By Michael Wilbon
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Only one road team in the NFL was a non-competitive dog Sunday. Everywhere you looked around the league there was a contentious fight, an underdog playing passionately and desperately away from home -- except in Philadelphia, where the Washington Redskins turned in probably the worst performance of any team in the NFL.
So if any team needed a major shakeup the day after, it was the lifeless Redskins. Putting Jason Campbell in the starting lineup isn't going to cure all that ails the Redskins; he isn't going to cover anybody deep or open holes or call smarter plays or get back all those draft picks the club has squandered. But just the energy of a young pup who believes he belongs under center in the NFL ought to boost the droopy Redskins, even if only a little.
No team in football flat-lined like the Redskins on Sunday. And when you come up a no-show on the road against a division rival, it's time to do something that will grab the team by the throat. No personnel shuffle in sports is as dramatic as changing the quarterback, especially when it means benching an accomplished veteran and handing the ball to, essentially, a rookie.
But that's exactly what Joe Gibbs did. Actually, he should have had Campbell in the game long before this Sunday's game at Tampa Bay. There were ample opportunities, like the fourth quarter Sunday, to get Campbell in the game. But ultimately Sunday's pitiful performance was the final straw. On a day when 12 of 15 games were decided by single-digit margins, only the Redskins lost by more than 20, and only the Redskins scored as few as three points.
The New York Jets went up to New England and beat the Patriots. Pathetic Cleveland went to Atlanta and defeated Michael Vick's Falcons. The Packers, left for dead after the first two games of the season, went to Minnesota and defeated the division rival Vikings. The 49ers, thought by many to be the worst team in the league when the season began, flew more than 2,000 miles to Detroit and beat the mouthy Lions. The Chargers, down 21-0, came back to beat the Bengals in Cincinnati in a performance for the ages.
Even when the favorites won, like the undefeated Colts and first-place Ravens, they were pushed to the absolute brink by bottom feeders like Buffalo and Tennessee, respectively. Even the Raiders, a nothing team going nowhere, battled Denver and nearly pulled off an upset. Even the Arizona Cardinals, who never amount to much of anything, put up more fight than the Redskins did in Philly.
And so many of those upstarts play kid quarterbacks. If the Titans can play rookie Vince Young (who already beat the Redskins at FedEx Field), if the Cardinals can go to rookie Matt Leinart, if Cleveland can trust second-year Charlie Frye, if Norv Turner and the 49ers can get four wins in nine games out of second-year Alex Smith, if Tampa Bay can go with rookie Bruce Gradkowski, then why shouldn't the Redskins take the wrapping off Campbell and see what he looks like?
What, you think the Redskins are better than the Buccaneers and Titans and Browns? Well, they're not. They're probably not even as good. It's time to forget about the playoffs or a winning season and see if the Redskins are ready to move forward at the most important position in sports.
Campbell might stink it up.
Campbell might light it up.
We have no idea.
But we know for sure he won't hear the boos of 90,000-plus fans when he starts Nov. 26 at FedEx Field.
We just watched the Eagles lose three straight games, so should they really be 27-3 better than the Redskins? Are the Eagles that good or are the Redskins that sorry? Increasingly and convincingly, the latter seems to be true. The Redskins played in Philly as if they had spent the entire week believing they were actually a good team because they were coming off a fluke victory over the Cowboys.
The Redskins played with so little emotion it's necessary to wonder who the team's leaders are, or if they even have any. On the afternoon the second half of the season began officially, presenting the perfect time to rededicate themselves to making something of the final eight games, the Redskins no-showed. I don't want to hear that they fought their guts out, because if they did and still lost by 24 points to a team on a three-game slide, then the Redskins are really bad.
And that means they need a jump-start, which has to start with the quarterback.
Were Mark Brunell's 52 percent completion rate and 131 yards passing so fabulous that Gibbs and/or Al Saunders had to stick with him? I was starting to wonder if they planned to start Brunell next season, too. Did you see how much better Young, the Titans rookie, is now than in his first couple of starts? You don't get better holding the clipboard, running third behind Brunell and Todd Collins.
And as long as Clinton Portis is injured, maybe the Redskins will hit the daily double, take some of the load off Campbell and let him hand the ball to the perfectly healthy, perfectly capable T.J. Duckett, who for some inexplicable reason has been in mothballs as the Redskins continued to throw five-yard passes.
And while they're at it, maybe somebody can persuade Gibbs to put on a headset and call some plays.
No, it's not all the fault of the offense. The defense has regressed to the point it bears no resemblance to the defenses the Redskins fielded the last two seasons. As much talk as there is about what Adam Archuleta cannot do, Sean Taylor looks like he has forgotten how to play. He's gone from being a space-eating monster to every quarterback's favorite guy to pick on. Is there a team in the NFL whose safeties are as bad in pass coverage as the Redskins'? The defense has allowed an average of 390 yards the last five games and allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw 17 touchdown passes to only two interceptions.
It is unthinkable this was a team that many people, including the players, expected to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Now, only the Lions, Cardinals and Buccaneers have a worse record than the Redskins, who might as well start looking ahead to next season, who might as well start taking stock of what they have, of who can and cannot play. The worst possible scenario is that the team continues along this path. But a brighter outlook is that Campbell can actually play. And if a young quarterback surprises his teammates, it tends to uplift even the defense and special teams.
What we know about the Redskins is that they need a lift right now. For a change, they might get it from somebody they don't have to trade for or seduce with new bags of money. Another moment without Campbell under center would have been another moment wasted.