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  For Redskins Receiver, a Giant Error

By Gene Wang
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, November 24, 1997; Page D11

For all of regulation and most of overtime against the New York Giants last night, Michael Westbrook looked every bit the player the Washington Redskins hoped they were getting when they made him the fourth pick of the 1995 draft. He had a career-high nine catches, and his 125 receiving yards were one short of his career best.

Then in an instant, the wide receiver spoiled the best game of his professional life by blundering at a most inopportune time.

After an official ruled no-catch on his diving catch inches from the sideline, Westbrook ripped off his helmet in anger. The action drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that pushed the Redskins back to their 47-yard line and took Washington out of field goal range. Two plays later and with 11 seconds to play, Redskins kicker Scott Blanton attempted a 54-yard field goal that was well short of the goal post, and the game ended in a 7-7 tie.

"You've just got to keep your poise," Redskins Coach Norv Turner said of Westbrook, who did not speak with the media after the game. "He thought he caught the ball. Officials ruled he hadn't. You've just got to get back into the huddle."

After Westbrook came to the sideline — with his helmet still off — Redskins veteran linebacker Ken Harvey and Marvcus Patton had some choice words for him. Harvey was first to chastise Westbrook, going nose to nose with his teammate before giving him a pat on the back of the head.

"We're a team, and things we do affect each other," Harvey said he told Westbrook. "This is a team effort. Hey, you just got to keep your mind in the game. We still had time to play. You can't let one play destroy the rest of your game. I've done it before as a young player. I know what it's like to get frustrated sometimes."

Westbrook's costly outburst seemed to typify his career. He has shown flashes of brilliance, as he did many times last night. But then his progress is halted by rash actions.

During the preseason, Westbrook punched teammate Stephen Davis on the sideline during an altercation during pratice. The incident earned Westbrook a suspension for the first game of the season against the Carolina Panthers.

But two weeks later, Westbrook showed why the Redskins value his presence on the field. In overtime of the home opener at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, Westbrook made a leaping catch for a touchdown to beat the Arizona Cardinals, 16-10.

His worth again was apparent against the Giants last night, when he stretched the defense with clutch receptions and left many defensive backs turned around with his runs after the catch.

Even the Redskins fans, who have booed Westbrook at times this season, were on their feet each time he touched the ball, sensing a big play.

That is, until the penalty that stalled a drive that began at the Redskins 20-yard line and got as far as the Giants 38.

"After he took off his helmet, we just said, 'C'mon, we need you in this game. You're a play-maker. You're making plays, so just don't blow up like that,' " Patton said. "Obviously he was angry and everything like that, and it's hard. At the same time, we were telling him, 'We need you,' because you saw what he did out there."

Both Patton and Harvey attributed Westbrook's mistake to youthful inexperience.

"Penalties hurt, but you can't just focus it on one time in the game," Harvey said. "There are a lot of situations in the game where I'm sure all of us, myself included, we look back and say, 'God, I wish we could have done that again or had that play over again, I'd have done something differently.' ... He'll learn probably from this day forth, he'll know not to do it."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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