Spurrier: Making postseason `very, very unrealistic'

Busy offseason, 3-1 mark fade fast as Redskins are 4-7 with 5 games to go

NFL Week 13

November 30, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Time - along with some hope - is running out on the Washington Redskins.

With a 4-7 record and just five games left in the season, Washington is still mathematically alive for its first playoff berth since 1999. But even the Redskins acknowledge that embarking on a five-game winning streak is not only unlikely, but it also wouldn't even guarantee them a postseason opportunity.

"There aren't a lot of teams with seven losses in the NFC," said strong safety Ifeanyi Ohalete. "There are a lot of teams with five, six, seven wins that are not going to win their divisions. It's going to be tough to get into the playoffs."

Only six teams from the NFC make the playoffs, and 10 own better records than Washington. The Dallas Cowboys (8-4), Philadelphia Eagles (8-3), Carolina Panthers (8-3) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6) have beaten the Redskins - a critical factor as head-to-head meetings determine the first tiebreaker.

History is not on Washington's side, either. Since 1998, only eight of the 60 NFL teams that qualified for a playoff berth did so with seven or more losses. Two of them (the Seattle Seahawks in 1999 and the New York Jets last season) were division winners.

Even Redskins coach Steve Spurrier could not prevent reality from seeping into his comments during the week as his team prepared for the New Orleans Saints (5-6) today at 4:05 p.m. at FedEx Field.

"The playoffs are very, very unrealistic now," Spurrier said in an uncharacteristic moment of pessimism. "But we're going to play out the season with our best players and try to win every game we play and go from there."

This is not what the Redskins envisioned after acquiring 13 players during a busy offseason and opening the season with a 3-1 record.

At that time, second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey was emerging as the best passer from the 2002 draft, wide receiver Laveranues Coles was on pace for a Pro Bowl-type season, and Spurrier was being roundly lauded as an offensive genius for transferring his Fun 'N' Gun system to the NFL.

But the success masked holes that opposing teams eventually found. The offensive line - one of the team's most overhauled units during the offseason - committed numerous pre-snap penalties and struggled to pick up blitzes.

Injuries depleted a running back corps that didn't scare defenses, who assigned most of their personnel to blanketing Coles, Rod Gardner and the other wide receivers.

Freed from former defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis' assignment-emphasis attack, the defense took risks that offenses exploited.

A 24-23 loss to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday - Washington's sixth in seven games - has brought more turmoil.

Defensive end Bruce Smith complained to team owner Daniel Snyder about a demotion. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and defensive coordinator George Edwards have reportedly expressed interest in pursuing coaching opportunities on the college level.

And Ramsey is out for today's game, and perhaps the rest of the season, with a bone bruise and an aggravated fracture in his right foot. Backup Tim Hasselbeck will start against the Saints, who are angling for their own postseason appearance.

It's enough to make a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback wonder about team morale.

"I don't know what stage we're at or what the emotion is for this team," said Champ Bailey, who is in the last year of his contract and could bolt after the end of this season. "I feel like everybody's in it, but you never know."

So with just five games left and a remote possibility at a playoff spot, is there anything left to play for? Offensive tackle Jon Jansen thinks so.

"Every time you go out there, you're playing for something," he said. "Right now, it's just a matter of pride."

Redskins today

Matchup: New Orleans Saints (5-6) vs. Washington Redskins (4-7)

Site: FedEx Field, Landover

When: 4:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Redskins by 1

THREE KEYS FOR REDSKINS

1. Start more quickly

Although Washington has been outscored 47-27 in the first quarter, the Saints have been even slower out of the blocks. Opponents have posted 64 points against New Orleans in the first quarter, while the Saints have scored just 29. New Orleans is not the comeback type, losing four of five games when trailing after the first. The Redskins would be wise to put the Saints on their heels quickly.

2. Better special teams

Washington hasn't returned a kickoff or punt for a touchdown since Jacquez Green's 90-yard runback of a punt in a 37-7 loss to Philadelphia in September. With the offense and defense ranked in the bottom third of the league, the Redskins could use a boost from special teams. Perhaps meeting a New Orleans kickoff unit that is ranked 12th in the NFC in coverage will help.

3. Capitalize on turnovers

Washington has corralled 24 turnovers - tied for the seventh best in the NFL - but has wasted opportunities to get points off turnovers, scoring just 46. The Redskins could improve that total against the Saints, who have coughed up the football 23 times. New Orleans is 1-5 when registering more giveaways than takeaways.

Playoff picture

The league's playoff possibilities for Week 13, according to the NFL:

AFC East

New England: Can clinch playoff berth with a win, plus a Kansas City win or tie and losses by Denver, the Ravens and Cincinnati.

AFC West

Kansas City: Can clinch division title with a win, plus a Denver loss or tie; or a tie, plus a Denver loss.

NFC South

Carolina: Can clinch division title with a win, plus losses by New Orleans and Tampa Bay.

Note: Atlanta, Jacksonville and San Diego have been eliminated from playoff contention.

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