WEEK 3 MATCHUP

Steve Spurrier joked about leaving the building on Tuesday--''I'm not quitting, just getting a haircut''--not reading the papers and his days as a San Francisco quarterback--''You'd call me a weak-armed quarterback.'' His mood was light, which he wanted to pass onto the players.

After the Monday night fiasco, perhaps a light mood was needed. Not that players walked around in great moods, though by Wednesday the previous game is usually forgotten--good or bad.

''We're not in disarray,'' Spurrier said. ''We're just in the doldrums and we'll fight our way out of it on Sunday. San Francisco lost their last one, too, but at least they were competitive. But that's history and we've got to move on and prove we can compete. . . . I don't expect this to continue.''

Nor do the players. Near the end of the 37-7 loss to Philadelphia, receiver Chris Doering said he heard players reminding one another that it was only one loss. Maybe it was ugly, but a long season remained, they told each other. And Spurrier's demeanor suggested there's no time to panic, even if many plays the other night deserved a visor tossing.

''By him putting it behind him, it lets everyone know that it's over,'' Doering said. ''It says that our coach believes in us and thinks we can play better. It helps you believe in yourself even more. He's been very encouraging. He knows this is a different level and bad things happen. you have to regroup. Coming back 2-1 is a lot better than coming back 1-2.''

Doering said Spurrier's strength is finding ways through film study of beating opponents. That's why Doering is confident the scoring woes were an aberration. As he said in a Tuesday chat on this site, the Eagles stopped the Redskins' wideouts by jumping their routes, taking them out of the play.

''We have a solution for that now,'' Doering said. ''But it's a secret.''

Receiver Kevin Lockett said they got sloppy with their alignments and routes. Sometimes they were too tight to the line of scrimmage; other times they were too wide.

''Then after that we have to run sharper routes,'' Lockett said. ''That was the first game where all of a sudden our routes got sloppy. We started rounding off instead of a straight line. That cuts down the area that we're open.

''That will turn out to be our worst game of the season.''

They'd better hope so. Otherwise, it'll be a long season.

''But obviously how we do this week and the weeks after will determine whether or not this offense is successful,'' Lockett said. ''People know this offense works when we do things right.''

Offensive player to watch: Derrius Thompson. If quarterback Shane Matthews struggles, he's the one to watch. And Danny Wuerffel might become the one no one wants to watch, at least if he plays like he has the past two times out. But Thompson needs to help more, relieving pressure off Rod Gardner. Thompson must develop into a solid No. 2 for this offense to work. Is that too much to ask? Maybe. In games where he's faced good competition at corner, including the preseason, Thompson has been non-existent. Maybe that's why Jacquez Green might get more of a look this week.

Defensive player to watch: strong safety Sam Shade. We know the marquee matchup involves the corners and Terrell Owens. But Shade will often be matched against tight end Eric Johnson, whom many in the 49ers organization compare to ex-Niner Brent Jones. Johnson leads the 49ers with 10 catches and is a key player on third downs or in the red zone.

How the Redskins can win: By running a balanced attack on offense. Did Steve Spurrier learn his lesson the other night? Actually, the 49ers are a team that fits into Washington's plan. Not as nicely as Arizona, but they're also not real strong in one area like Philly was in pass defense. New York threw on San Francisco in Week 1 and Denver ran all over them last week. The 49ers have the makings of a decent secondary, starting with corner Ahmed Plummer. But they're not there yet. Jason Webster was burned at NY and nickel corner Mike Rumph is too inconsistent. Big plays can be had. On the ground, Washington likely will be forced to attack the ends on the ground. Yeah, we don't like Dana Stubblefield, either. But there's something about him playing in SF that brings out the best in him. Neither he nor Bryant Young are big pass-rushing threats anymore, or at least haven't been yet, but both can plug the run.

But the Redskins must be balanced. They can no longer think their system will carry them. They simply don't have the players to think like that. If they emphasize the run and the pass, they can move the ball.

Defensively will be tougher, even though SF has struggled. Washington has allowed too many big plays and that's our fear. If the Redskins allow some big plays early, which is possible, then it could snowball. Don't be surprised if SF copies Philly by spreading the defense and then running the ball. San Francisco's running game should be much better with Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow. Washington can do some of what Denver did, which is play the safeties deep and drop a linebacker deep to help out. Jeremiah Trotter has done that this year.

Why the Redskins will win: Because they're not as bad as they showed Monday night. And the 49ers' defense isn't as good as Philly's. Washington should have more success moving the ball. The Redskins have a lot of tough-minded players who respond well in these situations.

Why they won't: Because San Francisco also is in a bit of a funk and it's at home, where the Niners have won eight of their last 10. And the Redskins inability to prevent big plays could be a killer here. Also, though we think the defense will eventually be good, they're still meshing and that takes time. All it takes are a couple breakdowns to ruin a victory.

Magic number: 17. The 49ers have won 29 straight when they've held their opponents to 17 points or less.

What the Redskins need: turnovers! This playmaking defense hasn't made many plays (one turnover, three sacks). It's time they started. The best way to recover from an ugly loss is to make something happen early. Washington needs its defense to give it a jump start.

Signs of trouble: Dan Wilkinson is sidelined. . . Terrell Owens gets hot early. . . Stephen Davis isn't used early . . . J.J. Stokes is involved . . .Jeff Garcia has lots of time to throw.


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