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Mike Wise

Fear and Loathing in Landover

By Mike Wise
Monday, November 1, 2004; Page D01

Let Oct. 31 be known as the day the honeymoon ceased, the day the fans told their revered coach who should play quarterback and who should not -- the day they booed, began to believe, briefly, and then booed some more.

Let yesterday's wrenching, 28-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers be known as the afternoon that Joe Gibbs's inventive play-calling could not mask how flawed his offense is, how desperate the 63-year-old coach seemed and how far the Redskins organization has to travel.

Game Day: Packers 28, Redskins 14
After a penalty wipes out what might have been the go-ahead score, the Redskins go on to lose the Packers.
Michael Wilbon: Mark Brunell does just enough to keep his job.
Mike Wise: Play-calling can't mask flaws of the Redskins' offense.
After a rocky start, secondary clamps down on Brett Favre.
Playing with a heavy heart, Favre continues to redefine durability.
Notebook: Chad Morton's injured right knee will be tested Monday.
Best & Worst

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Joe Gibbs, Mark Brunell and James Thrash discuss Sunday's loss.

__ Key Moments in the Fourth __
2:43: The Redskins appeared to be within an extra point of taking the lead when Clinton Portis dove into the end zone. But the play was nullified by an illegal motion penalty.
2:35: On the next play, Mark Brunell is intercepted.
1:48: Ahman Green runs 11 yards for a Green Bay touchdown.

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Before another deflated gathering of almost 90,000 fans at FedEx Field, Mark Brunell nearly salvaged a dreadful day until his instant redemption was undone by a controversial penalty in the final three minutes. Meantime, Brett Favre finished with a worse quarterback rating than Brunell, completed three passes to the wrong team and still won.

Before that deflated gathering, Gibbs and the Redskins got an earful from their dissatisfied customers, many of whom believe Brunell needs to be benched. The disgruntled chanted "Ram-sey" after a Brunell interception in the second quarter, pleading with Gibbs to insert backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey. They continued the chant in the second half. This should not be taken lightly. If the masses aren't turning, they're surely ready to tell Gibbs who should play -- and that's a first for a man mostly regarded by his fan base as Saint Coach.

Drilling Gibbs's team almost seems rote today, because the Redskins found a way back into a game they had all but lost. But comeback and all, there are only three perceptions that matter: How the Redskins view themselves, how the rest of the league views them, and who Washington's players really are. The Redskins are at the bottom of the NFC East at 2-5.

No matter how long and hard you search for positives, 2-5 is 2-5.

With all due respect, Gibbs looked a little out of kilter yesterday. The conservative, up-the-gut coach suddenly became Mr. Vegas. He called for a reverse on the first offensive possession. He employed an option pass, which Rod Gardner could not complete. He tried a risky onside kick to open the second half, which basically gave Green Bay a field goal. The Packers only had to go 23 yards before Ryan Longwell converted a 39-yarder.

In better times for the Redskins, Gibbs used this kind of trickery to set up something for a team often headed toward the postseason. Now it seems he's doing it out of desperation because Washington does not have an Indiana Jones on offense to bail him out -- or even a dependable kicker to convert a 35-yard field goal, which backup Ola Kimrin missed in the fourth quarter yesterday.

When the quarterback cannot complete much more than a slant pass, and when the top draft pick was arrested last week, charged with driving while intoxicatedand told not to attend this week's game -- a game in which rookie safety Sean Taylor was needed in the secondary -- gadgetry and guile were all Gibbs had left.

The season and the franchise's future did not drift away yesterday. It is much too early to worry about who Gibbs should take with the third or fourth pick in the draft. The Redskins are at least back-to-back 5-11 seasons from truly absolving Steve Spurrier.

But how much marked improvement has this organization shown since it made another bevy of offseason deals to hike the payroll past $110 million, largest in NFL history? Gibbs went out and got a win-now quarterback, a running back more elusive than misplaced car keys and a group of assistants making more than $6 million -- the largest sum ever paid a group of assistant coaches in league history. To date, they have a worse record than Spurrier did at this time last year.

At least Gregg Williams, the defensive guru, is earning his keep. Don Breaux, the offensive coordinator, must be the most frustrated soul in football. Breaux berated the referees as they crossed paths in the bowels of the stadium yesterday afternoon, profanely letting the crew know what an awful call they made when they penalized James Thrash for moving before the snap with 2 minutes 43 seconds left, a flag that nullified Clinton Portis's 43-yard touchdown catch and run.

Was it a ticky-tack call? Yes. Would the game have come down to that if Breaux's offense had been a little bit better than dreadful in the first half? No.

The Redskins aren't a bad enough team to completely write off. But they are just competitive enough to be absolutely maddening. Before the Packers scored late, the Redskins had not lost a game by more than a touchdown this season. Their defense has allowed them to be in every fourth quarter of every game. But the details -- Brunell inexplicably letting 12 seconds tick off the clock before calling a timeout before the half, brain-lock penalties on crucial possessions -- completely undid Washington.

After another demoralizing day for Gibbs's 2-5 team, one question remains: Will Brunell be invited to President Kerry's inauguration? (So that's why he keeps rolling left.)

In case this statistical anomaly slipped past, since 1936 the last Redskins home game prior to Election Day has predicted the winner. When Washington triumphs, so does the incumbent party in the White House. The Redskins lose, they're out. Seventeen straight elections, the stat has held true.

Struggling mightily yesterday, Brunell unintentionally did his part for the Kerry campaign. Favre playfully bought into this historical footnote. He was asked who he planned to vote for and replied, grinning, "I thought it was already over."

Like 86-year-old curses in Boston, 17 straight elections may be coincidental.

Either way, judging by the young man who yelled "Go back to NASCAR!" at the Redskins coach as he left the field yesterday, those "Joe Gibbs for President" placards at FedEx Field disappeared awfully quick.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company