The latest Michael Westbrook affair was an unwelcome party-crasher at Redskin Park on Monday, detracting from the celebrations marking the Washington's first victory in 45 weeks.
On the same day coach Norv Turner passed out game balls for standout performances and players considered whether the team still had an outside shot at the playoffs, Turner announced that his troubled wide receiver will resume practicing Wednesday but will not start next Sunday in Arizona.
"Michael's role will be based on how the three days of practice go," Turner said. "We're going to put this behind us. How we move on will be based on how Michael performs."
Westbrook was made inactive for Sunday's 21-14 victory over the New York Giants and fined "in the neighborhood" of $4,000, according to a team source, for missing Saturday morning's team meeting and practice. Westbrook told a local newspaper he was sick and was unable to contact anyone until practice was over.
For Turner, that was no excuse.
"With any of our players, you have a problem, hey, you make an initial contact and we'll deal with any situation that comes up," he said. "The call after the fact, that's the toughest one to deal with. I handled it the way I felt was best."
Turner said Leslie Shepherd and Albert Connell will start against the Cardinals.
Westbrook's four-year career was been constantly overshadowed by questions about his work ethic and off-the-field baggage, including his bloody beating of teammate Stephen Davis last year. Turner indicated Westbrook will remain with the team the rest of the season, although options are limited because the trading deadline has passed. The Redskins don't want to release him because they would get nothing in return.
On the field, Westbrook is having his best season, with 28 catches for 538 yardsHe's also been his usual playful self in the dressing room, bragging of his 46-1 record in a makeshift volleyball game set up in the locker room last week. He declined comment Monday.
Turner said Westbrook was not asked to apologize to his teammates in Monday's meetings, and most players were unsure of his status.
"I don't know what happened," quarterback Trent Green said. "I'm not going to shy away from Michael. Michael's a big part of this offense."
Meanwhile, there was a victory to enjoy. The film was a showpiece unlike any seen in the auditorium this year, starring a defense that swarmed around the ball for a change and an offense that didn't commit turnovers.
"It's nice getting up in the morning and putting the film on and know you're going to enjoy watching it," Turner said. "And I did enjoy watching it."
Turner has received his share of criticism for the 1-7 Redskins' worst start since 1961, but this time all of his moves worked. His decision to give his players five days off during the bye week appeared to refresh his troops; then he fired them up by telling them a local radio station was encouraging fans to wear bags on their heads.
During the game, Turner outcoached counterpart Jim Fassel with a conservative offensive game plan that exploited weaknesses spotted from the teams' first meeting. His decision to bench Westbrook didn't backfire, and the customary third-quarter collapse was replaced by a touchdown drive off the second-half kickoff.
"Norv should get the credit for us winning this game," cornerback Darrell Green said. "He got the blame when we were losing."
Turner, who is not expected to keep his job at the end of the year, marked the victory in low-key fashion. And, just as he would not take personal blame during the losing streak, he refused to grasp the credit for the victory.
"It's a great feeling for guys in the locker room," he said. "I know a lot of this ends up being focused on me, but they are the guys pounding each other all week in practice."
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