Correction to This Article
A Jan. 15 Sports column misstated the age of Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell. He is 35, not 36.

The Offense Never Got in Gear

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By Michael Wilbon
Sunday, January 15, 2006

SEATTLE -- If the Redskins didn't max out, they came reasonably close. For the first time in a long time, they went about as far as the talent on hand should have taken them, which doesn't, however, include advancing in these playoffs. We've known all season the Redskins were offensively challenged, that they were at least one receiver short, that Mark Brunell lately has appeared injured and tuckered out, that Clinton Portis was intent but battered. They struggled to move the ball during the regular season finale in Philly, couldn't move it a lick last week down in Tampa, and on Saturday looked for most of the game against the Seattle Seahawks like a unit desperate and overmatched.

The Redskins' six-week rush ended because they ran into a better team, a Seahawks team talented enough to win without the NFL's most valuable player, running back Shaun Alexander.

It's not often you see a team fumble away the ball three times in a playoff game and win, which is what the Seahawks did. But the Redskins couldn't do enough with those gifts, not even on a short field, not even when the Seahawks, complete strangers to the playoffs that they are, looked on the very edge of panic. When the Seahawks kicked a field goal to make it 17-3 less than a minute into the fourth quarter, the Redskins had gained a grand total of 140 yards -- half of what Seattle had gained to that point, even without Alexander.

Yes, Seattle's smallish but fast group of defenders is pretty good, but it isn't among the league's elite. They shouldn't be able to lock down a team with a decent offense. But the Redskins struggled for three quarters again on offense -- Brunell passed for 89 yards to that point -- and a brief burst in the fourth quarter tightened the game but wasn't enough. The fanatical optimist will point to the drive that pulled the Redskins within 17-10, to the frenzied sequence that followed Seattle's kick-return fumble and the Redskins staring hopefully at a game-tying score.

But it was then that the game settled into a very familiar pattern.

The Redskins couldn't score.

They couldn't stick it in the end zone, couldn't even make a field goal that might have put some pressure on the jittery Seahawks.

They've gone from 6-10 to 10-6 and into the playoffs in a year's time, which is certainly worthy of praise. But part of last year's story was this season's story, too. The offense still isn't big-league enough, not to beat a good team on the road.

The defense, good but not great, nonetheless kept the Redskins in the game. But the offense, once again, couldn't produce the kind of yardage or plays that scare a good team in the playoffs.

If you can hold the NFL's No. 1 offense to 20 points at home, you've got a shot. It's not like anybody is going to shut out the Seahawks at home.

But if you can't score more than 10 points, you're not worthy of being in the NFC championship game.

"That's my responsibility and obviously we wanted to be much more productive than we were in the playoffs," Coach Joe Gibbs said of the offensive futility. "That'll be one of the things we look hard at."


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