Turns Out, Preseason Was a Precursor

By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, September 12, 2006

All the nightmares of preseason, all the premonitions of overconfidence and under-preparation in game conditions that dogged the Washington Redskins throughout their August exhibition games came back to haunt them last night in a 19-16 season opening loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Before this game, Washington was worried, fretful, apprehensive after watching one of the worst Redskins exhibition seasons in decades as the team was barely competitive when its first team was on the field and no better when its reserves played. After this unexpected loss at home to the underdog Vikings, Redskins fans may be well advised to hide sharp objects and stay off bridges. Watching replays of this defeat -- in which Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson, a former Redskin, seemed to be the only dominant force -- could lead to self-destructive impulses among the fanatical faithful.

After seeing a 48-yard field goal attempt by John Hall miss wide left in the closing seconds, the Redskins can only ask themselves if they would have been better served by showing more of their schemes and tactics in the preseason, in hopes of acquiring polish under full-speed pressure from other teams. Under fourth-quarter tension, in a 16-16 game, it was the Vikings who looked more crisp under the leadership of Johnson, who completed 16 of 30 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions or fumbles from his offense.

"I'm always surprised at the little respect that Brad gets," Redskins tackle Jon Jansen said.

The Redskins may have been guilty of a casual disrespect for the Vikings in general, a sense that they could win when they wanted. That led to odd and unsettling scenes. After Vikings wide receiver Troy Williamson dropped a perfect first-half pass for what would have been a 50-yard gain, the defensive back he beat, Carlos Rogers, did a victory dance as though he had been the cause of the incompletion. Later, Rogers was the victim of a 20-yard touchdown catch by Marcus Robinson.

With 54 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Santana Moss made a clutch 23-yard reception to move the ball to the Vikings 39-yard line. He, too, celebrated extravagantly, this time as if a tying field goal, at the least, were sure to follow. Yet it didn't. Win first. Strut later.

Now, heading to Dallas on Sunday after a short week of work to play the frustrated Cowboys, the Redskins have to find their "Start" button. For weeks, they have acted as though they could turn a switch and play their best on command. Last night, before a national TV audience and with actor Tom Cruise perched next to owner Daniel Snyder, they found suddenly that they couldn't.

"It's never one play that beats you. It's everybody, including me," said Coach Joe Gibbs, who seemed unperturbed in defeat, except for an undercurrent of displeasure with some officiating calls. "We have to find a way to fight our way out of it."

If anything, this loss was remarkable for how easily the Redskins seemed to let it roll off their backs. That was an unsettling characteristic of several of the underachieving teams -- with high salaries and reputations, but no playoff glory -- that inhabited Redskins uniforms in the 11 years when Gibbs was at the NASCAR races.

"The only thing we messed up tonight was our perfect season," Clinton Portis said after rushing for 39 yards.

Several Redskins praised the Vikings as though they had lost to a Super Bowl contender. More likely, Minnesota, under new coach Brad Childress, will end up a rebuilding, middle-of-the-road team. Then, this defeat may sting even more.

"In the red zone [inside the 20-yard line], we have some things that we don't have completely down yet," said wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, who caught five passes, ran the ball twice and returned three punts, yet gained only a modest 69 yards in all as Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell seldom tried to throw the ball deep. "To us, we know this [offensive] system works, but we left about 11 points out there. It was little bitty small things. Fine tuning."

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