On Football

Patriots Widen A Glaring Gap

By Les Carpenter
Monday, October 29, 2007

FOXBOROUGH, Mass., Oct. 28 -- Quietly the tools of a humiliation were packed away. Helmets, shoulder pads and shoes all fell in bags to be whisked away by equipment men in burgundy warmup suits. There is always an empty silence to the realization you are not as good as you thought. Deep beneath the Gillette Stadium stands, that was hitting the Washington Redskins.

Perhaps the state of the league had allowed them to think this might be a season made of magic after all. This is not an NFL of good teams and when the best offenses come to your stadium manned by impostors like Jon Kitna and an aging Kurt Warner, it is easy to be deceived into thinking you might have something special.

Reality crashed down like the right arm of Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, who three times raced around the Redskins' offensive line and knocked the ball from the grasp of quarterback Jason Campbell. The plays, glaring like a horrendous misprint from the defensive statistics sheet, are even more heroic when you consider Washington cheated on the first (tackle Chris Samuels was called for holding) and Vrabel was actually being pushed to the ground on the second yet somehow managed to thrust out a hand -- like an arm coming from the grave in a horror movie -- and grab Campbell.

But the fact is reality was staring at the Redskins long before Tom Brady began his assault on their fractured secondary. There are in this NFL two great teams: the Patriots and the Colts. Some very good teams in Pittsburgh, San Diego, Dallas and the New York Giants. And most everyone after that is mediocre. It becomes a weekly scramble to determine which of the mediocre teams might be a little less mediocre than the others.

Somewhere in that scrum live the Redskins, who can look reasonably good in the confines of their home by the Beltway when the team on the other sideline is the Miami Dolphins or Detroit Lions. But when confronted by a team like New England, with a quarterback like Brady, it is easy to see just how far from being the Patriots and Colts Washington really is.

For all the talk about winning one last time for Coach Joe Gibbs, there remain serious flaws in a franchise that builds by the year, slapping in new pieces and crossing fingers. The offensive problems that could have been shrugged off as the battle of two conflicting minds -- the run-first Gibbs and the wide-open Al Saunders -- have been exposed by a broken-down offensive line. For all the dancing on the waiver wire, the Redskins remain a team with one legitimate deep threat in Santana Moss, and one gimmick wide receiver in Antwaan Randle El.

The defense, while younger and deeper, is also brittle, as evidenced by the rapidly shrinking secondary. And, for all of its advancements in recent weeks, Brady shredded it.

Which leaves the question: How good is Washington really?

The spin in the postgame locker room was one of cautious hope. Maybe it was a one-week disaster that could easily be rectified next Sunday in the Meadowlands against the New York Jets. But there was also an unease that came with a defeat like Sunday's. A discomfort that couldn't be shaken with a simple shrug and "we'll get them next week."

Over and over the Redskins players and coaches said the same thing about the Patriots. They are not fancy, they do not have many tricks to their offense. They simply take what they have and execute it to perfection. Ask those beaten by the Colts and the answer will be much the same. However, it is easy to execute with talent and if there needed to be a reminder of just how wide the gap between the team with a strong general manager is from the team that is trying to slap together a Super Bowl contender and hope it holds, it was here on Sunday.

"Look, our defense is a really good defense," Washington's left tackle Pete Kendall said. "It really is. Their offense today put on a good showing."

If only the answer were as simple as that.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company