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Redskins feel lucky to be in winning situation

LANDOVER, Md. -- Steve Spurrier has coached long enough to know when a winning record masks deficiencies. The Washington Redskins' mentor has guided his team to a 3-1 mark, its best start in four seasons, its lone loss coming against the New York Giants in overtime. Impressive? Only at first glance. Yesterday's 20-17 triumph over the Patriots showed the Redskins are more resilient than dominant.

"We're happy to be 3-1, we realize we could be worse, we could be better, but we could be worse," said Spurrier, whose team took a 20-3 lead then battled -- and often struggled -- to maintain the advantage.

When Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw an incomplete pass to tight end Daniel Graham on fourth down with 43 seconds left, it all but assured the Redskins that their three false-start penalties on their inept next-to-last drive would not be a hot topic.

The game's most controversial play, a sideline pass from Washington quarterback Patrick Ramsey to wide receiver Laveranues Coles that was ruled incomplete on third and 16 with 1:49 left, was the subject of locker room banter.

"The officials said I caught it but there is a rule where if you don't tuck the ball away and you're hit out of bounds and the ball comes loose, it's an incomplete catch," said Coles. "The first thing I thought was, `Please, I hope we still win this game, because if we don't the media is going to have a field day with this.' "

It was scarcely mentioned that Washington was penalized nine times for 75 yards, was 3 of 11 on third-down efficiency, completed just two passes in the second half, and lost the battle of first downs, total yards, and time of possession.

Spurrier, the former University of Florida coach, came to Washington as a renowned offensive architect whose Gators averaged more than 35 points and 460 total yards per game. The Redskins' current combination of run and pass often is as potent as flat ginger ale.

Yet while the coach acknowledges the 3-1 record might be deceiving considering all the areas his team has to improve in, he's not complaining.

"Hopefully when we get a lead we can hang on to it better in the future," said Spurrier. "There's a lot of things we need to improve upon. We were really fortunate to get out with a victory."

The Redskins' fortunes yesterday were helped in large part by their defense, which intercepted Brady three times. Moreover, the team's first touchdown was set up by a fumble by Patriots running back Kevin Faulk, who lost the ball after being corraled by cornerback Champ Bailey at the New England 17. The ball was recovered by Matt Bowen at the Patriots' 1, from where running back Ladell Betts scored on the next play.

"Actually, I was worried about getting the guy down because he was a little bigger than me," said Bailey about the forced fumble. "I was surprised the ball did come out. I didn't know it came out."

Bailey finished tied for second on the team with seven tackles and keyed a defense that held New England to a field goal and 132 total yards (41 rushing) in the first half. After Brady threw his first five completions to five receivers on New England's first drive, he was 1 for 4 on the second drive.

Yet over the last 5:08 of the third quarter and through much of the fourth, the Patriots moved the ball well. Brady completed 3 of 3 passes for 65 yards, the last a 29-yard touchdown to David Givens. When the Patriots scored on a 7-yard Brady to Larry Centers pass in the fourth quarter to cap a six-play drive that took just 1:24, the once-raucous FedEx Field crowd of 83,632 was stunned silent.

And though they won, the Redskins were left to lament their failure to put the game away -- a sentiment expressed by players on both sides of the ball.

"We had a strong first half, but we have to learn how to kill people. We should have beaten those guys by a lot more points and we didn't," said Bailey.

"This game was closer than it needed to be," said running back Chad Morton. "We got the win and that's the important thing. [However] the penalties are still our biggest concern. We have to play the whole game; even though we started off slow we have to stay on them, finish our opponent off."

Still, there's no doubt that it is much better analyzing miscues and inconsistencies after a victory than a defeat.

"[New England] probably outplayed us a little bit," said Spurrier. "But we held them at the end, so we're the winners. Three and one is not bad."

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