Shuler steps up in Redskins' win

August 27, 1994|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Heath Shuler made a statement on and off the field last night.

The $19.25 million rookie quarterback was everything the Washington Redskins thought he was going to be and more in a 22-21 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers before 43,977 at RFK Stadium.

In his first impressive performance of the preseason, Shuler played the final three quarters and completed 19 of 30 passes for 206 yards as he brought the Redskins back from a 15-10 third-period deficit.

After the game, coach Norv Turner saluted Shuler's performance, but said he'd wait until Monday or Tuesday to decide whether to go with Shuler or John Friesz as his starter in the opener.

If Shuler gets the nod, he feels he's ready. He not only appeared to show he's ready, but he said he is.

"I feel I have enough confidence to start, but that Norv's decision and he's going to make that decision for the best interests of the team," Shuler said.

Friesz went only the first three series and piloted the best drive of the night on his third series. He moved the team 91 yards in 15 plays, completing eight short passes as he operated the Turner offense to perfection.

Friesz wound up completing eight of 13 passes for 54 yards and he still seemed to be in the running for the starting job when he put on his baseball cap for the night.

But Shuler's showing appeared to give him an edge. Turner had indicated Shuler would only play the second period, but Turner stuck with him after he started out well.

"We don't have a definite starting quarterback. We're moving to that," Turner said. "Tonight I think helped and we're going to evaluate it."

His eyes seem to light up, though, when he spoke of Shuler.

"I thought he was very good. He's exciting. It's fun watching him play. He's certainly not polished, but he made a lot of plays and that's what we liked about him, his athletic ability and he's a playmaker. He's going to be everything we thought," Turner said.

Despite Shuler's good showing, playing rookie quarterbacks in the first regular-season game can be a risky venture. John Elway completed only one pass in his debut in 1983 before being pulled at halftime.

Another factor was that Shuler worked against the Steelers backups. It'll be different playing against Cortez Kennedy and the rest of the Seattle starters next week.

It may be that the Redskins will alternate Shuler and Friesz.

It was an exciting game as the Redskins took a 7-0 lead, fell behind 8-7 at halftime, took a 10-8 lead in the third quarter, fell behind 15-10 and then turned two Chip Lohmiller field goals and a 42-yard touchdown run by William Bell into the victory.

Bell's run came on a fourth-and-one play in the fourth period when he burst through the line and found himself wide open in the secondary.

That made it 19-15 after Shuler's two-point pass was batted down.

After Steelers quarterback Mike Tomczak fumbled a snap when the Steelers gambled on fourth-and-one at their 29 with two minutes left, Lohmiller hit a 29-yard field goal with 1:08 left.

That seemed to wrap it up until Tomczak lofted a 52-yard pass that Johnny Thomas tipped into the arms of Elbert Ellis for a touchdown with 21 seconds left. But the two-point pass was incomplete.

"It feels great to win," said Turner (1-3). "That's why you play."

Pittsburgh 0 8 7 6 -- 21

) Washington 0 7 6 9 -- 22

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