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The Bitter End

Redskins Finish 5-11, Wait to See if Spurrier Returns

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 28, 2003; Page E01

A miserable season came to an appropriately ugly end last night for the Washington Redskins. They were outclassed by the Philadelphia Eagles in a 31-7 loss at FedEx Field that did nothing to erase the doubts of those, even inside the Redskins' organization, who wonder whether Coach Steve Spurrier would be willing to return for a third season.

But Spurrier said before and after the game that nothing had changed about his not-quite-certain plans to remain with the Redskins beyond this season, and he indicated afterward that he was prepared to make changes to his coaching staff.

Donovan McNabb (23 of 32, 242 yards, 3 TD passes) scores on a one-yard bootleg to give Eagles 14-0 lead in 2nd quarter. "Keep the guys around that want to be here and want to play, and you know the rest," Redskins' LaVar Arrington said. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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"My comments are the same," Spurrier said. "Any changes, we'll announce in the coming days, the coming weeks, whatever. . . . My statement six weeks ago, a month ago -- keep using that one."

Embattled defensive coordinator George Edwards did not join the team in the postgame locker room and instead went straight to the coaches' dressing area, according to observers. Edwards and offensive line coach Kim Helton have been the most closely scrutinized members of Spurrier's staff.

"There are going to be changes," Spurrier said when asked about his assistant coaches. "Yeah, we've got to change something. We know that. Our coaches know there are going to be changes, and we'll announce the changes as they occur, as we go. . . . There won't be anything [today]. Let the dust settle a while, and when things happen, we'll let you know. . . . We've got a ways to go. We talked about reorganizing, regrouping and doing a lot of different things. We've got a ways to go. I think everybody can see that [last night]. We couldn't stay on the field with the Eagles."

The Eagles (12-4) wrapped up their third consecutive NFC East title and a first-round playoff bye, scoring touchdowns the first three times they had the ball. The Redskins (5-11) could only hope that the end of their worst season since 1994 would come as quickly as possible.

They lost 10 of 12 games after their 3-1 start, and they left Spurrier with a record of 12-20 in his two seasons as an NFL head coach. He's winless in four games against the Eagles and 2-10 against NFC East foes. He has said that he plans to remain with the Redskins unless he hears something to change his mind, presumably when he speaks to owner Daniel Snyder. But some team officials had lingering doubts after another day of speculation about Spurrier's future and another disheartening defeat.

The Redskins also could be saying goodbye to cornerback Champ Bailey, who is eligible for unrestricted free agency, and defensive end Bruce Smith, the NFL career sacks leader who plans to retire. "It's been a tough year," Bailey said. "I think we're ready to try to do something different and get something going. Obviously there hasn't been anything positive for a while."

Now they face another offseason of uncertainty that will begin with a decision about whether they will be searching for their fifth head coach in five seasons. They will have to decide how to overhaul the coaching staff if Spurrier stays, and another roster revamping likely will focus on rebuilding their defense.

"Keep the guys around that want to be here and want to play, and you know the rest," linebacker LaVar Arrington said.

The Redskins had no answers last night for Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. He boosted his NFL most valuable player candidacy with a dominating performance in which he completed 23 of 32 passes for 242 yards before being lifted for backup Koy Detmer in the fourth quarter.

McNabb got the Eagles on the scoreboard with a first-quarter scoring pass on which the Redskins left tight end Chad Lewis uncovered. He ran for Philadelphia's second touchdown and cashed in on a fumble by Redskins quarterback Tim Hasselbeck with a scoring pass to wide receiver Freddie Mitchell that made it a 21-0 game 51/2 minutes into the second quarter.

The Redskins saved their dignity temporarily with a one-yard touchdown plunge by running back Rock Cartwright, but the Eagles made it four touchdowns in five possessions with McNabb's 11-yard pass to tailback Correll Buckhalter early in the third quarter. The Eagles practically could have named the final score from there but didn't pour it on, and the Redskins' season slipped away with only sporadic booing by the remnants of the crowd of 76,766. The Redskins lost their final three games, including defeats at home to the Dallas Cowboys and Eagles by a combined 58-7 margin.

"The Eagles are just too good for the Redskins right now," Spurrier said. "Hopefully we can one day be as good as those guys are. They're the best in our division the last two years that I've been here. We haven't even really come close to beating them."

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