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What Does It All Mean?

By Michael Wilbon
Sunday, August 14, 2005

CHARLOTTE If you're inclined to obsess over preseason football, I suppose you wouldn't be encouraged by the Redskins' showing here against the Panthers on Saturday night. In fact, you might be downright discouraged, not particularly by the 28-10 loss, but by the way the offense played, by the way the defense played, and in general the way it all played out. The stuff that needs to be a whole lot better doesn't appear to be. The stuff that was good last year seemed to have slipped a bit.

Of course, before we map out any doom-and-gloom scenario, let me declare I hate grand declarations based on anything that happens in the NFL preseason.

Exhibit A is the August 2002 American Bowl in Osaka, Japan, where the Redskins drummed the 49ers, 38-7, went 4-1 that preseason under Steve Spurrier, and limped home at 7-9. It's happened the other way around, too. The 1982 Redskins Super Bowl season began with a 0-4 preseason, punctuated by 24-7 and 28-13 losses. The 1991 Super Bowl season began with a 1-3 preseason.

So those of you who tuned in and came away mortified should get a grip because we simply don't know what it means that the Redskins looked so, well, puny and ineffective.

But if we're not allowed to come to any conclusions in the preseason, we are allowed impressions. And the first impression of the 2005 Redskins ain't good.

The impression of Patrick Ramsey isn't much different than the final impression he left us with last season. It's the reason scouts and interested players on other teams have an over-under of about eight weeks before rookie Jason Campbell is the starting quarterback.

But remember, we're not drawing any conclusions based on Preseason Week 1. So let's just chalk up that horribly underthrown interception to preseason experimentation. Maybe Ramsey was working on his sinker, or a new trajectory, or something. Or maybe Ramsey and Santana Moss, his new receiver, weren't in synch considering this is the first game the two have played together. Of course, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme managed to hook up with his new receiver, Rod Gardner, just fine on that touchdown pass, and it was their first game together.

Oops, did I say Rod Gardner? Talk about adding insult to injury; the very snap after Ramsey's interception Delhomme hit the recently departed Redskin for a 10-yard gain. (Last year Stephen Davis, this year Gardner. Who will be next year's ex-Redskin seeking some payback in a Panthers uniform?) If this were the regular season, you might wince over Delhomme and Chris Weinke combining to complete 12 of 19 passes for 147 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. You might worry about Delhomme's passer rating of 113.8, and Weinke's passer rating of 131.2 because the defense was the Redskins' strength last season and needs to be the strength this season, too. But hey, it's the preseason.

Shawn Springs, who was fabulous last season, didn't play Saturday night and had no reason to. Carlos Rogers, the rookie who will have to play a whole lot and well for the defense to repeat last year's performance, didn't play, either.

If this were the regular season, you'd want to see some of the improved downfield passing game Joe Gibbs has promised. You'd want to see Ramsey do more than throw underneath to his backs because that plan of attack didn't work very well last year, did it? Ramsey's completion percentage (66.7) is fine. But his long completion was 16 yards, he did throw that interception, and his passer rating of 49.7 isn't up to snuff, all of which would cause legitimate worry if this were the regular season.

But it isn't.

The Redskins did some decent things on offense. Several times, against perhaps the best blitzing defense in the NFL, the Redskins not only adequately blocked Carolina's rushers, but Ramsey found the appropriate receiver for nice gains. That shouldn't be overlooked, considering the book on Ramsey says to blitz him as frequently as possible. That's what the Chicago Bears are going to do in the opener. That's probably what the Cowboys are going to do in Week 2 in Big D.

If we're talking impressions, it's worth mentioning that Mark Brunell didn't look like he was throwing the ball under water, that he had a little bit of heat on the ball and was decent in moving the team 82 yards in 14 plays for a third-quarter touchdown. But, hey, this is the preseason, and the fact is Brunell was working against defenders who won't be on the field for Carolina in September and October, when the games count, and no first impression of Brunell is going to undo the cold hard truths of last season.

All we really know is that the Panthers starters outplayed the Redskins starters for the time the two units were on the field, but that's hardly a revelation. The Redskins appear to be a 7-9 sort of team, 8-8 for the real optimists, while the Panthers appear to be a contender. I mean, if you're handicapping the NFC right now, you'd have to put Carolina right up there with the Falcons and Eagles, especially if Philly decides to play without Terrell Owens, or if T.O. decides he'd rather be disruptive and trash his quarterback.

Anyway, the only thing we really wanted to see Saturday night came one minute into the fourth quarter when Campbell entered the game. But one incompletion and one fumbled exchange later, Campbell was back on the bench, and the Panthers were soon going in for a third touchdown. There also would be a tipped interception to end the game.

The impression the Redskins left us with is the kind of thing that gets the coaches' stomachs churning before the regular season even begins. The good news -- or bad news, depending on how you look at it -- is the Redskins have three more preseason opportunities in which to confuse the daylights out of us before real football begins.

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