Washington Redskins Coach Steve Spurrier avoided suspense in his fourth starting quarterback change -- the previous prolonged decisions ended in duds -- by naming Danny Wuerffel over Patrick Ramsey as the starter Sunday against the surging St. Louis Rams at FedEx Field.
The last time Wuerffel was named a starter, also over Ramsey, against the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 6, Spurrier didn't make it official until within 24 hours of the game. And Spurrier said Monday he might use one quarterback each half, but said yesterday: "We were just making conversation about the halves deal."
Wuerffel will attempt to revive the club's dwindling hopes for a wild-card berth in only his second NFL start since 1998. And unlike the quarterback switch being made by St. Louis -- with Kurt Warner replacing Marc Bulger, who has won five straight -- Spurrier is returning to players who lost their jobs after floundering. Wuerffel's quarterback rating is a chilly 34.5 (with no touchdowns), while Ramsey's is 62.7 with five interceptions. But Wuerffel has received the fewest rides in Spurrier's quarterback carousel, with only 14 passes this season, mostly in relief.
"When you've got a group of quarterbacks that there isn't a lot of difference in how they play," Spurrier said, "to me you have to give them all a chance. And Danny really has not had a chance this year."
During exhibition games, Wuerffel appeared to have won the job before the finale against the New England Patriots on Aug. 29. Playing the first half, Wuerffel fumbled three times and was sacked five times. Late in the 28-14 loss, Spurrier informed Wuerffel that Matthews would start the season.
Wuerffel, like Matthews, becomes a free agent in the offseason. But Wuerffel, a fourth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in 1997, is also likely playing for a future in the NFL. Spurrier appears to be the only coach in the league with a firm belief that Wuerffel, who won the 1996 Heisman Trophy in helping the coach to his sole national title at Florida, can succeed as a starter.
"Opportunities are hard to come by, especially in the National Football League," said Wuerffel who has started only seven times for four teams in his NFL career. "A lot of guys play entire careers without getting them. So I'm just very thankful, very grateful to get the chance to be here.
"I got a chance earlier in the year and just had some bad fortune. . . . But life is like that: It goes up and down. You try to always be ready and do the best you can."
Wuerffel didn't play in the five previous games after spraining his right (throwing) shoulder in his only start. The injury occurred on the Redskins' first series against the Titans. Wuerffel looked relatively sharp, guiding the Redskins on a seven-play, 38-yard drive to set up a field goal that opened the scoring. But Wuerffel sprained his shoulder on a three-yard scramble after being tackled by right end Carlos Hall.
Ramsey relieved Wuerffel, leading the Redskins to a 31-14 victory with two touchdown passes and no interceptions. But the rookie's magic didn't last, as Ramsey committed seven turnovers (including four interceptions) and was sacked 13 times over two games -- both losses.
Wuerffel practiced last week for the first time since the injury. And Spurrier named him the back-up quarterback before the Redskins lost to the New York Giants, 19-17.
"I feel good about it," Wuerffel said of his shoulder. "I'm excited. I'm just going to proceed as if it's not an issue."
The juggling of starting quarterbacks remains an issue. Wuerffel was watching "Monday Night Football" when he heard the announcers joke about Spurrier possibly starting Sonny Jurgensen or Billy Kilmer this week. But Wuerffel hasn't let the cracks bother him, and remains confident in his second real chance this season. Spurrier has described Wuerffel as the quarterback who is most familiar with his system, which has languished; the offense is ranked 26th in the league.
"Fortunately, the way the circumstances have gone," Wuerffel said, "I'm getting another chance."
The Redskins have started 14 quarterbacks since 1993, the highest total in the NFL during that stretch. And with four changes, this season matches 1994 for the most instability at the position. Yesterday, the Redskins' receivers said that it's ideal to have one quarterback, but played down the changes.
"We still have to go out and do what we have to do," said wide receiver Derrius Thompson, who pointed out that the top two quarterbacks get plenty of reps during practices. "We still have to go out and get open and run good routes, and catch the ball no matter who's throwing us the ball."
Chris Doering agreed: "We're trying to get to the right spot at the right time. It's not a matter of having somebody throwing a little harder or a little softer. It doesn't really change much."
Wuerffel's hold on the starting job is even more tenuous than the previous quarterbacks, who Spurrier had called starters for the rest of the season.
This time, Spurrier has indicated he will switch to Ramsey if Wuerffel can't spark the offense. Wuerffel "is our quarterback right now," the coach said.
Matthews lost his starting job by producing feeble numbers as the Redskins lost two of three. The 10-year veteran, who is contemplating retirement, has completed a career-low 52.3 percent of his passes. But there's no doubt that the quarterback carousel could still find him back on the field if Wuerffel and Ramsey struggle.