Joe Gibbs called it "just a terrible exhibition."
His Redskins played worse than he could have imagined in a 17-7 loss to the New York Giants yesterday and now, two weeks into his first season as an NFL head coach, he must try to regroup a team stunned by two straight losses and a series of injuries.
There were major problems everywhere Gibbs looked yesterday after the Giants' victory in what New York Coach Ray Perkins labeled the "Blunder Bowl."
His best linebacker (Monte Coleman), his best running back (Joe Washington) and one of his best young offensive linemen (Russ Grimm) all were hurt and will miss at least one game, probably more.
His quarterback, Joe Theismann, obviously is struggling with the team's complex offense. Despite throwing for a career-high 318 yards and completing a career-high 27 passes, Theismann admittedly still lacked the crispness the team needs to make the offense work.
Gibbs' special teams and offensive unit continue to make error after error, seemingly at the worst possible times.
There were 21 penalties in the game (the Redskins had 10), 21 punts (the Redskins had 10) and six turnovers (the Redskins had four), plus more dropped passes and broken plays than either team wants to remember.
One second-quarter sequence illustrated the Redskins' day-long frustration. They had a first-down pass at the Giant 12 nullified by an illegal formation, then two sacks of Theismann and a holding penalty on Mark May resulted in a fourth and 40 from their own 44.
Gibbs and his players knew they had to beat a mediocre Giant team before two road games in St. Louis and Philadelphia. Instead, they are 0-2 and wondering when things will get any better. So are their fans, who booed the team loudly and frequently.
"I'd say we all are pretty stunned by this," safety Tony Peters said. "The way the offense was playing in the preseason, we thought things would be fine. Now they are struggling. This is a time for no one to panic; we have to remember it's early. But we all know it can't go on like this for long."
Gibbs tried to shoulder all the blame himself. "I'm ultimately responsible for what happens out there," he said. "We just have to go back and start all over. We've got no consistency, we can't catch a ball, and if we do, we're out of bounds. Or we have a penalty. If we pop something in the middle, we fumble.
"Right now, we can't do what it takes to get it together. We just don't seem to do the things it takes to win. It leaves you stunned, mystified. We have to sit down and reevaluate everything."
Perkins, whose team hardly played better than the Redskins, said he was sure he would be embarrassed when he watched the films of this game. He reminded listeners, "We weren't playing a great football team out there."
Imagine how Gibbs will feel today when he also does his film review. The Redskin defense played well enough for Washington to win, but the offense, which has scored two touchdowns in two weeks, was horrid.
Washington's only touchdown, a six-yard pass from Theismann to Ricky Thompson, came early in the third quarter after a scoreless first half. The score was set up by a 57-yard Theismann to Thompson pass. The Giants tied immediately when Mike Nelms, who was returning kicks despite a broken thumb, fumbled a punt that New York recovered on the Redskin 13. Two plays later, Billy Taylor ran five yards for the touchdown.
Another mistake by the special teams led to the Giants' winning points. Byron Hunt partially blocked a punt by Mike Connell, and the ball traveled only 25 yards before being downed at the New York 45. The Giants put together their only decent drive of the day, using what quarterback Phil Simms said were "five or six simple (running) plays," to set up Joe Danelo's 25-yard field goal. The Giants had a 10-7 lead with 10:20 left in the game.
Then, with 2:43 left and the Redskins on their 20, Theismann was hit from the blind side by defensive end Phil Tabor and fumbled. Defensive end George Martin picked up the ball and ran eight yards for a touchdown.
"There is no excuse for the mistakes we are making," said Theismann, who probably was hampered by a sore thumb. "We are football players, we are supposed to execute. I believe every one of us has to sit down and be critical and see what he can do to change things. We know we have the makings of an excellent team here, but we've got to start doing things right."
The Redskin defense, which had problems last week against Dallas, dominated much of the afternoon.
Simms said he took the worst beating of his three-year career. He was limited to 93 passing yards (completing just eight of 27 passes), was sacked twice, and was harassed at least 10 more times by a hard-charging front four that dominated the Giant offensive line.
When New York tried to run, tackle Dave Butz and middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz (12 solo tackles) usually ended those thoughts. The Giants gained only 76 yards on the ground.
In the first half, New York couldn't get inside the Redskin 44, and had just one first down and 46 net yards. Simms completed two of 12 passes.
Yet even after the defense forced two turnovers on the Giants' first three plays, with a fumble recovery at the New York 41 and Peters' interception at the Redskin 36, the offense still couldn't produce.
Losing Joe Washington after its second play, with a strained Achilles tendon, and then later John Riggins with a bruised knee, certainly didn't help. Washington, the club's most elusive pass receiver, especially was missed. Without Riggins, the Redskins were held to 65 yards rushing, barely better than last week's 44-yard output.
But the Giant defense had some impressive moments. Rookie linebacker Lawrence Taylor, blitzing frequently from Theismann's blind side, was a particular nemesis for the guards assigned to block him.
"We were physically beaten in the first half but the score was 0-0. That was the key," said Simms, who completed a couple of pressure passes late in the game. "We made mistakes early, we didn't want to make any more. And we didn't."
Gibbs said he told his players at halftime, "This is the biggest half (coming up) of my career, of everybody's career." His message worked for a while. But after Thompson's touchdown, the parade of mistakes started again, allowing the Redskins to get into Giant territory just one more time.
That threat was thwarted by yet another error, when the officials ruled Art Monk barely was out of bounds, nullifying a reception at the New York 30.
"There was no question in my mind I was in bounds," said Monk. But he was overruled.
Theismann threw a third-down incompletion when pressured by Taylor on a blitz. Mike Connell had to punt again, ending any thought of victory.
"This is a lot like last season," Olkewicz said. "These mistakes and the injuries and everything. That has to be on your mind. But maybe if all get a good night's sleep and come in Monday with some enthusiasm, we'll be okay."
Gibbs wasn't so sure. Sitting in the locker room after the game, he shook his head and wiped his brow.
"Right now," he said, the words coming out slowly, "we aren't a very good team. Not good at all."
Theismann was sacked three times. All his passing figures (27 for 48, 318 yards) were career records . . . Defensive end Mat Mendenhall played extensively for Coy Bacon, who spent time at tackle.