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Off and Running

In Spurrier's Debut, Matthews, Davis and Redskins Race to Win

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 9, 2002; Page D01

The Washington Redskins were every bit as dynamic, unorthodox and, most importantly, victorious as they had hoped to be yesterday in Coach Steve Spurrier's debut. Spurrier blended the running of tailback Stephen Davis with the throwing of quarterback Shane Matthews as the Redskins beat the Arizona Cardinals, 31-23, before a franchise-record crowd of 85,140 on a sun-drenched afternoon at FedEx Field.

Spurrier didn't disappoint in one of the most eagerly awaited NFL head coaching unveilings in recent memory. He had the Redskins begin the game in a no-huddle offense, even keeping it while converting a fourth-and-one gamble in the second quarter. He had backup quarterback Danny Wuerffel take a second-half kickoff in place of injured place kicker Brett Conway, and he cut the middle finger of his right hand while ripping off his headset in frustration following one of two fourth-quarter holding penalties on his standout tackles.

Coach Steve Spurrier celebrates with quarterback Shane Matthews, who threw for three touchdowns and a career-best 327 yards. (John McDonnell - The Washington Post)

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In the end, Spurrier did what Redskins owner Daniel Snyder expected him to do upon signing Spurrier to a five-year contract worth nearly $25 million after the coach resigned from the University of Florida in January: He won. Spurrier made it four for four in first games at his head coaching stops, having also won his openers with the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits, Duke University and Florida.

"I'm proud of our guys," Spurrier said. "Overall, I thought they played pretty well. We had a few bad plays here and there, but we had a lot of good ones too. Shane took care of the ball almost perfectly. . . . Stephen had a good game, and the blocking was good too.''

Davis was the forgotten man while the Redskins were throwing the ball more than twice as often as they ran it during their five exhibition games, but Spurrier certainly utilized the two-time Pro Bowl tailback yesterday. Davis got 26 carries and ran for 104 yards and a touchdown, and added seven catches for 46 yards.

Matthews completed 28 of 40 passes for 327 yards. He threw a tipped-ball interception that led to Arizona's first touchdown, but rebounded with touchdown passes to three different wide receivers -- 26 yards to Kevin Lockett, 43 yards to Rod Gardner and 17 yards to Derrius Thompson.

The Cardinals led 13-10 at halftime, but the Redskins scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the second half and held on, finally sealing the triumph on cornerback Champ Bailey's interception with less than a minute to play.

"We kind of tricked everybody," Redskins left tackle Chris Samuels said. "They were looking for us to throw the ball because we threw the ball so much in the preseason.''

The offensive line held up as Samuels lasted the entire game on his sprained left ankle and David Loverne went the entire way at left guard. The Redskins amassed 442 yards of total offense, committed only one turnover and yielded only one sack. Gardner had seven receptions for 131 yards.

"We mixed it up well," Matthews said. "Stephen ran well. It was a dogfight, like it is every week in this league. . . . It was a good win, the first win, and we're all excited.''

The hip-flexor injury that plagued Conway during the preseason gave way to a strained quadriceps muscle that bothered him after he kicked a 35-yard field goal in the first quarter yesterday. His short kickoffs repeatedly gave the Cardinals good field position, leading Spurrier to try Wuerffel -- a kicker in high school -- for a botched kickoff attempt in the fourth quarter. The Redskins will sign a kicker this week, Spurrier said after the game.

The Redskins' defense surrendered touchdowns to the Cardinals following Matthews's interception in the first quarter and after Wuerffel's kickoff led to Arizona beginning its opening possession of the fourth quarter at Washington's 42-yard line.

Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer scored Arizona's first touchdown with a seven-yard run, and threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver David Boston with 10 minutes 52 seconds remaining that victimized cornerback Fred Smoot and trimmed the Redskins' lead to 31-23. Boston finished with seven receptions for 138 yards.

But otherwise, the Cardinals managed only three field goals by Bill Gramatica. It wasn't a dominant defensive performance by the Redskins, but it was enough to win.

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