By Thomas Boswell
Monday, November 13, 2006
PHILADELPHIA After their 27-3 thumping by the Eagles on Sunday, the Redskins finally have reached the numb and disbelieving stage. There's no anger, no surprise left in their locker room in the wake of another lopsided beating on the road. They're used to it. They don't completely understand it. They look truly puzzled. But the facts have mounted too high to ignore. The evidence before their eyes is too much to contradict. Maybe that's progress. Soon, they may emerge from their state of denial, their fantasy that they are a contender just waiting to erupt. "Not even close games," said defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, shaking his head.
Right now, the Redskins are a poor 3-6 team, bordering precariously on becoming a bad team now that Clinton Portis has been lost with a broken bone in his right hand. Playoff talk is nonsense. At home the Redskins can't beat mediocre teams like the Vikings or weak ones like the Titans. Even a Cowboys team bearing 153 yards of penalty gifts was barely beaten last week on a fluky miracle play. But it's on the road where the truth about these Redskins really emerges.
And it's ugly.
They've been to Dallas, to New York and now to Philadelphia to test themselves against their traditional NFC East rivals. Is there a grade below "F"? In those three games, they've lost by a combined score of 73-16, and have not scored a single offensive touchdown -- not one. Remember the winless exhibition season, including a 41-0 humiliation to the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass.? It was a tip-off. The offense, when faced by a hostile crowd, is a cringing, almost apologetic collection of nickel-and-dime passes intended not to produce interceptions. For this Joe Gibbs gave up calling plays? If what associate head coach-offense Al Saunders brought to town is all part of the "same coaching tree" that produced Gibbs, somebody needs to shake the limbs a lot harder.
As for the defense, at least it has a signature play: giving up the long, long pass play in which atrocious coverage and inept tackling are perfectly complemented by a nonexistent pass rush. In its way, it's a thing of perverse beauty. This time, Donovan McNabb hooked up with Donte Stallworth for an 84-yard touchdown bomb. Linebacker Lemar Marshall missed a chuck on Stallworth at the line of scrimmage and mayhem-on-his-mind safety Sean Taylor, who had two more 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalties, was his usual two steps too late to prevent disaster.
For all his embarrassment, Gibbs could only say, "Hey, the Eagles did a heck of a job."
Dignity is great. Sportsmanship is admirable. Cohesion is essential. But, hey, your team only shows up for half its games. The other half of the time, even when it ought to be on an emotional high after a win like Dallas, it comes out flat and lays an egg like this. Hey, your postgame locker room has the feel of a well-heeled country club where nobody's too upset and one of the team's better players was singing in the shower.
Nobody likes losing. The Redskins don't, either. "There's nothing to blame it on. It's all us out there," Santana Moss said. "We talked [before the Dallas game]. No more talking. It's time to do it," Renaldo Wynn said. The real question is how many players are driven nuts by losing, simply can't live with it. How many are hungry -- for fame, a job or money that they don't yet have? You won't find a more likable locker room full of well-spoken, affluent citizens with solid NFL credentials. But the old semi-crazy, half-mean-as-a-snake Redskins of George Allen and, later, Gibbs had their points. And those points usually ended up on the scoreboard at somebody else's expense.
"It's definitely frustrating," said Gibbs of the fall from 10-6 playoff team to the most expensive NFL Flop of the Year. "Most of this rests at my feet." Of course, nobody believes him. His name is Joe Gibbs. If he were Joe Dibbs, his job might be hanging by a thread. However, enormous patience will be shown to a Hall of Fame coach of whom it's said, "If Joe Gibbs can't fix the Redskins, then nobody can."
It's those last three words that are starting to get mighty worrisome because the Redskins haven't been remotely close to a good team in any area. They've gone 21 straight quarters without a takeaway. Coach Gregg Williams's trademark is pressure defense leading to takeaways. But if the pass rush is limp, the corners play soft and nobody tackles too well, the whole concoction blows up. It's all risk, no reward.
Perhaps most stunning is that none of the fancy offseason additions have paid off. Safety Adam Archuletta has been benched. Antwaan Randle El is a fine punt returner but has only 18 receptions. At least that tops Brandon Lloyd's anemic 15 receptions (two in this game) for 237 yards and no touchdowns. The pass rush of defensive end Andre Carter is generally a rumor.
Hard as it is to fathom, the addition of these supposed semi-stars, as well as the new Saunders system, has been a net negative. In the attempt to distribute the ball to more new receivers, Chris Cooley has been switched from H-back to conventional tight end. The care and feeding of Santana Moss, who reads the ball in the air as well as any player, has been neglected. When only one man covers him, he's open. So throw to him. Forget the 700 pages of diagrams. Last season, 1,483 yards; on Sunday, 17.
Much of the offensive problem is a simple mismatch between quarterback and personnel. The Redskins have assembled a cast of speed receivers who require a strong-armed quarterback to stretch the field in all directions and at all angles, not merely with humble flat passes and flanker screens. The Redskins completed only 16 of 32 passes, but the worst news is that 12 of the completions were for less than 10 yards. Once, when Brunell tried an "out" pattern that was deeper than usual, Sheldon Brown intercepted and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown.
The Redskins got the kind of gift-from-the-gods win last week that ought to galvanize any team. Losing a tough game here to an Eagles team coming off three straight loses would be no disgrace. But, as in the second half in Indianapolis and both games in Dallas and New York, the Redskins never showed up. The penalties were back and the fatal defensive blunders, too. The offense was so dink-and-dunk boring you almost wished for the Ol' Ball Coach to send all five receivers deep and let the quarterback's next of kin take care of the funeral arrangements. Okay, not really.
But still, as night fell, one dreary thought arrived. In his last year, Steve Spurrier went 5-11 with Patrick Ramsey and Tim Hasselbeck at quarterback, Trung Canidate and Rock Cartwright as his leading rushers. Now, after vast spending and high expectations, Gibbs finds himself with a team that, in the wake of Portis's injury, may not even be as good as its 3-6 record.
Is there anybody in football who would have imagined that the Redskins -- once again -- would be so close to where they started?