Enough Alarm For a Wakeup Call

Washington Redskins starting quarterback Mark Brunell gets up after getting sacked by the New England Patriots. Brunell completed 7 of 16 passes for 51 yards.
Washington Redskins starting quarterback Mark Brunell gets up after getting sacked by the New England Patriots. Brunell completed 7 of 16 passes for 51 yards. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Michael Wilbon
Sunday, August 27, 2006

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. If you want to believe, based on preseason play, that the Redskins are more pretender than contender, there's plenty of circumstantial evidence to back you up -- and it's mounting.

The Redskins, after stinking the joint out here in New England, are 0-3 in the preseason. The starters have trailed in all three games when they left the field. One of the teams the Redskins lost to, the Jets, figure to be an absolute wreck this season. Challenged by their Hall of Fame coach to put forth a better effort last week, the Redskins promptly went out and looked like somebody's junior varsity in a 41-0 loss to the Patriots. The Redskins didn't do anything well. They were bad "all the way across the board," to use Joe Gibbs's exact words.

They didn't play defense, couldn't run, couldn't throw, couldn't protect the quarterback even from a vanilla pass rush. The first-team offense has yet to score a point with one preseason game left. Gibbs said he wanted to give a "big thumbs up" to the Patriots and the way they played. He didn't need to stay it, but the Redskins have earned a big thumbs down in preseason, with only one game -- Thursday at home against the Ravens -- remaining.

Gibbs was very restrained in his comments afterward and gave his boys something of a verbal postgame hug when he said, "I like being in tough times with this bunch of guys." But it's hard to turn a deaf ear to a coach's concerns when the team looks as bad as the Redskins did Saturday night.

The Redskins were worse this week than last, if only for the reason that the starters played into the third quarter. The backups, scrubs and hopefuls couldn't be blamed for this.

The offense, whose impotence has drawn most of the attention so far, looked puny again, but no more so than the defense, which made sure Tom Brady and the Patriots got in a good tuneup. The Patriots' offense looked to be in at least Labor Day form as it went up and down the field without defensive resistance.

Sure, the Redskins' defense was playing without three starters; Phillip Daniels, Cornelius Griffin and Shawn Springs were all sidelined with injuries and it's quite easy to make the case that they are the three most important players to the defense. At least we've seen enough of Gregg Williams's defense over the last couple of seasons in real games to have every reason to believe that, come Week 1 of the regular season, it will be at least as good as it was last season.

But giving the offense any benefit of the doubt based on what we've seen so far is very, very risky.

I must admit that I don't believe in drawing any important conclusions from preseason football. That these NFL exhibitions draw so many fans and such excessive media coverage speaks to just how thoroughly the NFL has been able to brainwash America's sports fans, not to mention the saps I like to call producers and editors. The NFL has both created and filled a need for football, which is scary on several levels. But that harangue is best saved for another day.

The primary reason I don't believe in making grand declarations based on NFL preseason games is that coaches aren't trying their hardest to win.

Don't get me wrong, they're not trying for the right reason. To showcase all the good stuff in the preseason would be stupid beyond words. Why do that in games that don't count in the standings with players who won't be on the team in three weeks?

It's not just a matter of opinion that coaches don't go all-out.

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