It was not surprising that Coach Joe Gibbs gave his Washington Redskins a vocal scalding in a team meeting yesterday.
"It was about as intense as I've ever seen him," linebacker Rich Milot said. "The question we have to ask ourselves now is do we say we want to get to the playoffs or do we really want to get there?"
The Philadelphia Eagles' 16-10 victory over the Redskins in the rainy gloom of Veterans Stadium Sunday really was not surprising, either. The Redskins' troubles had been building for weeks and the loss merely confirmed the team's fears that the problems with their offense, especially the passing game, have not healed.
Worst of all, it was several of the Redskins' most dependable veterans who were most responsible for this defeat: Joe Theismann (three interceptions), John Riggins (three fumbles, two of them turnovers), Mark Moseley (missed two of three field goal attempts inside 35 yards, although one was negated by a Philadelphia penalty) and Mike Nelms (muffed first-quarter punt return that led to an Eagles field goal).
You don't expect such bumbling from the league's oldest running back, the league's second-oldest starting quarterback (behind Cincinnati's Ken Anderson), the league's second-oldest kicker (behind Minnesota's Jan Stenerud) and one of the league's most experienced kick returners.
"I keep waiting for us to blossom, to hit it, but we haven't made the turn yet . . . Our hope right now is that the defense can carry us," Gibbs said yesterday. "It's cut and dried right now for us. It's going to take four straight (victories). We're either going to start playing now or we're going to be out of it."
Actually, it is possible that the Redskins, now in a three-way tie for first in the NFC East with the New York Giants and Dallas, could win all four remaining games and still not win the division (although they would make the playoffs).
The Giants, who have the superior record in division games and in head-to-head competition among the three first-place teams, could win their final four games and claim the division title, regardless of what the Redskins do.
But the Redskins now have far greater concerns than league tie breakers. Their offense has been in varying degrees of disarray for the past five weeks and Gibbs knows it.
Think back to this time last year. The Redskins had scored 29 first-half points in a 42-20 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Their record was 10-2. Theismann had thrown 20 scoring passes and only five interceptions and displayed great expertise in two-minute drills.
The Redskins' special teams were the league's creative wonder, dazzling with trick plays. Washington had a plus-32 turnover rating (finishing with an unheard of plus-43). The offense would score a league-record 541 points. Moseley scored a league-record 161 points, while attempting 47 field goals, two under the league record. Both losses had been by one point.
The special teams have had more breakdowns than brainstorms recently. With six turnovers Sunday, the Redskins have a plus-seven turnover rating. Although the running game is netting a comparable amount of yardage, the passing numbers rate far behind.
The Redskins are averaging 179 passing yards per game, 50 yards fewer than last season, and rank in the bottom third of the league in that category.
Sunday, the Redskins' two-minute drill seemed entirely out of whack. Theismann, who has 17 scoring passes and 11 interceptions this season, began this final drive at the Washington 15 with 4:26 left, needing a touchdown to pull out a 17-16 victory.
Theismann threw 13 passes in the drive, the longest completion 16 yards to wide receiver Art Monk (the longest of the day). But too many short passes used up too much time and a third-down pass from the Eagles' 34 was intercepted by cornerback Elbert Foules on the 20 with four seconds left.
Gibbs was asked if running back Joe Washington, the pass-catching wizard on injured reserve, would have helped in the two-minute offense. "I think Joe Washington would have an impact on every game he plays . . . ," Gibbs said.
Gibbs also said all-pro receiver Charlie Brown, on injured reserve, will practice this week and could be activated. He said Brown, who has not played in two months, is closer to recovery than is Washington.
Many of the questions posed to Gibbs at his Monday press conference concerned Theismann, who completed 21 of 38 passes for 149 yards Sunday. Theismann was sacked just once and Gibbs said the pass protection was sufficient.
Gibbs pointed out that the quarterback is dependent on so many things. Gibbs reiterated that with the influx of new players, Theismann has paid a price while waiting for a new confidence and continuity to develop in the passing game.
"Joe has kind of been a rock with all of the things going on around him," Gibbs said. "Everybody's focal point goes to Joe. I don't think (criticism is) justified, is what I'm saying."
Gibbs listed the reasons why Theismann threw several passes into crowds. On Theismann's first interception at the Philadelphia eight, for example, Gibbs said pass rushers kept Theismann from seeing a cornerback had dropped back, near receiver Clint Didier. Another time, the Eagles had a broken coverage by the safety and thereby had three defenders to bat away a short pass over the middle that was intended for running back Jeff Moore.
These were not bad reads of the defense by Theismann, Gibbs insisted. He said, "I'd call it bad coaching. You can put it on me because the things weren't there . . . (Also) there were times where Joe put the ball there and the ball came out (dropped) on us."
But weren't there a lot of poor throws, too? "Not a lot, no," Gibbs said, adding, "I think Joe has the determination to fight this out.
"We were very accurate on all of our shorter stuff . . . Things over 10 yards we just couldn't hit. I think a lot of that had to do with Philadelphia playing good against us.
"Five of the last six weeks, we've given up scoring opportunities inside the (opponent's) 20. In every game before that we'd only given up one. That's not playing smart. That's not making plays when you have to have it. That's not making kicks when you have to have it . . . One of the (missed) field goals would have changed the game. We would have been going for three points at the end instead of a touchdown."
Moseley had not tried a field goal in three games, another sign of the offense's troubled times. Besides missing a 23-yard kick that was scratched from the books when an Eagle fell into Moseley for a penalty, Moseley missed from 35 and converted from 33 Sunday.
Gibbs said he isn't concerned about the misfires by Moseley, who has converted 15 of 20 field goal tries, 14 of 15 inside of the 40.
Neither is Gibbs concerned about the running game.
"I think with our offensive line and our backs we can make good yardage against anybody," he said. He said fatigue likely caused Riggins to fumble twice, and a poor handoff once.
He said of Riggins and Theismann, "They are only the ornaments on the front of the car."
The car that, against Philadelphia, crashed.
Gibbs said league officials reviewed game films of the Redskins' 28-14 victory over Detroit nine days ago and, as for the several questioned officiating calls, "a bunch of them, they said they blew" -- including Darrell Green's 105-yard interception return being nullified by a touchback ruling.