By Mike Wise
Monday, November 9, 2009
When the Redskins were in deep denial, sometime in August, the goals were winning the NFC East, getting to the playoffs and perhaps more. As the injuries to the offensive line and the losses mounted, as Jim Zorn's headset was all but turned off, Washington's woeful football team began to reassess, and the talk among management and players became of getting back to .500, of clicking both schematically and emotionally before the midway point of the season.
Now it's pretty much purgatory, an excruciating eight-week waiting period to answer only the largest questions a franchise can ask itself: Who's going to be the quarterback next season? Who's going to be the coach next season? And will the owner truly entertain thoughts of firing his longtime confidante who put the team together?
Now, after the most embarrassing and poorly executed first half of this increasingly depressing season, there is one goal dovetailing into one not-altogether bizarre question: Can the Redskins win another game this season?
Given how well the offense played in the second half against Atlanta, asking that might seem harsh and brutal. But then, so is the remainder of the schedule.
The Redskins' worst detractors never imagined 4-12 or, who knows at this point, 3-13? Really, it's not unfathomable anymore to see Washington finish 2-14, loser of 12 straight. At best, how can anyone make a realistic case for anything more than five wins after what they saw on Sunday?
Maybe the most dangerous development for the Redskins was how good the offense actually looked after the Falcons stormed to a 24-3 lead.
Yeah, it had to feel good to see Jason Campbell rolling right forever, finding Todd Yoder cutting across the back of the end zone, almost the way Joe Montana found another No. 87, Dwight Clark, in the 1981 NFC championship game. While not exactly the Catch, it was a catch, and it happened inside the 20-yard line in a big spot to get the Redskins to 24-17.
But that kind of anomaly tricks players and coaches searching for anything hopeful into believing that they're not the sorry team that had the exact same amount of yards in total offense as they did in penalties (69 yards) in the first half.
Mike Williams was a turnstile on an offensive line that gave up five sacks in the first half, a line so bad Campbell could have retained a personal-injury lawyer at halftime to sue his own teammates and nobody would have blamed him.
That kind of comeback in the second half gives people amnesia about LaRon Landry's dirty hit on Matt Ryan, or his go-for-the-legs tackle attempt on a run by Michael Turner that looked as if he was afraid of getting trucked by another tailback lowering his shoulder and that ended with Turner running away into the end zone.
Greg Blache's bend-and-break defense was obliterated by Turner. Missed tackles upon missed tackles. The defensive coordinator broke his month-long public silence to defend Daniel Snyder earlier this week, but at some point, doesn't his defense have to defend the Falcons?
Even a blind optimist -- and we have been there -- would have a hard time finding any indication this is going to get better any time soon, that a confidence-building victory is around the corner. The sideline doubled as an infirmary, with Clinton Portis joining Chris Cooley, Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas as sidelined stars, though for how long remains unknown.
And for the first time this season there was not a "we're-right-there" vibe in a visibly deflated locker room. Combing cubicles early Sunday evening felt like sifting through the rubble of a house that happened to be built beneath an old, decaying oak that fell and demolished everything.
Brian Orakpo's baritone voice emoted a one-word expletive in the corner of the locker room, so thunderous many of his teammates turned around.
"I'm tried of this [stuff]!" the rookie added, muttering to no one in particular as he sat by his cubicle. "Every week you come out and this same [stuff] happens. We prepare, we work hard and then this. I can't deal with it . . . I can't deal with it."
Imagine you won every major defensive award your senior year in college and your team was annually in the national championship hunt. And after four years of winning and prominence at the end of each season, you still had half a season left on a 2-6 team.
Joe Bugel apparently got very animated at halftime, lighting into his offensive linemen, trying to find out if they had any spark or spirit left.
Buges has been the sacred cow aboard the Armageddon Express, tucked safely into a livestock car, too revered and too old and too far away from the conductor to be directly connected to the losing. But he had to feel slightly responsible as Campbell kept struggling to his feet, woozier than a fighter taking a standing eight count.
"Seeing Jason on the ground is demoralizing," veteran center Casey Rabach said.
He was asked whether he could have imagined a 2-6 start when the season began.
"No," he said. "Second year with this offense, second year with these coaches, I thought we'd be a lot better."
So did everyone, including their disappearing legions that had to wonder after those disastrous first 30 minutes what this team really did the past two weeks.
To think that Atlanta had a short week to prepare, coming off a Monday night game, and the Redskins had an extra week thanks to their bye would only serve to infuriate the Washington fans more. Why go there, when it's easier to look ahead to maybe the only sliver of hope left, the lone remaining bright spot on the calendar: Dec. 13.
Oakland or bust, baby.