LANDOVER - The Steve Spurrier era and his Fun 'N Gun offense got off to the good start the Washington Redskins sought.
Whether the Washington defense can keep up with its offensive counterpart is a question that may be answered later.
The Redskins had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver in the same game for the first time in nearly three seasons, but they needed a late fourth-quarter interception by cornerback Champ Bailey to clinch a 31-23 win against the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener yesterday before 85,140 at FedEx Field.
The victory preserved Spurrier's run of successful debuts. He is 4-0 in openers with the U.S. Football League's Tampa Bay Bandits, Duke, Florida and now Washington.
But Spurrier had to sweat a little as he watched the Redskins' 15-point lead with 12:08 left in the game dwindle to eight before Bailey stopped Arizona's rally on its fourth series of the fourth quarter.
"We had a few bad plays here and there," Spurrier said. "We had a lot of good ones, too. ... It was a good ballgame. I'm happy to get the victory."
Offensively, Washington had several heroes. Shane Matthews completed 28 of 40 passes for 327 yards, three touchdowns and a 109.1 quarterback rating.
Wide receiver Rod Gardner caught seven passes for 131 yards and a touchdown, and tailback Stephen Davis - almost considered an afterthought in Spurrier's pass-oriented system - carried 26 times for 104 yards.
It was the first time the Redskins had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver in the same game since Brad Johnson, Davis and Michael Westbrook did it in a loss at Philadelphia on Nov. 14, 1999.
But all those laurels would have been wasted had the Cardinals been successful in their last three series of the game.
Trailing 31-16, Arizona got a blessing when backup quarterback Danny Wuerffel entered the game to handle a kickoff. Wuerffel, who Spurrier said had never kicked in a college or professional game, replaced Brett Conway, who suffered a quadriceps strain in his kicking leg.
Only one of Conway's five kickoffs through the first three quarters had fallen past Arizona's 10-yard line, so Wuerffel took his best shot - a 41-yard squibber that Marcel Shipp picked up at the 29-yard line and returned 29 yards to Washington's 42.
Three plays later, Jake Plummer tossed a 29-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver David Boston, who put an exclamation point on a daylong trash-talking battle with Fred Smoot by spiking the ball in front of the Redskins cornerback.
After both teams failed on two series apiece, the Cardinals got the ball back at their 19-yard line with 1:04 left in the game. But Plummer threw a pass that was too far ahead of wide receiver Frank Sanders, and Bailey made a diving catch to end any Arizona comeback bid.
Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington wasn't entirely happy with the defense's effort, which included giving up 257 yards to a team that compiled just 187 yards in a 20-17 Redskins victory Jan. 6.
"I'm sure it's not as bad as I think it is," Arrington said. "At the same time, we've all got to have a sense of urgency. This ain't going to be no cake ride. Ain't nobody going to lay down for us."
The offense had a good-news, bad-news scenario in the first half. Although Washington out-gained the Cardinals 196-108, the Redskins were down 13-10 at halftime.
A bright spot was the inclusion of Davis, who led the NFC in rushing last season but had only 18 carries for 57 yards in five preseason games.
Yesterday, he rushed 10 times for 35 yards and caught seven passes for 46 yards in the first half. Davis ran 16 times for 69 yards in the second half, including a 3-yard rumble into the end zone that gave Washington a 17-13 lead with 9:51 left in the third quarter.
"It's easy to call run plays when you're making yards," Spurrier said. "When you don't make yards, it's hard to call it. They were making yards today and [that was] probably one of the reasons we got a lot of runs in."
Similarly, Matthews found his rhythm in the second half. After tossing a perfect 26-yard pass over the outstretched hand of former Ravens cornerback Duane Starks and into the hands of wide receiver Kevin Lockett for his first touchdown pass in the second quarter, he connected on a 43-yard strike to Gardner to give the Redskins a 24-16 lead with 6:28 left in the third quarter.
Matthews threw his third touchdown of the day when he found wide receiver Derrius Thompson in the end zone for a 17-yard score and a 31-16 lead.
"I enjoyed playing this offense," said Matthews, who played for Spurrier at Florida between 1990 and 1992. "It gives you a chance to get the ball down the field with some big plays."
NOTES: Spurrier needed stitches on the middle finger of his right hand. He said he suffered the injury when he tried to take off his headset in frustration after the Redskins' second holding penalty in the fourth quarter. The penalty was on left tackle Chris Samuels, who later said, "I need to apologize for that one." ... Five Redskins were hurt yesterday: Conway, Davis (mild groin strain), linebacker Eddie Mason (right shoulder sprain), safety David Terrell (mild heat cramps) and defensive tackle Carl Powell (right knee bruise). ... Spurrier said the team would bring in a kicker to replace Conway if his injury prevents him from playing against Philadelphia next Monday.