Haunted by 2008 loss, Redskins face Rams again

Sep 20, 2009 - 4:01 AM By JOSEPH WHITE AP Sports Writer

LANDOVER, Md.(AP) -- It was an absurd play from an absurd game. An offensive lineman has a tipped pass land in his arms. He tries to run, but fumbles. A safety picks it up and runs 75 yards, the only touchdown scored by a 15-point underdog in one of the strangest upsets of 2008.

"Every time I see No. 21 from the Rams, I think of that play," Washington Redskins kick returner Rock Cartwright said. "I think about it all the time."

The St. Louis Rams are back in the nation's capital again Sunday, and it's a familiar setting. The Rams (0-1) enter the game as contenders for worst team in the NFL, reeling from the franchise's first opening weekend shutout in 44 years. Their 19-17 win in Washington last year featuring Oshiomogho Atogwe's runback was a well-timed pick-me-up - one of only two victories they had all year - and now it's pick-me-up time again under new coach Steve Spagnuolo.

"We won't take 'em lightly," Washington receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "That's for sure."

Perhaps that's because the Redskins (0-1) will already be in deep trouble if they lose. They're the only team that didn't win their opener last week in the tough NFC East, and they need to pad the record with victories in a soft early stretch that includes the Rams, Lions, Buccaneers and Chiefs before the brutal division games later on.

Asked if this is a must win, Cartwright answered: "No doubt."

"You're already one down in the NFC East, so you definitely want to come out and get a victory against an NFC opponent and try to bounce back - at home, too," he said. "They beat us here last year off a fluke play, but it happened and we don't want it to happen again."

After the Redskins ran sprints Monday, the players gathered on the field and discussed last year's loss. Oddly, the team that won has tried to forget all about it.

Spagnuolo opened the week by saying "the 2009 Rams stand on their own" and apart from the miseries of years past. He's making no exceptions for rare victories.

"We can't say that we're not going to look back at last year - and then turn back and look at a win and say we can do it," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "It's a whole new year. They have new guys."

Actually, Spagnuolo will use the past quite a bit. He spent nearly a decade preparing to face the Redskins twice a year, first as an assistant coach with Philadelphia and the last two seasons as defensive coordinator with the New York Giants. He also got a bit of insight into the inner workings of the Washington franchise 20 months ago when he was a finalist to succeed Joe Gibbs as Redskins coach, interviewing at owner Dan Snyder's house for some 16 hours before deciding to remain with the Giants.

"I'm here in St. Louis with the 2009 Rams," said Spagnuolo, when asked this week about the opportunity with the Redskins. "No second thoughts."

As far as using his Redskins expertise to prepare for Sunday, he noted that the Redskins are also experts on him.

"I think that's a 50-50 wash, to be honest with you," he said.

Maybe so. In fact, Washington got a bit of a warm-up last week against Spagnuolo's old team in a 23-17 loss to the Giants.

"It was kind of nice to play the Giants and prepare for (the Rams), and then see a few of the same things," Washington coach Jim Zorn said.

Both the Redskins and Rams are banking on the theory that this is the week when teams make their greatest progress. There is plenty of progress to make. Washington's offense never got flowing against the Giants until the final minutes of the game. St. Louis never got flowing at all in a 28-0 loss at Seattle.

"It is a telltale for a lot of teams," Spagnuolo said, "the improvements that they make between Game 1 and Game 2."

Zorn lightened up the mood at Redskins Park this week by playing music as the players stretched on the field at the start of practice, but nothing would brighten the team more than putting last year's gnawing loss firmly behind them. By the way, the guard who fumbled, well-liked veteran Pete Kendall, is no longer with the team, and there are absolutely no plans to have the ball diverted toward his replacement, Derrick Dockery.

"That was one of the games last year that we should have won and we didn't," Zorn said, "and it hurt us all year long. It kind of came back and haunted me, ending up 8-8, because one more win or three wins, and we could have had a really good season, really proud of what we accomplished."






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