance, so be it: I'm pretty damn good at it.''

The question remains, however, does owner Dan Snyder agree with that assessment. The two likely will meet Monday night as Snyder decides Schottenheimer's fate. But the Redskins strong finish provides Schottenheimer with ammunition. Washington finished 8-8 and in second place in the NFC East behind Philadelphia. Not bad for a team that started 0-5. And most of the players made it clear that they'd like everyone back, including the coaches. The two most notable who did not say that: end Bruce Smith and corner Darrell Green.

''It would be an injustice to change up what we have,'' Redskins guard Dave Szott, a free agent, said. ''It really would not be a good thing and I would have to re-evaluate [returning]. That many changes in a short amount of time is not good.''

 Instability was the key word in the locker room. ''It's so important,'' Redskins safety Sam Shade said. ''One of our problems since I've been here is that we've had three defensive coordinators. We're learning a new system every year and that's not conducive to putting a team together to compete year in and year out. I feel like we're always learning new stuff.''

Redskins guard Ben Coleman said, ''If we keep this together, we could really do some things. But you would have to keep everything status quo. But nothing would surprise me.''

Smith clearly chafed at playing for Schottenheimer this season. But he said he would not ask for a trade, saying he'd retire before doing that. However, he might not have a choice--especially if Schottenheimer returns. Regardless, the players liked the way they ended. Once more, it was better than the start.

''This game resembled our season,'' Redskins tight end Walter Rasby said. ''Start out ugly, ugly, ugly then keep plugging away and come out on top.''

Running back Stephen Davis certainly ended on top. At least on the Redskins' rushing chart. Davis broke his own single-season rushing record, finishing 2001 with 1,432 yards. Davis gained 148 yards on 38 carries in the finale, scoring the game-winning score with three minutes, 11 seconds left in the game.

''I knew going into the game we were going to run the ball with the elements out there,'' Davis said. ''It was pretty cold out there and it was raining and doing everything, but we stayed with our game plan. . . . It's amazing. I couldn't have done this without the guys up front.''

''He's the best block I've ever blocked for,'' Redskins guard Dave Szott said. ''He makes big plays out of things he shouldn't.'' And the Redskins couldn't have done this without a change in attitude. Several Redskins said they thought some team members had mentally checked out with Washington trailing, 17-6, at halftime. But an emotional halftime talk by Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer remdined the players that they'd come too far, overcoming an 0-5 start, to end with a thud. One player got the message: right tackle Jon Jansen exhorted every member of the team as they returned to the sidelines to start the second half.

''It was emotional,'' Redskins safety Sam Shade said. ''Then we went out and stopped them on defense and we didn't panic offensively and start throwing the ball. We stuck with Stephen Davis and he opened up the passing game.''

 Indeed, that combination slayed Arizona. In the first half, the Cardinals gained 163 yards. The Cardinals managed just 24 yards in the second half--and they finished zero for nine on third downs for the game. That's how they lost leads of 14-3 and 17-6. Washington inched back into the game in the third quarter courtesy of a 12-play, 82-yard drive. The drive was a mix of Davis and quarterback Tony Banks. Davis carried eight times for 37 yards; Banks completed three passes for 45 yards, including the five-yard strike to tight end Walter Rasby in the back of the end zone on third and goal. But a Banks pass to tight end Zeron Flemister fell incomplete on the two-point conversion.

Thanks to the defense, Washington got another chance. Linebacker Antonio Pierce intercepted a Jake Plummer pass with 7:53 remaining at the Cardinals' 23. But Banks was sidelined with a knee injury, forcing backup Kent Graham into the game. All he had to do was hand off to Davis, which he did six times on this drive. Graham also completed an eight yard pass to Ki-Jana Carter on third and seven. Then Davis scored on third and goal from the 2, running through the right side. He ran up the middle for the two-point conversion, completing the comeback. The first half suggested Arizona was on its game.

The Cardinals set the tone in the first quarter when reserve safety Adrian Wilson conned Banks into a horrendous decision. On third and eight from his own 47-yard line, Banks tried to hit receiver Michael Westbrook, around the Cardinals' 35. But Wilson, playing off, started running as Banks threw the ball. Banks had thrown it to Westbrook's inside because safety Justin Lucas had him covered outside. That's where Wilson was running. He intercepted the pass at the 39 and ran untouched for a score and 7-0 lead.

The Cardinals managed two scoring drives in the first half, one ending in a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Redskins' red zone failures hurt them again. Washington reached the Arizona 20, but a false start left the Redskins with second and 11. The drive stalled at the 18, where Brett Conway kicked a 36-yard field goal. Later, with Arizona leading 14-3 courtesy of a Thomas Jones four-yard run, the Redskins settled for another field goal. This time Conway kicked a 33-yarder.

On three plays inside the 20, the Redskins managed just three yards. Arizona's Cedric Ogelsby added a 26-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in the half. But it wasn't enough to bury Washington, which won despite losing linebacker LaVar Arrington for most of the game with a knee injury.

 ''The season is concluded, unfortunately,'' Schottenheimer said. ''All of us that were in that locker room--players and coaches alike--have a sense that although it was not a championship team, it was truly a team. It's nice to be a part of that. ''There is no group that I have ever been associated with that had more heart than this group.''

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