Michael Wilbon: Until things change significantly, Redskins and mediocrity remain one and the same

Quarterback Jason Campbell and the Redskins are not in a position to make a quick fix after their latest loss, which leaves them at 2-5 heading into the bye week.
Quarterback Jason Campbell and the Redskins are not in a position to make a quick fix after their latest loss, which leaves them at 2-5 heading into the bye week. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Michael Wilbon
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

So what now? A consultant to call signals to prevent Antwaan Randle El from letting a punt hit him in the face mask? How about a special play-caller to keep DeSean Jackson from running 20 yards past Chris Horton? Surely, Buddy Ryan would rather call some defensive signals than play shuffleboard or pinochle.

You know what the Washington Redskins need most after a 27-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles? A vacation. They need to get the hell out of Dodge, leave the playbook at home, get away from the coaches, from the executive vice president of football operations, from the owner, from the TV and the newspapers. Never has a team been more in need of a bye week. I know the Redskins must be tired because it's exhausting just watching them.

In a season characterized, in part, by truly stinky teams, the Redskins are a really truly stinky team, just like the Bucs, Titans, Rams, Chiefs and Lions.

There's no easy fix, no "gotcha!" answer. The owner isn't going to solve this overnight. Neither will the executive vice president of football operations, the head coach, the Bingo-caller-turned-play-caller, the screamers on sports talk radio nor the columnists in this newspaper.

An extra set of eyes isn't going to immediately clean up this mess, nor is outside interference or an owner's fat wallet. A bye week won't fix much, but a break from dreadful football is required anyway.

For the record, the offense was every bit as sickly with Sherman Lewis calling the plays as it was with Jim Zorn calling 'em. The line struggled.

The QB struggled. The runners struggled. The receivers struggled. There wasn't anything new that seemed inspired or ingenious. It was a bad football team that was a little bit worse than it was last week, and perhaps just taking a few days off will help a bunch of football players like it helps anybody for whom work isn't going especially well.

I talked recently to a veteran NFL player, a man who in double-digit years in the NFL has played for dreadful teams and in the Super Bowl. He's watched the Redskins here and there this season and has a good idea of what's going on day in, day out. He thinks a great many of the players are simply dispirited. He doesn't think that they've quit or dislike their coach or any of the grandiose overstated junk that people outside the locker room might lazily come up with.

He reminded me that playing pro football, win or lose, is a career. And no matter what players tell the media or even themselves, it's difficult to come to any workplace when things are awful. Reputations and the size of paychecks can't change that. You can try as hard as you can, harder than you even thought you could, and lose. Then you feel worse the next day, and the next week and as long as the losing continues until teams don't even resemble what they were when the season started.

Now and then, teams lift themselves out of it. Way more often than not, teams require massive changes to reverse fortune. Think Miami Dolphins. They got Bill Parcells to run the whole show, and he changed everything, and I do mean everything. And he knew enough to make the right changes. The Dolphins, completely overhauled like one of those "Extreme Makeover" shows, went from 1-15 to the playoffs in a single season.

The Redskins are going to require a similar kind of Extreme Makeover, not just a guy coming in and calling a bunch of plays. That's not comprehensive change; it's silliness instituted by people who ought to know better. Don't expect to read a detailed analysis of Sherm Lewis's play-calling here because nothing so minute in the middle of this big mess even matters, although we have to consider the possibility that Zorn's play-calling was adjusted to keep opposing defenses from sacking Campbell to death.

Even if Sherm Lewis had been Sandy Koufax and called a perfect game -- and he surely did not against the Eagles -- then what about the botched punt? What about the defense's inability to stop two very long Philly plays for touchdowns?

On a night when the Eagles were quite beatable, the Redskins were down 27-7 pretty quickly. Donovan McNabb, his own offensive line struggling, was way off target on a lot of passes. Brian Westbrook, Philly's second-best offensive player, suffered a concussion early in the game and was done (thankfully, the DeMatha grad stood on the sideline and cheered on his team despite the shot he took to the head). Philly's attempt to incorporate Michael Vick into some sort of Wildcat offense seems at this point to be a joke. You want to see a Wildcat offense, take a look at what the Dolphins do with Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams and Pat White taking snaps from the shotgun. Vick, on the other hand, isn't doing anything but picking up rust in Philly. The Eagles coaches ought to be able to come up with something more creative than that. Hell, I think I could do better on the drive home from FedEx.

The Eagles aren't made of championship stuff this year, but they're significantly better than the Redskins, who go rather depressingly into their bye week. You can never really get away from the spotlight in the NFL because pro football is the national pastime. Even when you stink, people want to know what you're doing or not doing every day of the week. Maybe, after some time off, the Redskins will come back and one morning, unbeknownst to anybody, put one foot in front of the other. Maybe after doing it once, they'll do it again and win a game that might not matter to the standings but will matter to people who inhabit the workplace, who can go home one night feeling really good about what happened at the gig that day.

You can spend your time arguing about whether the coach should be fired this week or in four weeks or in six. The changes that will ultimately change losing to winning need to be big ones initiated and implemented by people who have spent their time doing football things, not marketing or making money or playing bingo in blissful retirement.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company