The Miami fiasco is forgotten, they say, and the emotional opener against Dallas is still nine days away. So the Washington Redskins will work on trimming the mistakes and the roster when they play the Buffalo Bills tonight at 6 o'clock (WJLA-TV-7, WMAL-Radio-630) at Rich Stadium in both teams' final preseason game.
Buffalo officials expect only 30,000 of the stadium's 80,000 seats to be occupied.
Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs must figure how to reverse the trends that have created a 1-2 preseason record (Buffalo also is 1-2) and figure which 11 players should be subtracted Monday in the final cutdown to bring the roster total to 49.
"I just want to get back to smart, sharp, aggressive football," Gibbs said, not wanting to dwell on last week's 38-7 defeat. "I'd like to see us come back."
"This is a preseason game and all that," said Curtis Jordan, a seven-year veteran who will make his first start as the Redskins' strong safety, "but the way we played last week, well, this is important . . . It was bombs away back there last week."
Buffalo has a new coach, Kay Stephenson; drooping season-ticket sales (from 30,000 last year to 21,000); an offensive line that has yielded 17 sacks in three games, and a team penalized 37 times for 300 yards already.
Both Gibbs and Stephenson have said their starting lineups will play more Saturday than previously, in order to help build endurance for the start of the regular season. Buffalo quarterback Joe Ferguson likely will play the entire first half and, perhaps, part of the third quarter, before yielding to reserve Matt Kofler.
Gibbs said Joe Theismann will start, playing as much as three quarters before yielding to Bob Holly, a second-year quarterback who will be making his first appearance since a 13-10 overtime loss to Atlanta in the preseason opener.
Saturday night will serve as the final exam for Washington running backs and offensive linemen scratching for roster survival.
The Redskins likely will keep five running backs, meaning veteran Clarence Harmon, first-year player Reggie Evans and second-round draft pick Richard Williams are competing for the fifth spot.
Evans, 24, a man filled with humility and a hunger to succeed, seems to be ahead in the battle. His numbers aren't tremendous (20 carries for 52 yards, two receptions for 28 yards), but he plays competently on the special teams, and Gibbs said, "Some of our backs are one-dimensional. Reggie does everything well. He has worked hard."
Harmon has not played much in the preseason. Williams, because he is a second-round pick, has played often, although without flash.
The offensive line presents further complexities. With new candidates seemingly hustling in on every flight to Washington, the Redskins now have 11 linemen. Only eight will likely make the team.
Starting left guard Russ Grimm (bruised shoulder) and starting right guard Mark May (still recovering from a partially torn right tricep muscle) are not expected to play Saturday, according to line coach Joe Bugel.
Don Laster will replace May and Roy Simmons, a fourth-year player picked up recently after the New York Giants waived him, will replace Grimm. Simmons said yesterday, "This will be one of the most important games I've played since I've been a professional."
Veteran center Art Kuehn, picked up recently after Seattle waived him, and second-year guard Bruce Kimball, picked up this week after the Giants waived him, are trying for recognition.
Rookie guard Nathan Newton, a free agent from Florida A&M, has gradually slipped from his once-solid perch. "They bring in all these veterans. I don't know what to think. Coach Bugel told me to keep playing hard. I'm mixed up," Newton said yesterday.
While Simmons, Kuehn, Kimball and Newton compete for the eighth spot (Gibbs said about keeping nine offensive linemen: "I don't think it's a good possibility."), newly acquired, nine-year veteran guard Ken Huff is talking with a rookie's fervor.
"We didn't get him for a one-day tryout," is Bugel's way of defining Huff's status.
Huff was acquired this week from the Baltimore Colts, where he was unsigned and had refused to report. Huff's wacky trail led him to Redskin Park only after he had told the Colts he would report, but then had the Colts tell him it was too late and that he was being made a free agent. The Redskins quickly gobbled him up.
"During my holdout, (Colts owner Robert) Irsay kept saying I was finished," said Huff, 30. "I believe an offensive lineman's prime is 28-32 years old. I know I can still play. I think my role here is to be ready if someone is hurt. Right now, I'm just happy to be somewhere."