'Skins, Browns share more than desire

At 1-2, both teams hope to reverse direction today

Pro Football

October 03, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - After lifting expectations with a season-opening win, the team has dropped two straight games. The offense has sputtered, questions have swirled around the aging quarterback, and mistakes such as penalties and turnovers have contributed to the quagmire.

While that description fits the Washington Redskins (1-2), it also could apply to their Week 4 opponent, the Cleveland Browns (1-2).

And when the teams meet at Cleveland Browns Stadium at 1 p.m. today, the Washington players know that the outcome could go a long way toward determining their season.

"This game will definitely have an impact on the rest of the season," said Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell. "It's an opportunity where we can go out and get a win. That's very important to us, having lost the last two."

The Redskins and Browns have traveled similar paths to today's game.

Both won their season openers (Washington against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Cleveland against the Ravens), but fell in their next two contests.

Scoring points has become a precious commodity. The Redskins' 16 points a game is the ninth-worst average in the NFL, while the Browns' 14 points a contest is sixth-worst.

Before last Monday's 325-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 21-18 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Brunell's sub-par outings during the first two games and sore hamstring had revived whispers that the 34-year-old passer had lost the arm strength and mobility he had displayed in earlier years.

Cleveland quarterback Jeff Garcia is just two weeks removed from a 71-yard, three-interception showing against the Cowboys that resulted in a 0.0 passer rating. Garcia, also 34, threw for 180 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a 27-10 loss to the New York Giants last week, but his quarterback rating of 56.5 ranks him last among NFL starters.

And both teams have been hampered by penalties and turnovers. A pass-interference call on Redskins cornerback Walt Harris led to Dallas' first touchdown, and Brunell's fumble after getting sacked in the third quarter stopped a promising drive inside the Cowboys' 35-yard line.

Meanwhile, the Browns saw a touchdown negated by a penalty and a possession inside New York's 5-yard line wasted by a lost fumble.

Even comments from players on both sides are strikingly familiar. Asked if the gap between the team and a playoff bid is widening, Washington cornerback Shawn Springs said, "We're close. We're not panicking. We're still confident, and we're still going to go out and play hard."

Cleveland defensive lineman Kenard Lang is also optimistic.

"We have to believe in ourselves," Lang said. "We have to do what we do best. ... The name of the game is catching the ball and tackling and doing your job. We have to do that better."

For the Redskins, today's game represents an opportunity to inject some life into an offense that needs resuscitating.

While the unit is averaging 332.3 yards a game and ranked 15th in the NFL, the offense has surrendered eight turnovers - tied for third worst in the league.

"We just need to get on the same page," said wide receiver Laveranues Coles, who will play despite a dislocated middle finger on his right hand. "If you look at the film, it's just us holding ourselves back. There's nothing anyone is doing to stop us."

While the team understands the need to win and perhaps gain some momentum, running back Clinton Portis said the players are a long way from feeling desperate.

"We're 1-2," he said. "We've got 13 games left. We still control our destiny. The quicker we stop the bleeding, the quicker we get into the win column."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

FIRST QUARTER: The Browns haven't scored a single point in the first quarter of their first three games. If Washington can score early and often, that puts the onus on Cleveland quarterback Jeff Garcia.

JEFF GARCIA: Garcia is a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, but he heads a Cleveland offense that ranks 28th in the NFL in total yardage and 30th in passing yards. The Redskins' 11th-ranked defense should be able to tee off on Garcia.

AIR GAME: Opponents have been victimizing the Browns' 25th-ranked pass defense for an average of 251.7 yards a game. Washington, which is averaging 209.7 yards a game through the air, must take advantage to keep Cleveland from concentrating on stopping running back Clinton Portis.

- Edward Lee

The game

Matchup: Redskins (1-2) vs. Cleveland Browns (1-2)

Site: Cleveland Browns Stadium

When: Today, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Redskins by 3

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