A projected playoff team has a bad season opener. With the doom-sayers circling, the coach goes into Week 2 pinning hopes on a third-string quarterback making his first NFL start.
The Washington Redskins? Yes. The San Francisco 49ers? Right again.Going into tonight's game, the 1998 Redskins stand right where the 49ers were a year ago. Substitute Trent Green for Jim Drunkenmiller, and a replay for defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, a member of both teams.
"Third-string quarterback," said Stubblefield, nodding his head at the comparison. "Then we won 11 in a row."
Drunkenmiller led a 15-12 victory over St. Louis before Steve Young returned from an injury and helped the 49ers win the next 10 games.
Even so, San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci likes Green's odds tonight better than Drunkenmiller's a year ago. Green, Mariucci points out, is a five-year veteran in his fourth year in the Redskins system, while Drunkenmiller was a rookie who missed most of training camp and got to start only because Young and Jeff Brohm were hurt.
"We relied more heavily on our running game and defense," Mariucci said. "We didn't change our system, but we narrowed down the volume of pass plays. . . . (Green) is to the point where he understands the pro game, and he's ready to play. He's been around it enough to be very competent."
Indeed, Washington coach Norv Turner said his offense won't change much under Green. If anything, there will be more rollouts to take advantage of Green's mobility behind an offensive line that gave up eight sacks last week.
`It's not like it's a guy who's been here for two months and all of a sudden he had to play," Turner said. "I don't think they'll see us as being limited."
Green, who had been patiently waiting his turn while holding the clipboard on the Redskins sideline since 1995, got the start through both injury and merit. After Gus Frerotte threw two interceptions and sprained his shoulder last week, Green came on and did such a good job that Turner didn't hesitate to give him the No. 1 slot.
"I don't think I'm going to be walking on egg shells," said Green, whose parents are flying in from St. Louis to add another distraction to what he hoped would be a "normal" week. "This is going to be exciting, but I'm not going to think about it."
The 49ers want to give him plenty to think about. The defensive line is already smelling fresh meat.
"Any time you get a young quarterback in the game, sometimes they may be a little nervous," said defensive tackle Bryant Young, who had never even heard of Green until last week.
Green's debut has overshadowed what should be one of the best matchups of the season. The 49ers have the league's premier offense, and the Redskins have put together a formidable defense. Imagine Steve Young having to avoid the rush of ex-teammate Stubblefield while trying to connect with Jerry Rice, who will be covered by Darrell Green.
Trent Green feels the same way about Steve Young. In his house he has one of Young's autographed jerseys, purchased at a charity auction five years ago when Green was a rookie with the San Diego Chargers.
"I've been a fan of his for a while," Green said.