For the Offense, Last Season All Over Again

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By Michael Wilbon
Monday, November 28, 2005

They're in full backslide now. Can't catch, too many penalties, inept on third down. The Washington Redskins' offense is as bad as it was at its worst last season, when it was unforgivably bad. Yes, the San Diego Chargers scored the decisive points on those two brilliant LaDainian Tomlinson runs, including the game-winner in overtime. But the Redskins lost the game so much earlier than that.

They blew it when the offense couldn't turn an interception at the end of regulation into the winning field goal because of a blatant holding penalty. They blew it in the fourth quarter when the offense went three plays and out four times in five series. They blew it because they didn't take it to heart that giving Tomlinson and Drew Brees extra snaps is inviting disaster no matter how well the defense is playing.

There's no reason to spread the blame for the Redskins' loss to San Diego.

The offense, for the second straight week, failed miserably and the result is almost certainly bye-bye 2005 playoffs. The defense produced three turnovers, all interceptions, for a plus-three turnover margin and the Redskins lost. The defense held Tomlinson and Brees in check for longer than anyone has a right to expect and the Redskins lost. Last week, the defense scored a touchdown, allowed only one touchdown and lost to the Raiders. This week, the defense held the Chargers, a team that can score 40 points on just about anybody, to 17 in regulation and lost.

If you can't score 18 points at home in back-to-back weeks, maybe it's time to rethink what your offense is doing.

When Mark Brunell said afterward, "I don't really think we did our job tonight," he was making a stand-up admission about what most ails this team.

Yes, there was that 35-point outburst in Tampa two weeks ago, but think about the four games surrounding that performance. The Redskins were shut out at Giants Stadium, held to 17 points by Philly, 13 by the sorry, no-account Raiders, and 17 by the Chargers. And Sunday, it seemed somebody was doing something wrong on offense on every critical play.

The most glaring gaffe was the holding penalty committed by center Casey Rabach after the Shawn Springs interception of a pass tipped by Marcus Washington with a minute to play in regulation. When Joe Gibbs sees the film of that play, he won't be sending the clip to the NFL powers-that-be in protest, trust me. Rabach didn't just hold; he made a two-handed takedown, and in the process turned what should have been a 42-yard field goal try into a 52-yard field goal try for John Hall. The former is routine, the latter improbable. The first, very likely, gives the Redskins a victory and pushes them to 6-5. The latter was short and wide right and led to the defeat that leaves the Redskins -- get this -- one game behind the Vikings in the NFC wild-card chase.

The defensive players all talked about losing as a team and trying to do more. LaVar Arrington said the defense could have been tougher on critical plays. Washington said the defense has to learn how to play a fifth quarter if necessary.

All that sounds fine. Except there's no more for the defense to do, not this week and not last week. You score, you make take-aways that set up scores. What's next, have Sean Taylor line up at receiver 50 percent of the plays? Look, the defense had its problems at Giants Stadium and gave up about three weeks worth of points in Tampa. But these last two weeks, when the contenders are separating themselves from the pretenders, the offense didn't earn its keep. What, you think somebody's going to shut out the Chargers? Have you seen what kind of roll Brees has been on? He completed 28 of 33 for 339 yards last week. And Tomlinson's been so good for so many weeks he has assumed the nickname LT. It would be blasphemous for anybody to hog Lawrence Taylor's moniker except that Tomlinson might be the single most unstoppable force in the league. LT is right now what Reggie Bush hopes to become one day.

So, it's not like the Redskins didn't know this going in. The defense needed to bring its A-game and did. Cornelius Griffin, still hurting, contributed a couple of huge plays. Washington and Springs were pretty much flawless. Carlos Rogers played his way into more PT, which is just what you want from your first-round rookie draft choice late in November. I'm sure the coaches will say Arrington missed this or that, but to the layman's eye he was all over the place. The game plan was to make Brees crazy and break that three-game rhythm he had going, and the defense did just that by knocking him senseless a couple of times and pressuring him often. To hold Brees to 50 percent passing (22 of 44 for 215) is monumental.

The Chargers, remember, scored 48 against Buffalo last week, 31 the week before that, 28 the week before that. They hung 41 on New England and 45 on the Giants. The last time the Chargers scored as few as 17 points they lost in Philly. For San Diego, 17 points is a virtual shutout.

Except, the offense hasn't had a matching sense of urgency the last couple of weeks. Poor Robert Royal dropping those passes in the middle of his belly must be like missing one two-foot putt after another on the back nine on Sunday. After awhile, you see a short putt and you want to crawl into the hole. Royal must get the shakes now when he sees a pass coming, no matter how open he is, and it's so sad to see a professional who cares so much breaking down in tears at his locker.

Last week there was too much vertical passing, which led to three and outs and helped the Raiders hold onto the ball for 12 minutes 24 seconds of the 15 minutes in the fourth quarter. This week the Chargers loaded up on Santana Moss in the second half, knowing that without David Patten and James Thrash the Redskins were low in proven receivers. "We're trying everything we can to move the ball," Joe Gibbs said. "We're trying everything we can to make something go for us."

The bottom line, however, is that the Redskins have lost six of their last eight games. Nobody who has lost six of eight should be thinking playoffs.

"I don't know what to say," Arrington said. "This one has me confused. I don't know how we continue to let the things that happen to us happen. It feels like rolling downhill the majority of the game, then all of a sudden we're doing uphill at the end. I know this: We didn't shut the door. You leave the door open against players like LaDainian and Antonio Gates, you're asking for trouble."

If it's any consolation -- and it might have to be -- Brunell is appreciative of what his defensive mates tried to do Sunday. "Our defense made incredible plays time and time again," he said, "and we couldn't capitalize."


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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