The Washington Redskins may be without three crucial members of their offense Saturday when they line up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' third-ranked defense in an NFC semifinal game--their most important game in seven years.
The Redskins certainly will be without left tackle Andy Heck, who was ruled out yesterday with a torn left hamstring. Also, running back Stephen Davis and center Cory Raymer are doubtful after being injured in the first half of Saturday's 27-13 first-round playoff victory over the Detroit Lions. Davis, already playing on a sprained left ankle, sprained his right knee. Raymer pulled a rib muscle.
The flurry of injuries was cause for concern as the Redskins set about preparing to meet the NFC Central champion Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has lost only one game at Raymond James Stadium this season, dropping its season opener to the New York Giants, 17-13.
"It's very, very scary," Coach Norv Turner said yesterday. "We've been fortunate . . . to go through the season with great health."
Meanwhile, another key offensive player, guard Tre Johnson, probably will be fined by the NFL but is unlikely to be suspended for striking an official during a third-quarter scuffle Saturday [Story on Page D7].
Heck will be replaced by Kipp Vickers, a fifth-year player with less experience but a more physical style. Heck may be able to return the following week, should the Redskins beat Tampa Bay (11-5) to advance to the NFC championship game.
Turner said he was hopeful Davis and Raymer could play Saturday.
"He certainly wants to play," Turner said of Davis. "I'm an optimist and think he'll play and hope he'll play. But medically, the problems have just been doubled.
"His ankle is sore from playing on it yesterday, and his knee is sore. He's got two things he's got to come off of. He was sore today. I think he's sorer than he's letting on. Watching him walk around, he looks sore."
Davis sprained his knee in the second quarter against Detroit. But it was his ankle, sprained on Dec. 19, that pained him more yesterday morning after his 119-yard, two-touchdown performance.
"The ankle is more sore than the knee. But it's fine. I'll be ready to go this week, hopefully," he said.
Redskins trainer Bubba Tyer said he wasn't sure when Davis could practice, and Turner said it would be late in the week before the game-day status of the NFC's leading rusher will be decided.
If Davis can't play or is limited, backup Skip Hicks would take over. Veteran Brian Mitchell would share some of the carries and possibly figure in three-wide receiver sets, too. After Davis went out, Hicks rushed 23 times for 46 yards; Mitchell had 55 yards on seven carries.
Raymer pulled a muscle on his right side when he locked arms with a defender and got twisted around in the second quarter. Team officials will evaluate his condition Tuesday, when practice resumes. If he is unable to play against Tampa Bay, second-year player Mark Fischer, who has never played an offensive snap as a pro, would take over at center.
The Redskins' offense, ranked second in the NFL, has succeeded primarily because of its balance. Davis set a Redskins single-season record with 1,405 yards, and quarterback Brad Johnson has complemented the running attack by delivering some crucial passes. But what has made both facets of the offense work has been the play of the offensive line.
Except for four games that left guard Keith Sims missed with a sprained knee, the unit has remained intact this season, developing the chemistry it lacked last year. Heck and Raymer started all 16 regular season games.
The line's play will be critical against Tampa Bay, which boasts one of the fastest defensive fronts in the NFL, led by defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who had 12 1/2 sacks during the regular season.
"They're extremely athletic, and it starts with Sapp," Turner said. "But that front seven--they all can move. The key is the way they use them."
Turner said he had confidence in Vickers's ability at left tackle after studying film of the victory over Detroit.
"I thought Kipp played well when he went in for Andy," Turner said. "He doesn't have the experience that Andy has, but he's very physical in the running game and that's a plus."
Heck had been scheduled to have an MRI exam yesterday, but team officials decided there was little need after a clinical exam revealed the hamstring was not detached from bone.
"I would think it's something I could come back from relatively quickly," said Heck, who left Redskin Park on crutches. "I've had [injured] hamstrings before and have been able to come back and play with them. I don't know when it'll be ready--it'll be day to day. But if we keep going through these playoffs, it would take a lot to keep me off the field."
Tyer said: "If you could unzip that thigh and look in there and see exactly what's going on, you'd be better off. But you don't. You just go by the symptoms and how it feels."
Davis reminded Redskins fans how difficult he is to replace with his play against Detroit, rumbling 58 yards on one carry. It appeared as if he felt no pain, but that was not the case.
"Oh, it hurt during the game, at the beginning of the game," Davis said yesterday. "The more I kept running, the warmer it got and the looser it got."
With Davis on the bench with a new injury, Turner cobbled together a running game with Hicks and Mitchell, but the Redskins didn't score again after Davis went out.
While Turner acknowledged that Hicks isn't as powerful a runner as Davis, he stressed that he has other strengths.
"He catches a short pass and makes it into a 10-, 12-yard run, and he's doing a real good job with the pass protection," Turner said. "We're fortunate. There are a lot of people when they lose a starter who don't have a player of Skip's caliber to go in and play."