Fisher, Shanahan match wits in Week 2

Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan yells from the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

By R.B. FALLSTROM
AP Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) – After the St. Louis Rams lost their opener in the final seconds at Detroit, coach Jeff Fisher was showered with praise and compliments from friends and admirers for what almost happened.

Attaboys, Fisher could do without.

“I’m getting texts and emails from everybody across the country saying `Great job!”‘ Fisher griped. “Well, what do you mean, great job? We lost by four points.”

It was a great way to make a point to the NFL’s youngest roster, featuring 17 rookies. No sense in being satisfied when the bottom line is 0-1.

A great way to get the upcoming opponent’s attention, too.

“Look at what he has done so far,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “He has a good draft. Obviously, he has a couple No. 1 draft picks in the future. He went out in free agency and really upgraded his secondary.

“They have a lot of new players and he has them going already.”

Shanahan has firsthand knowledge of the Rams’ future potential bounty, given he was the guy shipping those picks out of town. And while Fisher can afford patience in the first year of a five-year contract, Shanahan is in a rut and going for broke.

Shanahan is tied with Bud Grant for third with 158 career victories and no one can take away his three Super Bowl rings. He’s 3-1 lifetime against Fisher, whom he’s known since both were assistants in San Francisco in 1992.

But in his third year in Washington, Shanahan is trying to end a string of five straight seasons without a playoff appearance.

Unlike the Rams, who are 15-66 the last five years, the Redskins have never hit rock bottom, yet they’ve finished last in the NFC East the last four years for the first time in franchise history and have made it to the playoffs just three times the last 19 seasons.

Fed up with “B” list consolation quarterbacks, Shanahan paid top dollar for his game-changer. He found a willing trade partner in Fisher’s Rams, set at quarterback with Sam Bradford, for the right to draft Robert Griffin III second overall in April.

Griffin made a splash on opening day with 320 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 40-32 shootout win in New Orleans. The elusive former Heisman Trophy winner is the first rookie quarterback to be chosen NFC offensive player of the week, and the first rookie quarterback to throw for at least 300 yards and win a season opener, too.

Big advantage to Washington. For now.

“Let’s not get carried away with all this,” Shanahan chides. “I was really pleased with the way he handled himself in that type of atmosphere, and I hope he keeps going.”

After more dealing on draft day, the Rams have two starters in defensive tackle Michael Brockers and cornerback Janoris Jenkins, plus backup running back Isaiah Pead. And they have the Redskins’ first-rounders in 2013 and 2014.

“I think both teams have the same thing to look forward to – his future and our future in the draft,” said Fisher, like Shanahan in his 17th season as NFL head coach. “So, we both have a bright future ahead of us.”

Brockers will miss the Redskins game with a high ankle sprain sustained in the preseason finale, but Jenkins had an interception in the opener.

The verdict won’t be in on this deal for a few years. In any case, the Rams were dealing from strength given they’re set at quarterback with Sam Bradford.

Bradford was NFL offensive rookie of the year in 2010 after being the No. 1 overall pick, and won a Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma. Last year was a lesson in humility with more interceptions (seven) than TD passes (six) last year while Bradford missed six starts with a high left ankle sprain and hobbled through a couple other games.

“There’s a lot that goes into being a quarterback,” Shanahan said. “There is a supporting cast, it’s the system, it’s continuity, so there are so many factors that go into being a quarterback.

“Sam Bradford is going to be a top quarterback in this league.”

In 2010, Bradford was a can’t-miss QB that Shanahan sought to draft.

“I really thought that I was probably going to go to Washington because they had told me that they were going to do almost everything they could to get me,” Bradford said. “I knew they were going to try to make a move to get me. He told me that.”

A couple seasons into his career, Bradford’s advice to Griffin is simple: Soak it all in.

“Write it down, store it away,” Bradford said. “If you get beat with a certain blitz or a certain pressure, try to remember it because it’s probably going to show up again down the road.

“If the defensive coordinator sees that someone blitzed you in a certain way and it worked, they’re going to give it a shot.”

The Rams’ opener was almost a success, which qualifies as major progress given the franchise’s struggles. St. Louis led early in the fourth quarter and was handicapped on the winning drive when a clock malfunction in essence handed the Lions an extra time out.

In all but three of their 14 losses last year, the Rams trailed by double digits entering the fourth quarter.

To beat the Redskins in the home opener, they’ll have to overcome an offensive line injury epidemic. Center Scott Wells (broken foot) will miss the first half of the year, tackle Rodger Saffold’s status is iffy after he was hospitalized for several hours with a neck strain against the Lions, and rookie guard Rokevious Watkins, a top backup who probably was in line for a start this week after some juggling, has an ankle injury that’s kept him out of practice.

Saffold was a full participant Thursday in a practice with limited contact.

The Redskins are coming off their first 40-point effort in an opener since 1991, their most recent Super Bowl season, and won their first game for the third straight year. Griffin had a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the first half, Pierre Garcon had the seventh 100-yard game of his career and rookie Alfred Morris had 96 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Griffin is the second straight game-changer the Rams will attempt to control, following Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Fisher provides no clues.

“Do you want me to send you our game plan? I’d be happy to send you our defensive game plan,” Fisher joked to Washington reporters. “I guess my point is that you’re just going to have to wait and see.”

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