This was the script Coach Steve Spurrier originally wrote for his first season with the Washington Redskins, three months and five quarterback switches ago. Quarterback Danny Wuerffel made his coach feel like he was in Gainesville -- or perhaps Osaka -- all over again, and the Redskins rode tailback Stephen Davis's running, and a game-saving sack by linebacker LaVar Arrington and fumble recovery by defensive tackle Daryl Gardener in the final seconds to a 20-17 triumph over the St. Louis Rams yesterday before 79,823 at FedEx Field.
The Redskins (5-6) ended a two-game losing streak, and moved one game behind the second-place New York Giants in the NFC East. They kept their flickering playoff hopes alive and restored some of their dignity at the end of a trying week in which the whispers of doubt about Spurrier's unorthodox methods grew into a virtual din. They spoiled St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner's return and stopped the Rams' five-game winning streak, perhaps dealing a fatal blow to the defending NFC champions' hopes of recovering from an 0-5 start to reach the playoffs.
Stephen Davis's workload increased, and he carried the ball 31 times. "Hopefully . . . this will give us something to build on," Coach Steve Spurrier said.
(Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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"Hopefully, this will give us a spark and give us something to build on," Spurrier said. "There's a lot of football left, and you just keep on playing. I'm really proud of the attitude of our entire team. We'd lost a couple in a row, and guys were ready to play."
Spurrier found an effective blend of running and passing on offense. Davis made the most of his 2.8 yards per rushing attempt, running for three touchdowns in a 31-carry, 88-yard performance. Wuerffel provided a nice complement in the best outing of his NFL career, throwing for 235 yards on 16-for-23 passing. He wasn't sacked and didn't throw an interception. His completions and yards were his single-game bests in the NFL, making this his best day on a football field since he left Gainesville, Fla., after winning a Heisman Trophy and a national championship for Spurrier at the University of Florida during the 1996 season.
"I'm just excited that we came up with a great plan, and we executed it," Wuerffel said. "I felt like I did what I was asked to do."
Still, it almost became another frustrating afternoon for Spurrier when Warner led the Rams (5-6) down the field in the final 31/2 minutes, benefiting from the second close call of the fourth quarter in which the Redskins thought they had recovered a fumble but were told otherwise by the officials. A 22-yard run by tailback Trung Canidate gave the Rams a first down at the Redskins 6-yard line, and St. Louis used its final timeout to stop the clock with 17 seconds left.
On the next play, though, Arrington lined up at left defensive end and raced around Rams right tackle John St. Clair to knock the ball from Warner's hand. Gardener shoved Warner out of the way and fell on the loose ball just before St. Clair could retrieve it. The Redskins endured an instant-replay review that upheld the fumble ruling.
Coach Mike Martz took the blame for what he called a poor play call that put Warner in too much danger of being hit.
"It's a shame to come back like that and not win it," Martz said. "It was a bad call. . . . We missed three points, and that was a coach's error."
The Rams were without running back Marshall Faulk, who missed the second straight game because of foot and ankle injuries. He was joined on the inactive list by quarterback Marc Bulger, who had thrown for 1,496 yards and directed five straight victories while Warner was sidelined by a broken pinkie finger on his right hand. Martz had decided to go back to Warner as his starter even before Bulger hurt a finger in last Monday night's triumph over the Chicago Bears, and Warner completed his first 15 passes and threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-for-49 passing performance. But he also threw an interception to middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter deep in Redskins territory in the final minute of the first half, and the Rams fell to 0-5 this season in games Warner has started.
"I was throwing the ball well and felt that I gave our team an opportunity to win," Warner said. "But the bottom line is, we didn't make a lot of plays and this is the result."
The Redskins kept the Rams relatively in check with a defensive plan that included rotating their linemen to keep them fresh, and elevating rookie Rashad Bauman ahead of veteran Darrell Green as their third cornerback. It certainly helped that their offense didn't commit a turnover and held the ball for just more than 31 minutes. Davis had touchdown runs of 1, 3 and 5 yards, and Wuerffel usually got the right play called at the line of scrimmage and threw the ball toward the proper receiver.
"Danny did a great job managing the game," Redskins wide receiver Chris Doering said. "He went to the line of scrimmage and [audibled] the plays that didn't look good. He did an amazing job and threw some nice balls."
Spurrier raised plenty of eyebrows last week by going with Wuerffel as his starter over rookie Patrick Ramsey, even while acknowledging that Ramsey is the team's long-term answer at quarterback. This was Spurrier's fourth starting-quarterback switch of the regular season and fifth since the final exhibition game. But it is what Spurrier envisioned when he told club officials last offseason that Wuerffel was the one quarterback he had to have, and throughout much of an exhibition season that began with Wuerffel shining in the preseason opener in Osaka, Japan.