Spurrier doubters silenced?

He shrugged off the importance of the game, even suggesting the fuss will fade away. Few believed him. The cameras love when he contorts his face, throws his play card and grimaces. The players liked something else: his offense. Not to mention a season-opening victory. And if the Redskins keep scoring 31 points a game, the fuss will only increase. Which is just fine with them.

In Steve Spurrier's NFL coaching debut, Washington beat Arizona, 31-23 in front of a FedEx Field recod fo 85,140 fans. It was also one of the most anticipated openers in Redskins history because of the hype surrounding Spurrier, who drew a crowd of reporters from Florida, where he coached collegiately the past 12 years.

They watched nothing new. The Redskins rolled up 442 yards of offense with quarterback Shane Matthews throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Just like old times for Matthews and Spurrier. Just like fun times for the Redskins.

Spurrier even yanked off his headset after one holding call, splitting a finger open, which was taped in his postgame press conference.

The NFL learned that Spurrier won't abandon the run and become one-dimensional. Running back Stephen Davis carried 26 times for 104 yards, opening the game with five carries on the first 12 plays. Those stats should quiet those who suggested Spurrier wouldn't use Davis enough.

''Sometimes you can't believe everything you hear or read,'' Spurrier said, referring to doubts he would call for runs.

''If we get the running game going,'' Matthews said. ''We'll be hard to stop.''

They were hard to stop Sunday, especially in the second half. But it wasn't just the run. Second-year wide receiver Rod Gardner showed he could have a breakout season, catching seven passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.

His 43-yard score gave Washington a 24-16 lead in the third quarter.

Gardner wasn't alone, however. Eight different players caught passes, including four of the five receivers. Davis even grabbed seven passes as Arizona guarded against the deep pass.

''There will still be a lot of doubters,'' said receiver Derrius Thompson, who caught four passes for 45 yards. ''If we go out and make those plays against the Eagles [Monday night], then people will believe.''

But when the Cardinals focused more on stopping Davis, it burned them. That's when Gardner grabbed a 29-yard pass, which set up a three-yard scoring run by Davis for a 17-13 third-quarter lead.

''We had a hard time stopping Stephen Davis,'' Arizona coach Dave McGinnis said. ''We did a good job confusing Shane at times, but when we started doing that they started working Stephen on us. Then we had to drop out of coverage and that's when they started finding the middle on us.''

The middle was open early in the fourth quarter, too, when Matthews connected with Derrius Thompson for a 17-yard score. Thompson slipped behind the safety and Matthews threw the ball before the other safety could arrive, giving the Redskins a 31-16 lead that lasted for less than two minutes.

Arizona answered with a 29-yard Jake Plummer to David Boston touchdown pass. But the Cardinals never moved past the Redskins' 46 the rest of the game.

That wasn't enough for linebacker LaVar Arrington.

''I'm not unhappy, I'm just displeased,'' Arrington said. ''We got physically whipped too many times. I thought we played like a .500 club. The offense picked up the slack for us. We need to improve a whole lot.''

Arizona was the perfect opener for Washington. The Cardinals ranked 26th against the pass last season and struggle to rush the passer. They added corner Duane Starks, but little else to help against the pass.

But it would have been worse had Spurrier's offense failed. If they couldn't move it against Arizona, who could they succeed against?

The offensive balance helped Washington score on three straight possessions to start the second half, turning a 13-10 halftime deficit into a 31-16 lead, after Thompson grabbed a 17-yard touchdown catch.

Consider the Cardinals believers.

''I'm convinced that [Spurrier] had a pretty good scheme and offensive techniques,'' Arizona corner Duane Starks said. ''But things could have gone the other way. . .Matthews played very well, poised and didn't panic.''

After Thompson's touchdown catch, Plummer hit receiver David Boston for a 29-yard touchdown pass against corner Fred Smoot, who fell while twisting around after Boston faked inside then cut back outside.

''I shouldn't have fallen or I would have made that play,'' Smoot said. ''But I'm pleased. I can't be mad at anybody.''

Especially because the defense had some margin for error with the offensive output.

''Anytime you can sit back and watch the offense move the ball up and down, it's lovely,'' he said.

The teams swapped field goals on their opening possessions, with Washington getting a 35-yard Conway kick to cap a 12-play drive. But Gramatica booted a 36-yarder on the ensuing drive.

The Cardinals took a 10-3 lead when ex-Redskin Barron Tanner capitalized on a major gaffe by Matthews. His pass hit guard Brenden Stai in the back of the head, bounced in the air and was grabbed by the Arizona tackle, who returned it 17 yards to the Redskins' 8. Two plays later Plummer ran around right end on a bootleg for an eight-yard touchdown.

But the Redskins then drove 69 yards for the tying score, helped by a 13-yard reverse by Thompson. Matthews punctuated the drive with a 26-yard toss to receiver Kevin Lockett.

''You can't key on one guy,'' Thompson said.
The Redskins were happy. They weren't ecstatic.

''I'd say a six or a seven,'' Redskins right tackle Jon Jansen said of what kind of grade he would give the offense. ''We didn't make big mistakes but in context they could end up to be big mistakes. We could have made things a lot easier. [But] we have a terrific passing attack. As long as we can keep the quarterback standing up and open holes for Stephen, we'll be tough to defend.''

In the end, though, the game was about Spurrier. He played down his emotions during the week, saying he felt as he would for any opener at a new place. But he knew the scrutiny he was under. It didn't bother him.

But he was antsy to begin his career. Before the game he spoke with defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.

''I said, 'We'll you're sort of used to this locker-room, pre-game stuff,'' Spurrier said. ''He said, 'Coach, you never get used to it.' He was right. But once the game started I was there calling plays and getting mad when we did something careless, cheering for the guys and just coaching.''

FAST FACTS --Washington is 1-0 heading into Monday's game against Philadelphia (0-1).

--Stephen Davis tied a career-high with seven receptions.

--Davis surpassed 5,000 yards for his career and now has 5,074.

--Rod Gardner caught three passes for 86 yards in the second half, finishing with seven for 131.

--Punter Bryan Barker's 63 yard punt was his longest as a Redskin. His career best is 83 yards.



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