Big Pronouncements in August Can Haunt You in December

By Mike Wise
Saturday, August 5, 2006

Clinton Portis on goals: "Winning the NFC East. Win the NFC championship game. Winning the Super Bowl. Rushing yards don't matter to me as long as I get a ring."

Chris Cooley on why he could care less about how many passes he catches: "We win the Super Bowl, it doesn't matter to me."

In Ashburn yesterday, David Patten said that for the first time since he was with the New England Patriots he feels his team is going to the Super Bowl.

And who can forget Mark Brunell's proclamation on Day One of training camp? "Anything short of going all the way would be a disappointment."

The Washington Wishful Thinkers are wrapping up their first week of training camp, and either the heat has been getting to them or they like doing Pro Football Weekly's job.

Look, I'm not saying don't talk Super Bowl behind closed doors -- especially if a team believes it has the goods to get to Miami in February. And, okay, not one of Coach Joe Gibbs's players has come out and actually predicted a championship. "If I had said, 'Hopefully, we'll win six games,' they would ship me out of here," Brunell said yesterday. "Thirty-one other starting quarterbacks should be saying the same thing."

But most players gunning for a championship don't publicly talk about it. At all. Especially in training camp. And if they do, their name is Peyton Manning, who's been to a conference championship game fairly recently. Manning saying, "This is our year" is justified and tolerable; he and the Colts have been at the doorstep for a while. Gibbs's club, which was 5-6 at one point last season? Not so much.

Talking about winning the Super Bowl is dangerous business, especially in August, when no injuries or issues stand in the way of a championship run. It's dangerous because the congregation begins holding the team accountable as if it's already a contender -- and no football demigod wants to enter a season thought of as a contender, especially St. Joe.

Gibbs's three greatest fears in ascending order: the wrath of the Almighty, 6-10 all over again and John Madden saying Joe Gibbs has the makings of a championship team.

It's why Gibbs recently had a little chat with his minions about running their mouths and giving the enemy grist. Gibbs knows if the masses believe and he doesn't deliver, he's right back to the late 1980s again, when he raised the Lombardi trophy one season and ended up 7-9 the next.

"Look at '87 and what everybody said after that season, and then we have our worst season ever in '88," Gibbs said. "When you live it, you're aware of all that. The biggest negative in pro sports is when teams and players think more of themselves than they should."

Gibbs doesn't want to hear how loaded he is at wide receiver, how good his defense is, how this club might just have the makings of a champion. He'd rather deal in reality, like his .500 record since he returned in 2004. That's right, after a nice little run at the end of last season, Gibbs is 17-17.

Four of his five starting offensive linemen have been injured in the past year. If you can name a potential backup for Jon Jansen, Casey Rabach or Chris Samuels, you work for the team, run an NFL message board or your name is Kili Lefotu (rookie, Arizona.)

There's also not much depth in the interior of the defensive line or at cornerback. When Cornelius Griffin went out last season, the defense was run over and through.

Al Saunders is going to earn his $2 million to pretty up the offense, but he assumes a huge professional risk. If Brunell's old bones betray him and Jason Campbell isn't ready yet, this becomes an in-between year at the quarterback position, and Saunders doesn't come across as a genius anymore. Even if Brunell is healthy throughout, it's going to be a while before his teammates digest a much more complex offensive system. Many variables go into making a coordinator look like an innovator, and the first is smart pupils who get their teacher. None of these players has worked with Saunders before. (Bless Todd Collins's heart, but he hasn't started a game in a decade.)

And let's not forget that part of the reason Gibbs went 10-6 last year was a schedule based on 6-10 the year before. The schedule off a 10-6 season includes a brutal seven-game stretch between Oct. 22 and Dec. 10. At Indianapolis. Dallas at home. At Philadelphia. At Tampa Bay. Carolina, Atlanta, Eagles at FedEx. If Gibbs goes 3-4 or 2-5 in that stretch, there goes the season.

It's the reason caution should be heeded in the preseason, no matter how healthy, together and confident Gibbs's players are today.

So before anyone else pops off about the Super Bowl in August they might want to take a cue from a coach who knows, who during Washington's last Super Bowl run in 1991 never mentioned the possibility until January.

Joe Gibbs was too busy that season warning everyone, straight-faced, that "Cincinnati is the best 0-3 team in football."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company