A No-Win Situation

Chris Cooley drops a pass from Mark Brunell during first-quarter action against the Ravens. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
Chris Cooley drops a pass from Mark Brunell during first-quarter action against the Ravens. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 1, 2006

When the final minutes of their fourth and final preseason game sealed another loss as similar and complete as the previous three, the Redskins could take comfort in one major victory last night at FedEx Field: No starter was injured.

The initial value of the 17-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens that concluded the first winless preseason of a Joe Gibbs-coached team in 24 years was tangible in that Gibbs offered his strongest support yet of backup quarterback Todd Collins, who played the second half surrounded largely by third-stringers. Gibbs said he would address who would be the backup quarterback at a later date.

Playing behind a reserve offensive line that over the past month has not yet jelled, Collins completed 13 of 22 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. Collins threw two sure touchdown passes that were dropped, the most glaring a third-quarter end zone fade route that bounced off the hands of backup running back Nehemiah Broughton.

Long the handpicked choice by associate head coach-offense Al Saunders to work with both Brunell and Campbell in grasping the offense, Collins for the first time seemed to have gained the endorsement of Gibbs, while the coach referred to Campbell as "the future."

"Some guys stood out in my mind," Gibbs said. "Todd, with a bunch of young guys in there, I thought that was stellar. After the two touchdown passes that were dropped, I walked over to him on the sideline and said to him, 'That says to me that you've got something inside you.' "

The secondary value of the game was in the questions that persisted after an 0-4 preseason. Will the consistent deficiencies -- including last night's uneven play by the first-team offense, defense and, most notably, special teams -- that have plagued the Redskins over the past month remain? Or will, as the coaches and players suspect, these problems be harmlessly left behind, as meaningless as the scores of the games.

"If it were the regular season, I'd be real concerned," linebacker Lemar Marshall said. "It's a totally different game once the regular season starts. You game plan. You don't just take one or two days to line up against someone. We don't have to live with this preseason. Right now, at the end of the day, we're 0 and 0."

For a team that has professed to place little emphasis on this preseason, the month-long dress rehearsal is over.

"I'll be happy to play a whole game, and actually get back to a normal schedule, knowing what to expect every day makes a huge difference," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "I think this whole preseason has been very deceiving. You can always get worked up about it because you always want to win, whether its Monopoly or tic-tac-toe, you want to win. But I think you can learn from it, but it is an evaluation time and you can learn from it."

The dichotomy between a new offense that has behind closed doors bolstered the optimism of the coaching staff and a Redskins team that against four opponents reached the end zone just once and struggled with penalties and inconsistency officially has been dissolved.

"We've been waiting for it, we've been anticipating it, and now it's here," defensive end Andre Carter said. "This is when the real deal starts. It's been a long time coming, and now it's here."

Each phase of special teams -- punting, kicking and coverage -- suffered significant breakdowns. The Ravens' first score was the byproduct of two crushing penalties, one on special teams, the other on defense.

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