Time to Think a Little Harder About the Redskins, Gibbs, Religion and Death

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By John Feinstein
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, January 7, 2008; 5:35 PM

Some columns are easy to write.

Ripping the BCS presidents is a little bit like shooting fish in a barrel. They are such a bunch of hypocrites, claiming their corrupt, money-grubbing system exists because of academics, that they can't be criticized enough.

Writing today about the remarkable class of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the wake of his team's 31-29 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday night would also be easy. While Jaguars quarterback David Garrard was being interviewed on NBC, Roethlisberger stood to the side and waited patiently for Garrard to finish so he could congratulate him. You don't see that very often from star athletes today.

This column, though, isn't easy because it touches on subjects that make many people queasy , especially in Washington: the Redskins, Joe Gibbs, religion and death. By taking on any of these topics -- especially by saying anything other than "Hail to The Redskins," "Hail to Coach Gibbs," "Hail to Sean Taylor," and "Hallelujah!" -- I know I am heading down a path that will make a lot of people unhappy with me. But someone has to say these things, if only so people will think about them, whether they choose to agree or disagree with anything I'm about to say.

First, the Redskins. The four-game winning streak that landed them in the playoffs was admirable. It also had a lot more to do with good fortune and Jason Campbell getting hurt than Taylor's tragic death. Inspired as they may have been, the Redskins looked no different in their first game after Taylor died than they had looked before he died. They couldn't hold a lead on a second-rate team with a rookie quarterback and lost to the Buffalo Bills.

The season actually turned around for Washington the following Thursday, when Campbell was hurt and Todd Collins became the quarterback. Whether it was because the system suited him; the team rallied behind a backup quarterback or that he simply avoided the critical errors that seemed to haunt Campbell in close games, the Redskins were better with Collins running the team than Campbell.

Good fortune played a role, too. They beat a very mediocre Bears team, then beat a New York Giants team that had all but clinched a playoff berth. They were very impressive beating the Minnesota Vikings on the road in a game that was pretty much for the last playoff spot. Then they beat a Dallas team that simply couldn't get excited about playing a meaningless game -- just as the Indianapolis Colts yawned their way through a loss to Tennessee (at home) earlier that day in a win-or-go-home game for the Titans.

And then the Redskins lost 35-14 to the Seattle Seahawks, a team that had beaten one team with a winning record all season. After all the talk about "destiny" being involved in the 21-point victory margin over the Cowboys, there was little talk about the margin in the loss to Seattle. With all the talk about the brave rally from 13-0 down, there wasn't much talk about the complete collapse in the fourth quarter or the fact that the margin of defeat -- destiny or no destiny -- was easily the widest of the four playoff games this past weekend.

On a local radio show Monday morning former Redskin Rick "Doc" Walker, who is as much of a Redskins flag-waver as anyone in town, was asked if it was fair for Campbell to have to compete for his job next summer after losing it to injury, not poor play.

"What has he won?" Walker asked. "What has anyone on this team won?"

A more than fair question. The Redskins were 9-8 this season in the remarkably weak NFC. They beat two teams with winning records -- the Giants playing for little and the Cowboys playing for nothing -- and needed overtime to beat the god-awful Jets and Dolphins. They were an okay team. If you were to read the papers, watch television or listen to the radio around here, you would think that Tom Brady would have to drive the Patriots 99 yards in the last two minutes to beat a team like this in the Super Bowl.

That's the nature of Washington and the media around here. I am not making this up: When Joe Gibbs returned four years ago, a column appeared in The Washington Post just about guaranteeing a return to the Super Bowl based on . . . the first play of mini-camp.


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