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Tony Kornheiser

The Redskins Really Need the 12th Man

By Tony Kornheiser
Thursday, December 2, 2004; Page D01

My plan is simple, really. It's born out of necessity. To save Joe Gibbs.

I can't believe the NFL wants to see Joe Gibbs in such a desperate situation in only his first season back. Has it really come to this -- after just four months on the job -- that people are trying to give Gibbs an out by asking him if he'll quit because of "health reasons"? Can it be one and done for Joe Gibbs?

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Come on, Gibbs is one of the greatest offensive minds in NFL history, and he's heading toward the worst record he's ever had -- with a team that can't score. People in town are growing nostalgic for Steve Spurrier's offense! I can't believe seeing Gibbs thrashing around is good for the league. They can't let Gibbs go down like this. The man is in Canton, not Scranton.

So my plan is to petition the commissioner for injunctive relief to grant the Redskins permission to put a few extra men on the field -- just two or three -- when they have the ball. My plan is to appeal to Paul Tagliabue (a longtime Washingtonian, a Georgetown graduate and a Redskins season ticket holder) for leniency on the grounds that this is simply too embarrassing for the country. We are not Kansas City, where the cattle drives ended. We are not Cleveland, where the river caught fire. We are Washington, D.C., the capital of the free world. We cannot lay placidly at the bottom of the standings like an old, toothless lion. It sends the wrong signal to friend and foe.

Of course, having 14 men on offense doesn't necessarily guarantee that the Redskins will score. They might not. After all, Rod Gardner, James Thrash and Laveranues Coles would still have to catch the ball when it's thrown to them. (Come to think of it, I might have to ask Tagliabue for five downs, too. And an occasional do-over.) But at least this would give the Redskins a fighting chance to break the elusive 20-point barrier. Through 11 games, the Redskins have yet to score more than 18 points. Gaaaaaacckk!

Talk about not scoring -- the Redskins are like monks. They have fewer points than every team in the league. Fewer points than the Dolphins without Ricky Williams, fewer points than the 49ers without Terrell Owens. The Redskins have fewer points than Freddy Adu, and he never got in until the 85th minute.

I don't look at this proposal to have 13 or 14 men on offense so much as charity on the part of the league, as much as promoting parity. This is why they have weight allowances in horse racing, and handicaps in golf -- to even out the playing field. The NFL may not need a great team in Washington. But it needs one that, if you place a mirror under its nose, you can at least see breath come out. (Fans who make the standard nine-hour Beltway journey to FedEx Field deserve better than they're getting. If the Redskins are going to stink, at least celebrate the moment by giving them Hoobastank at halftime.)

At the moment, the Redskins are in recovery after playing back-to-back games against two of the three best teams in the league, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. They got six points against the Eagles, then seven against the Steelers. An optimist might note a distinct improvement. A realist would say, "Where's Jeff George when you need him?"

I say you've reached the end of the line offensively when a lummox like Fox announcer Bill Maas persistently (and in a persnickety way) criticizes the Washington offense by pointing out how many passes were dropped, how many opportunities were missed and how futile the Redskins were, and have been all season. What does this guy know? He was a lineman. He spent his whole career on his back like a turtle.

But the truth is the Redskins are awful on offense. They turned to Patrick Ramsey at quarterback because Mark Brunell couldn't even get 100 yards passing. So Ramsey got 138. He completed 19 passes for 138 yards. When Peyton Manning completes 19 passes (generally by the end of the first half), he has 338 yards and five touchdowns. Where was Ramsey throwing the ball? Backwards? Toward the end of the Steelers game, Ramsey was running for his life on every play, like he was being chased by those Rock Creek Park coyotes.

(Oh, by the way, raise your hand if you'd ever heard of Gary Bennett before the other day. No, not Tony Bennett, Gary Bennett. He's a 32-year-old backup catcher whose addition to the Washington Nationals was greeted here like a cure for psoriasis. Bennett allegedly played last season for the Milwaukee Brewers, and before that for San Diego and Colorado. The Nationals' interim GM, Jim Bowden, said of Bennett, "This is a veteran guy, someone who is well-respected." By whom? Nobody I have ever known in my life has heard of him. "We needed someone like him," Bowden said. Really? If Mr. Bennett is so necessary, why did they sign him for just one season and for $750,000, which is the major league baseball equivalent of sawdust. Gary Bennett, huh? Hope he can sing.)

Week after week, TV shows reaction shots of the Redskins' coaches on the sideline. There's Joe Gibbs in the middle with Don Breaux on his right, and Joe Bugel on his left -- and you'll forgive me, but they look befuddled. I look at Breaux and Bugel, and I see Paulie and Silvio flanking Tony Soprano, and I can almost hear them saying, "I don't know, T, whaddya think we oughta do? It's your call, T."

It's not working. Week after week it's not working. And why would anyone expect it to work without Clinton Portis getting the ball? What on earth is this guy doing on the bench? Between Portis and Brunell sitting on the bench, that bench is worth over $90 million. That just became the most expensive bench in the world. With my plan giving the Redskins three extra men on offense, maybe one of them can be Clinton Portis.

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