For Coach Joe Gibbs, the Redskins' last preseason game Sunday against New England represents a final opportunity to refine a team that has practiced the last two weeks as if it were hardly ready to end training camp, much less open the season against Dallas in eight days.
And for some 10 Redskin players still struggling to win roster spots, this 2 p.m. matchup with the Patriots, which will be telecast nationally on ABC (WJLA-TV-7), represents a final opportunity to impress the coaching staff before five are cut Monday, reducing the squad to 45.
"We need to get into a tempo, get things in order, and running smoothly," said Gibbs, who was not pleased by the Redskins' play against Baltimore or by their unimpressive practices last week.
"I certainly don't want a repeat of what happened against Baltimore," he said. "We know off that game that we have a lot of work to do, especially on offense. I'd like to see some progress this weekend. We aren't ready yet certainly to take on the best teams in the league."
Even though the Redskins, like the Patriots, are undefeated in the preseason, New England is a settled, veteran squad with some of the better talent in the league. Washington still is trying to adjust to massive roster turnover and learn Gibbs' offense and emphasis on intelligent play.
The Redskins didn't perform very smartly against Baltimore, and a repeat of the same dropped passes, mistakes and penalties will hurt their chances severely against teams of the caliber of New England and Dallas. Gibbs is aware that Washington's formula for winning leaves little room for errors. The talent is just too thin to bounce back from many blunders.
He'd probably like to go a long way with his veterans against the Patriots, but a combination of injuries and that last squad cut makes it necessary for him to continue shuffling personnel. He plans to play quarterback Joe Theismann for as much as a half, and possibly more, depending on how the game is going.
"We'd like to finish undefeated and go into the Dallas game with a good rhythm," he said. "This is a tough stretch for us. New England is a very physical team, one of the most physical in the league. And then we come back, cut the team and get ready for Dallas."
Of course, the Redskins haven't been waiting until Monday to prepare for the Cowboys. Players and coaches are studying films and going over preliminary game plans, although Gibbs hasn't completely neglected the Patriots.
"You have to spend some time for these preseason games or a team like New England can embarrass you," he said. "With their personnel, they are capable of blowing anyone out."
Gibbs will be watching a few of his own personnel areas closely. The final cuts most likely will come from the offensive line, defensive line, receivers, tight ends and running backs, depending on injuries, who plays well Sunday and a final determination of how many players the Redskins will carry at each position.
Washington currently has 10 offensive linemen, at least one more than it can afford to carry. This will be a tough cut, mainly because Gibbs doesn't want to lose any of the young players, yet has only one veteran, center Dan Peiffer, who can be considered a possible waiver candidate. Either Peiffer or rookie guard Darryl Grant, or both, could be in trouble.
There are eight defensive linemen, one more than will be kept. Tackle Pat Ogrin appears to be the odd man out, now that Gibbs is more satisfied with the play of his front four.
Gibbs says he will keep either four wide receivers and two tight ends or three receivers and three tight ends. If he goes with the former alignment, tight end Rick Walker and receiver Virgil Seay could be dropped. If he chooses the latter mix, then Seay, Charlie Brown and newcomer John Floyd all will be considered closely. A lot will depend on Brown's health. If his bruised knee still is bothersome, he may be placed on injured reserve, although the club would like to have him for the season. With Brown out, Seay would stay.
The Redskins also may not be able to keep six running backs, especially if they decide to go with nine linemen, which means fullback Otis Wonsley probably would be cut.
At this point, it seems unlikely that a major-name player will be released, but it does seem likely another cornerback or safety will be brought in next week for a tryout. Otherwise, rookie LeCharls McDaniel could make the final roster, which would be a major surprise.
New England's major concern is which quarterback -- Steve Grogan or Matt Cavanaugh -- should direct the offense. The fans want Cavanaugh; Coach Ron Erhardt always seems to favor Grogan. Cavanaugh by far has been the more effective of the two in the preseason.
The Patriots slowly are working in a number of rookies, including running back Tony Collins from East Carolina; tackle Brian Holloway, their No. 1 choice from Stanford; guard Ron Wooten from North Carolina, and tight end Lin Dawson from North Carolina State.
Without the retired Russ Francis, the Patriots' offense should be a bit weaker, but the quarterbacks still have plenty of weapons: receivers Stanley Morgan and Harold Jackson and running backs Vagas Ferguson, Horace Ivory, Andy Johnson, Don Calhoun and Collins. And guard John Hannah still is around to anchor one of the league's fine offensive lines.