Puzzled Redskins seek way to stop slide

Seattle looms as 3-5 team deals with many problems

November 08, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Halfway through the 2003 season, the Washington Redskins are seemingly at wit's end.

After a promising 3-1 start, Washington has dropped its past four games, taken the league lead in dubious categories and run into a rash of injuries.

Throw in rumors of apparent discontent between players and coach Steve Spurrier, and between Spurrier and team owner Daniel Snyder, and you've got a team in disarray as the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks (6-2) prepare to visit FedEx Field at 1 p.m. tomorrow.

"It's frustrating," said cornerback Champ Bailey. "I really can't give you an answer, and I don't know who has it. I feel like we're playing our [butts] off, but we're just not winning."

The string of losses - the team's longest since Washington began the 2001 season with five straight setbacks - has made the Redskins the focus of national criticism about Spurrier's system and the players' abilities.

"That's expected," Spurrier said Wednesday. "When it goes bad, I'm probably an easy target."

But Spurrier's nonchalant exterior cracked a bit when he was asked if he intended to remain as coach after this season.

"I've answered that. How many times have I answered that?" Spurrier said. "Let's talk about the Seattle game. We're not the only team in the league that is 3-5. ... Let's just worry about Seattle. I'm tired of being asked that every week."

The Redskins have issues. The offense, which once owned the league's top ranking, has plummeted to 22nd, while the defense has fallen to 25th.

Washington, which has fallen to last in the NFC East, leads the league in sacks allowed with 29 and is tied for the league lead in penalties with the Oakland Raiders with 81.

The injury list for tomorrow's game has 14 names. Running back Ladell Betts (fractured forearm) and center Larry Moore (sprained foot) have the most serious injuries and are listed as doubtful.

Perhaps even worse is the notion that the players no longer have faith in the coaching staff, particularly Spurrier.

While no player has said publicly that there is dissension, the warning signs are noticeable. Several players have said that their sole focus this week was on individual responsibilities.

And defensive end Bruce Smith, Washington's most veteran leader with 19 NFL seasons, did little to quell the rumors. Asked if he thought Spurrier had lost the team, Smith replied, "No comment."

Others were more emphatic later in the week in contending that their trust in Spurrier and his Fun 'N' Gun plan was not misplaced.

"You can't question [the system]," said quarterback Patrick Ramsey. "It's been successful. We've just got to find a way to make that happen again."

"We believe that the coaching staff and Coach Spurrier, they're proven winners," said defensive end Renaldo Wynn. "They haven't given up on us as players, and we're not going to give up on them as coaches. We're all in this thing together, and we're going to turn this thing around together."

Whether Spurrier will be around to witness a revival is another matter. The New York Post reported Wednesday that Snyder already has offered Spurrier's position to a former NFL coach for the 2004 season.

"Gossip could be true, it could be wrong," Spurrier said. "Who knows?"

Free safety Matt Bowen said jettisoning Spurrier would be a mistake.

"We started out well for a reason," he said. "We started out well because of good coaching and good players, and we can still finish well because of good coaching and good players. The elements are the same. We've just got to produce."

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