There's No Need to Panic -- Well, Maybe There Is

By Michael Wilbon
Monday, September 18, 2006

IRVING, Tex. -- Had Joe Gibbs tried to get into the specifics of all that is broken, he would have needed a DVD player and three or four hours. So in the immediate aftermath of getting backhanded by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, Gibbs stuck with a more general diagnosis when he said, "We've got to find a way to fix a bunch of things."

Well, they've got one week to get it right. Next Sunday in Houston is it.

Don't get me wrong, I hate dramatic discussions this early in the season because every year we see teams limp into the season, get hot after Halloween and bolt right into the playoffs. The Redskins, in fact, did it last season.

Still, a whole lot will be riding on a second trip to Texas, to Houston, because the annual trip to Dallas was a big bust. The Redskins collapsed.

The defense was bad, the offense was worse. The players and the coaches ought to be falling over one another to claim blame because the Cowboys are nothing special. In fact, the Dallas Cowboys were there to be had late in the third quarter.

A turnover produced by Sean Taylor put the Redskins in Dallas territory. They were trailing only by a touchdown, 17-10 at the time. The Redskins weren't playing particularly well, but they were at least knocking heads.

You could hear and feel the crackle of the Redskins' hits on Cowboys receivers and ball carriers who were starting to flinch and drop passes. A touchdown then would have tied it and even a field goal could have given the Redskins the lift they needed to put a reeling team on its backside.

But Mark Brunell lofted a pass that Roy Williams intercepted at the goal line. And instead of being tied or within four, the Redskins then let the Cowboys march 99 yards on just six plays to turn a tight game into a rout.

Since the Redskins can't beat anybody their own size just yet, maybe they can get it right against the sorry, no-account Texans next week. They had better. Like the Texans, the Redskins are winless. Like the Texans, the Redskins (surprisingly) can't stop anybody when it counts, and certainly can't manufacture any offense. Like the Texans, the Redskins kill themselves with penalties and mistakes, small and large. As bad as 0-2 is, 0-3 is much worse.

Yes, it's a long season, but it's not a baseball season or a basketball season. The Redskins already are reduced to hoping they can avoid disaster and we haven't even reached autumn yet. "We have to go to work and somehow, some way figure out how we can win a football game and get ourselves" on track, Gibbs said.

It's not like the Redskins stink. They're not Oakland bad or Detroit bad.

They're just not any good, not yet anyway. If you didn't know Al Saunders's body of work over the last five years, you would think the Redskins' offense is being coordinated by Colonel Sanders. Two weeks in, it's just a bunch of dump-offs to the backs and quick screens. Brunell hasn't thrown one of those rainbow deep balls in two weeks. You know how the Raiders (well, at least the old Raiders) like to play vertical football? The Redskins and Cowboys are both playing horizontal football. Nobody goes down the field despite having cheetahs lined up wide.

The Redskins have been fighting this for two seasons. The passing attack is just blah, same as last year. Brunell's production Sunday night was puny, just like last year. He was 12 of 25 for 107 yards until some meaningless late-game stat padding. Michael Vick can put up those numbers and win because of his legs. Brunell cannot, not at this stage of his career. This is why Saunders came aboard in the first place, but the offense seems a couple of months away from being the kind of symphony he conducted in Kansas City.

The defense, stunningly, is worse. And perhaps it won't get better until Shawn Springs is back, which is a lot of pressure to put on a cornerback returning from surgery. We haven't heard Andre Carter's name called in two weeks. Adam Archuleta has been invisible, which is great for a lineman but not a safety who should be laying the wood to people.

The only thing that can save the Redskins from falling into a bottomless pit is Houston on deck and an overrated division. Yes, I just referred to the NFC East as overrated. The Redskins are only one game behind the leaders in the only division with no 2-0 team.

Is it possible, based on what we've seen these first two weeks, that the only thing more overhyped than Notre Dame is the NFC East? The Eagles blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter at home. The Giants should be 0-2. The Redskins are 0-2, and it's not like either loss was a fluke. They were outplayed by both the Vikings and Cowboys. And Dallas isn't any good, not yet anyway and now Terrell Owens is out with a broken bone in his right ring finger and might have to sit out for up to a month. He can still ride that stationary bike with a busted hand, can't he?

Drew Bledsoe, through two games, looks about like Brett Favre these days, which is to say, old. Perhaps the four NFC East teams are only 9-7 good. All four seem obviously flawed, and none seems to be any better than the Bears or Falcons or Vikings or, for that matter, the 2-0 Saints. Gibbs actually found some solace in the fact that nobody in the division is 2-0. "We're only one game behind," he said.

What Gibbs and his staff will do, with a great deal of angst this week, is try to figure out how to get the players out of their malaise. It's not effort or passion or urgency the Redskins lack. Sometimes coaches resort to criticizing a team's effort, which is an easy way out. Gibbs wouldn't do that. He praised the team's effort, talked about how desperately his players want to win.

The issue appears to be whether they're good enough, or whether what they're attempting to do is good enough. The offense has scored one touchdown. One. If the Redskins had played the Ravens and Bears, or Seahawks and Chargers, there might be some easy explainin' as to what's happening.

But I don't know any Vikings or Cowboys defenders (okay, maybe Roy Williams) who'll be punching a ticket to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Vikings and Cowboys, defensively, are okay. Byron Leftwich didn't have any problem picking apart the Cowboys last week. But Brunell was dumping it off, or running away as if Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Randy White were wearing the helmet with the star.

If the Redskins do this again next week, we'll know they're at least temporarily out of the running as a contender. They'll be like Miami and Notre Dame, which is to say out of the national consciousness until they prove they belong in the conversation. If Brunell does this again next week in Houston, if he's skipping passes on third down with Brandon Lloyd open, it'll be time to get The Kid, Jason Campbell, warmed up in the bullpen. Last week was too early for the Redskins to be worried. But this week is past time. That's how dramatically one lopsided loss down in Dallas can spray-paint graffiti all over the big picture.

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