Redskins hope rocky road gets smoother

Hyped in preseason, team renews its focus amid turmoil, 2-2 start

Pro Football

September 29, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - There have been season-ending injuries and suspensions. An embarrassing home loss was followed by a quarterback controversy. A key player was charged with domestic battery and a kicker charged the team with unprofessionalism.

Not at all the way Washington Redskins strong safety Sam Shade thought the first quarter of the season would begin. Yet, the Redskins are 2-2 and have a chance to get a big win over Tampa Bay Sunday at FedEx Field, which would put them close to being one of the premier teams in the conference.

Is the worst of times behind the Redskins?

"Well, I hope so," Shade said. "We've had our share of things that have happened. But I feel like right now, we've gotten everything together."

The Redskins lost center Cory Raymer during training camp. He had started 37 straight games before partially tearing two ligaments in his knee, which forced him out of the first four games. He began practicing last week but completely tore his anterior cruciate ligament during drills and is out for the season. Yesterday he was placed on injured reserve.

No. 1 wide receiver Michael Westbrook suffered the same injury in the second game of the season at Detroit.

Safety Mark Carrier was suspended by the league for a helmet-to-helmet hit against Carolina Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein in the opener. The Redskins played that game without guard Tre Johnson, suspended one game for his part in a fight in the team's playoff win over the Lions last year.

And then there was the Monday night game against rival Dallas. The lowly Cowboys outplayed Washington at FedEx Field and got their first and only win of the season, 27-21. Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder was booed at halftime, and his team was booed throughout.

Quarterback Brad Johnson threw a late interception that led to a Cowboys' field goal. He then failed to get the team past midfield in a final two-minute drill. That led many inside and outside the organization to wonder whether backup quarterback Jeff George was the answer.

"That is adversity we have to overcome in becoming a team," said Redskins defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, who was charged later that week with domestic battery against his wife. "There is going to be something different every week. Guys in this locker room have to stick together."

Kicker Brett Conway was placed on injured reserve with the intention of releasing him once an injury settlement is reached.

Conway said he was bitter about how the situation was handled and added the Redskins had problems. Some of those problems were solved with Sunday's 16-6 win over the New York Giants.

"This is a week-to-week business," coach Norv Turner said. "When you win, the weeks are good. When you lose, you go through the tough times."

On the field, the defense has shown it is real enough to keep the team in games. The acquisitions of Carrier, cornerback Deion Sanders and especially defensive end Bruce Smith have Washington ranked fourth in the league in defense, a far cry from last year's 30th ranking.

The early question mark comes from the offense, which despite racking up 394 total yards against the Giants, scored just 16 points.

Washington's offense had been characterized by a short, ineffective passing game before the Giants game, when Johnson completed two passes over 40 yards, and wide receiver Albert Connell had four catches for 122 yards.

The next quarter of the schedule has two of the league's best defenses. Tampa Bay is followed by a game at Philadelphia, which boasts NFL sack-leader Hugh Douglas (seven). Then, it's back home against the Ravens' defense (No. 1 against the run) followed by a trip to Jacksonville. Those teams are a combined 10-6.

A .500 record over the next two games would not be bad because the team's schedule softens significantly the last half of the season. But 4-4 would not look good for the preseason Super Bowl favorite.

"We had a lot of high expectations," Shade said. "I don't know if people outside of this locker room still have the high expectations. But I feel like we do. ... As long as we know what we are trying to achieve, we'll be fine.

"I didn't buy into all the hype. I didn't buy into the, `You guys have bought yourself a Super Bowl.' If you don't go out there and do the things you are supposed to do to win, you are not going to win. And that is what we've done in a couple of games."

NOTES: The Redskins have not filled Raymer's roster spot. ... Keith Sims (Achilles' tendinitis) did not practice yesterday. He is expected to return today. Larry Centers (elbow) and James Jenkins (neck) practiced.

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