His team has appeared in the last two Super Bowls, but has disappeared over the last two weeks.
So it was hardly surprising that Coach Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins said yesterday, "It's one of the trying times in my career, because I know the possibilities are there and yet we're still rasslin' trying to get everything together . . . It's like we're a top and we're off center. Now, we've got to try to get the thing upright again."
On Sunday, the New York Giants routed the Redskins, 37-13, in the Meadowlands. Now, Dallas and St. Louis are 6-3 and tied for first in the NFC East Division. The Redskins and Giants are 5-4, Philadelphia is 4-5.
And, Gibbs said, "I don't think we can get down on our situation because this thing could flip around in two weeks. In two weeks, we could be back in the lead. The same thing happened two weeks ago. It's going to be an up-and-down tumultuous thing."
The fact is, the last two weeks have been an up-and-down tumultuous thing for the Redskins. First, the 26-24 loss at St. Louis. Now this.
The injuries continue to mount, too. Tight end Don Warren suffered a deep thigh bruise in the first half Sunday and was replaced by rookie Anthony Jones.
"At first, they thought Donnie might be out two to four weeks. But the doctors felt it looked better today. There's an outside chance he could play this week, although it's more probable that he won't," Gibbs said, adding that Jones will replace Warren if he is unable to play against Atlanta Monday night at RFK Stadium.
It seems the only element that counter-balances so many Redskins injuries is the team's seemingly simple schedule over the next five weeks: Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Minesota are a combined 12-33 so far. On Sunday, all five of those teams lost and were outscored by a combined 164-47.
The Redskins seemed entirely at the mercy of the Giants. The defense played badly, the offense played worse.
New York's quarterback, Phil Simms, passed for 339 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Joe Morris ran for 68 yards and three touchdowns.
"We just didn't make any plays; we have got to regroup," Richie Petitbon, the Redskins' defensive coach, said. Although he said he was "a little surprised" that the Giants used a three-receiver formation the entire game, he pointed out that the Redskins dropped three likely interceptions, one each by linebackers Neal Olkewicz and Rich Milot and by cornerback Vernon Dean.
And although the Redskins sacked Simms seven times, Petitbon said, "We didn't do a good job of playing the ball. We had chances to knock balls down but we didn't."
One of the defensive backs who is having the most trouble is cornerback Darrell Green, who was so marvelous in his rookie season last year. This year, he's been beaten often. New York's Earnest Gray beat him in man-to-man coverage for a 22-yard touchdown pass for the game's first points.
"Darrell hasn't been able to make any plays . . . He's in a slump," Petitbon said. "He'll come out of it. He's gotten to some balls, but dropped them. He just needs something good to happen to him."
Petitbon said he does not foresee any lineup changes against Atlanta. "Not unless somebody else is hurt who I don't know about," he said.
Although free safety Mark Murphy and rookie defensive tackle Bob Slater are eligible to return from injured reserve (both had knee injuries), Petitbon said, "I think they are both still a ways off."
Meanwhile, the Washington offense hasn't seemed so out of sync in consecutive regular-season games since perhaps the 0-5 start in 1981.
Certainly, injuries have tormented the offense. With all-pro wide receiver Charlie Brown on injured reserve and Calvin Muhammad, his replacement, sidelined with an ankle injury Sunday, the Redskins were left with Virgil Seay and Mark McGrath, two very ordinary receivers, to line up opposite Art Monk.
Gibbs said he was surprised when Muhammad told him during warmups Sunday that he couldn't play. "I never dreamed he wouldn't play," Gibbs said. "I thought he had just tweaked his ankle (in Friday's practice)."
And if the absence of Muhammad didn't hurt the Redskins, certainly the Giants' defensive scheme did. New York broke from its tendencies by adding a twist to its 3-4 alignment: inside linebackers Harry Carson and Gary Reasons moved up to the line of scrimmage, creating a five-man front, and outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor was allowed to play rover.
The result was that the Redskins rushed only 79 yards and quarterback Joe Theismann was under so much pressure he completed only 21 of 41 passes for 255 yards.
Theismann has not played well the last two weeks. After nine games last year, he had thrown 18 touchdown passes, only four interceptions and had completed more than 60 percent of his passes en route to winning the league's most valuable player award.
In nine games this season, he has thrown 14 scoring passes, seven interceptions and has completed 56.5 percent of his passes. Sunday, he was sabotaged by numerous dropped passes, but other passes were simply thrown poorly.
As always, Gibbs stood firmly behind Theismann yesterday, saying, "I think Joe's gone through a lot this year. A lot of things have happened to him . . . He's throwing to new backs and new receivers and that's been a challenge for him. In this game, he was given a new center (Rick Donnalley) and the other linemen moved around a little . . . His production may not seem to you to be what it should be, but I think there are reasons for it."
Gibbs cringes each time he hears someone imply that Miami, San Francisco, St. Louis and the Giants all stopped the Redskins' offense by using the same strategy the Los Angeles Raiders used to beat the Redskins, 38-9, in the Super Bowl.
The Raiders' strategy in the Super Bowl, he said, included a 3-4 alignment with the inside linebackers pinched close to the line of scrimmage for run support and cornerbacks playing an aggressive bump-and-run coverage, stealing away short passes.
Gibbs said none of the teams to beat the Redskins this season used a such a defense.
He said when Miami and the 49ers beat Washington they seldom deviated from their normal defenses. He said the Redskins fell behind both teams and had to pass to try to catch up.
"So, up until this point, all three (Raiders, Dolphins, 49ers) went with their own style of play," he said. "The Cardinals game is where they changed a lot of looks up front. What they did was bring one of the safeties to the line of srimmage and blitz and pressed our receivers on outside. It was an all-out gamble. They went out of their style of play. It was a radical departure from their style of play."
Then, of course, the Giants devised their wrinkle Sunday. Gibbs admitted he had never seen anything like their altered defensive formation.
"A coach's nightmare is to go in there and find teams radically going away from what they had been doing all along," he said. " . . . We've had that happen the last couple of weeks."
He smiled. He believes in his players, even the newer ones.
"Right now, I don't know who's even going to be out there. But however, we get it done, we have got to do it. It may not be pretty, but we've got to do it."