And So The Spurrier Era Begins

I've been waiting for this game with the Cardinals since….well…since our last game with the Cardinals. Curiously enough, we closed out the abortive 2001 season with a win over the Cards and now we open the promising 2002 season with a win. 31-23.

No. It wasn't perfect. But as Robert Browning reminded us, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" Browning wasn't a football fan. We DO expect perfection.

Right off the bat, I'll let readers know where I'm coming from. I watched the game at a sports bar (T.J. Mulligans in Jackson, TN). I was the only Redskin fan in the joint and the game only warranted one television out of the 15 or so in the place. Fortunately, the Eagles-Titans game was playing and the screen was right next to the one I watched, so I was able to make some comparisons. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) mine was not the game that warranted audio. I did see a cadaverous-looking Pat Sumerall and the younger Baldinger who worked the game, but never got the benefit of their expertise. My take on the game is mine alone. Feel free to disagree.

Despite my enthusiasm for Steve Spurrier, I've been haunted by the ghost of Norv Turner all week. Somehow I knew we'd make it tough. Like Ike 'n Tina Turner in Proud Mary, the Redskins never do anything nice…and easy.

It was a tough first half. The Redskins were able to move the ball, but they kept making mistakes. In fact, we had 5 penalties in the first half. The Cardinals, on the other hand, appear to be very well coached this year. They weren't whistled at all in the half.

It turned out to be a defensive struggle with neither team showing consistent offense. The Cardinals were unable to run (it's about time they admitted Thomas Jones was a big mistake) even though their line appeared be blocking well. Plummer was moving the ball through the air, though he was unable to find David Boston (that came later…boy, did it come). The Cards scored after Shane Matthews tried to dump a pass off to Stephen Davis. Clearly Davis didn't know it was coming and it bounced off him into the arms of the Cards defensive tackle. Plummer dog-legged it in after a play fake.

The Skins moved the ball, but it wasn't the Fun 'n Gun. In fact, it was pure heroism on the part of our WRs. You'll recall that the Fun 'n Gun as Spurrier practiced it at Florida placed receivers wide open much of the time. We didn't achieve that. In fact, the Cards were all over our WRs. Shane Matthews was able to consistently find the WR (usually Gardner) who was best covered and threw to him. But Gardner caught the ball, separation or not. So did Derrius Thompson. In fact, we had several catches where the receiver simply outleaped the defense. Say what you will about little fast guys like Santana Moss, big strong guys are good to have too.

But our one touchdown of the half did come on a Spurrierish sort of play. Matthews heaved a very nice throw to Kevin Lockett who ran a pretty deep post pattern. How long's it been since we scored on a post?

Our special teams tried to keep the Cards in the game as best they could. Kenny Watson…the late Kenny Watson….fumbled a kickoff. Rock Cartwright picked it up and made something of the return, but Jacquez Green was back for kicks after that.

It was 13-10 at the half. Basically, it was a Norv Turner-Terry Robiskie - Marty Schottenheimer first half. I don't know how other Redskin fans felt, but my stomach was churning. I checked on the Eagles game and, due to Titan mishaps, Philadelphia was up by two touchdowns. Game over, I thought.

The second half of the Redskins game was a whole lot more enjoyable. We were treated to a glimpse of what the Fun 'n Gun could be in the pros. We were also treated to some insight into our new Ball Coach.

We came out swinging at the Cards. After shutting them down, we marched down the field and dominated the third quarter. Rod Gardner was everywhere and he was open in this half. So was Derrius Thompson. For that matter, so was Doerring. And Stephen Davis was rolling. Both Gardner and Thompson got their TD receptions (as Spurrier noted before the game, TD passes are a very underrated part of the game).

For all the good things we did, we lost the battle of field position. I watched Conway's kickoffs get shorter and shorter. Finally one landed at the 28…that's right, the 28. We have a local high school kid who kicks off out of the end zone. Spurrier was apoplectic. Either Conway was injured or Spurrier was being Spurrier. He had Danny Weurffel kick off. Yes…the #2 QB. The ball squibbed down the field for about 25 yards and the return might have gone all the way save for a very un-quarterback-like tackle by Weurffel. We got problems with the kicking game….big time problems.

The defense, sad to say, did not hold. Despite some early strutting by Fred Smoot, David Boston caught fire. When Plummer had time to throw (which was often), he found Boston. I think the guy ended up with seven receptions for over 175 yards. So much for our 'shut down' corner. Still, we seemed able to contain the Cardinals running game and that probably saved the day. It forced Plummer to throw. And, at the end, when they were 8 points down and threatening to move, Plummer did what he's famous for doing - he threw the ball to Champ Bailey. Whew. I'd been waiting for a 'big play' on defense all day and we were 'Oh-so-close' several times. Matthews knelt it out and we had our win.

And the Eagles? Let me tell you, the Philadelphia defense was storming. It was a body-bag game in Tennessee and the Titans lost a slew of players, but they didn't panic. They shut down the Eagles running game and forced the game into the hands of McNabb. He responded with a 4 of 17 passing performance in the second half. The Titans moved the ball both on the ground and through the air. The Eagles WRs failed to catch the ball when they were open and ultimately, it cost them the game. The Redskins can beat them, but our offensive line will have to do a better job because Shane Matthews can't throw on the run like McNair of the Titans did.

I know that an 8-point victory over the Cardinals isn't what Redskin fans had been hoping for. But I will say that Arizona played a sound fundamental game. They didn't turn the ball over until the very end and weren't penalized often. They'll give some other folks fits. David Boston is a true beast of a wide receiver. While Smoot never challenged him physically, curiously, our antique cornerback, Darrell Green got into it with Boston and they had to be separated. The two were speaking after the game and I didn't feel that Green was sharing devotionals with him.

We're in a unique position. If we beat the Eagles, we take control the division. Don't you love it?


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