Washington Redskins running back Stephen Davis burst up the middle before quickly cutting left to elude several Philadelphia Eagles defenders. Two furiously grabbed Davis from behind. And as the tailback tried to bull ahead, Brian Dawkins punched the ball out and safety Michael Lewis recovered the fumble.
And just like that, all of Davis's previous shifty moves, gaining 15 yards, became moot. The sequence, on the Redskins' second play of their opening drive, embodied Davis's season under Coach Steve Spurrier. To add injury to insult, Davis suffered a dislocated right shoulder on the play, which could end his season and his tenure as a Redskin. As Davis was driven from the sideline on a cart to undergo X-rays, the tailback could only think of how fitting the demoralizing play had been.
"It's a memory," said Davis, who rushed twice for 24 yards. "Memories last a long time, but hopefully you can come back from it."
This is his worst statistical season as a starting tailback, and the seventh-year pro seems unlikely to return to the Redskins. Davis's salary for next year is $11.4 million, and the organization would save about $5 million in cap space by releasing him. But another factor is that Spurrier prefers the pass-catching ability of Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson to the power running of Davis.
"I've got to worry about it when it comes," Davis said of next season. "My thing is to go day by day. I can't worry about next week, next year. I don't know what my future holds. The only thing I can control is right now."
Cornerback Darrell Green's locker-room stall has been next to Davis's for several seasons. And Green has admired how Davis has handled his reduced role. "I'm like his daddy over there," Green said, "and I've never been more proud of a young man, who had a tough year and it wasn't all his fault. It was a philosophical approach from leadership. It had nothing to do with him."
Spurrier never embraced Davis despite the 28-year-old being third on the franchise's all-time rushing list (85 yards behind second-place Larry Brown, who has 5,875. John Riggins leads at 7,472). The coach and running back have not been on the same play-calling page all season. Davis publicly criticized Spurrier for not running enough and the coach alluded to his tailback's per-carry average, which had been less than four yards -- the second lowest of his career.
So it was no surprise that today Spurrier told reporters that Davis was "mostly likely" out for the season while the tailback countered that he is aiming to play Sunday against the Houston Texans at FedEx Field.
"Hopefully, it will get stronger," Davis said, "and get better."
Davis's health will be determined Monday after he undergoes an MRI exam.
If Davis does not return for the Redskins, he will finish with 820 yards, his lowest figure since 1998, when he ran for 109 yards as a backup and fullback for Terry Allen. With the Redskins eliminated from the playoffs, Spurrier said today, some players went through the motions. One of the few incentives left are statistical. And Davis admitted that he hopes to reach the 1,000-yard mark, which he has accomplished each year since becoming a starter in 1999.
"It would hurt me a lot," Davis said of missing the mark.
Perhaps as a nod to Davis's past contributions, Spurrier had not completely phased out the running back despite the coach's announced intention to focus on younger players. In last Sunday's 27-21 loss to the Giants, Davis gained 70 yards on 12 carries, which included a season-high rush for 33 yards. Davis received all but the majority of the 20 runs called as Spurrier switched back to a pass-oriented approach.
"I was expecting to play a lot in this game," Davis said today. "As far as the next two games, I didn't know what was going to happen."
On the Redskins' first play of their opening drive, Davis dashed through a big hole on the left side for nine yards. "That first play, he ran with reckless abandon," Green said. "He's done it all year."
The next play, Davis darted right behind tackle Jon Jansen, then quickly cut left before being stripped of the ball. Davis's shoulder temporarily popped out of place when he fell to the ground. But before long, Davis was back on the sideline, giving pointers to Betts and cheering on the rookie tailback, who rushed for 49 yards on 16 carries.
"Stephen has been acting like himself," Betts said. "He's always helping us whenever he can. Nothing changed in his approach. I think that shows a lot of character."
Throughout the season, Davis has provided tips to the young tailbacks, who do not have his ability to run with power despite their pass-catching prowess.
Betts and Watson have learned something else. Last week, Davis conceded that the diminished role "hurts me to my heart." Yet Betts and Watson said they haven't been able to tell because Davis has practiced through pain and prepared as if he remains the featured back.
"I've just heard through the media that he's been frustrated from what he's used to in the past years," Watson said. "But he doesn't show it at all. He prepares himself, comes to work, works hard and gives it his all every week."