The day Joe Gibbs came back to Washington in January, he was asked the simple, basic question: "Why?"
"There is no net," said Gibbs, imitating a man on a high wire looking down. "There is nothing to catch us. That may be the biggest thrill."
"I feel bad for Dan [Snyder], the staff . . . the fans," said Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, who turned to backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey (11) in loss.
(John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
That day, almost everyone assumed that Gibbs would serve as his own safety net. With his Hall of Fame skills, combined with perhaps the most-decorated coaching staff in league history, how much could go wrong? Add to that the unlimited budget of owner Dan Snyder, who amassed the highest-paid roster in NFL history, including a new quarterback and tailback of Gibbs's choosing.
Yet now, just one week past the midpoint of his first season, Gibbs is living out those free-fall fears that he thought might be so exhilarating. His Redskins are plummeting. And matters may actually get worse. So far, the Redskins have been losing by close margins. If they play at the same level in coming weeks, they may lose by large ones. Seldom have astronomical expectations, which were certainly too high, been replaced so suddenly with the possibility of stunning failure. Steve Spurrier was 5-11. Will Gibbs beat that?
"There are no guarantees in this league," said Gibbs, trudging down a tunnel underneath FedEx Field yesterday. "Every week it's the same deal. Most teams are close [in talent]. Anybody can beat you. So, you're not guaranteed a win any week."
"You'll start winning some," said a fan.
"Let's hope so," said Gibbs, a hard edge in his voice.
On the outside, Gibbs is all class, as he has always been. Still, he and his staff, as well as Redskins ownership, to say nothing of the team's famously fanatical fans, have to be stunned to the point of shock by what they are seeing.
The Gibbskins are 3-6, not 6-3 as many expected after a weak early-season schedule. The next four weeks bring the Eagles, Steelers, Giants and Eagles again. If form holds, the Redskins will be 3-10 in a month. Even if they improve their play, they may still be 4-9.
"It'll be a tough stretch here for us. We're going to find out what we're made of," Gibbs said.
"I feel bad for Dan [Snyder], the staff . . . the fans. I'm not focused on me," added Gibbs. "We'll fight our way through it. I'm committed to it, as long as it takes, to build the franchise. We'll change anything."
Just a few months ago, age was the rage in the NFL. Now the league's three celebrated sixty-something legends -- Gibbs, Dick Vermeil and Bill Parcells -- are 3-6, 3-6 and 3-5. And the Tuna may be 3-6, too, after his Cowboys meet the Eagles on Monday night.
The sight of the Redskins foundering under Gibbs, especially the complete futility of the offense for which Gibbs's teams were famous, has become almost too painful for fans to watch. Or, at least, that would be one excuse why more than 50,000 fans exited FedEx Field before the final minutes of a mistake-filled 17-10 loss to the sub-.500 Bengals.
When fans pay the highest ticket prices in the NFL but the majority can't bear to watch until the end, that's the definition of ugly. This time, Cincinnati took a 17-0 lead quickly, held it into the fourth quarter and never had to breathe hard. If the Bengals had not dropped six potential interceptions on ugly Redskins throws, this could, and probably should have been, a rout.