Dear Ann Landers: I probably ought to write about the quarterbacks. The whole town's talking about them. Jay Schroeder's second half against the Giants really wrinkled the linen. But I have this rule: I never write about the same issue three weeks in a row. I wrote the quarterbacks last week and the week before that. What do I do? Sign me, Victim of My Rule.
Dear Vic: Absolutely write about the quarterbacks again. Finesse your rule. Anybody reminds you of it, tell them it wasn't etched in stone. Other than the heads on Mount Rushmore, what is? Wise up, things change, and people conveniently explain the changes.
Joe Gibbs said George Rogers would start against the Giants. Instead, Kelvin Bryant started. Afterward, Gibbs explained he wanted to run outside, not inside. Joe Bugel named Jeff Bostic to start against the Giants, saying he "deserved the opportunity to go against them," having played against them three times last year. But in training camp Bugel had made Bostic second string because he wanted beefier people specifically to combat the Giants.
This week's burning question is: Should Schroeder supplant Doug Williams?
"We all know Coach Gibbs' rule: You don't lose your starting job by injury," Williams gently reminded people.
But Gibbs remembered only "a general rule," a guideline, certainly not applicable in all specific cases.
Enough already with these ambiguous rules. This is the NFL, not Ethics 101.
Gibbs has been duly dangled from the semantical coat rack. From now on he'll have only one rule: There are no rules.
Gibbs is right. Go with the hot arm. Start Schroeder.
Professional athletes aren't hung up on principle. You need look no further for proof than the utilitarian way the union players have accepted the replacement players as teammates. A locker room is a practical place. "We're in this game to win," Darryl Grant said. "Whatever it takes."
Meaning no disrespect to Williams, but the players were fully prepared for Gibbs to choose Schroeder. For the first time since "QB Controversy" began, they can honestly say they have complete confidence in both men. They've seen Williams march them down the field like Sherman. Now, after a scintillating second half against the Giants, they've seen Schroeder do it, too. Like he used to, when there was no question who was top gun.
"Jay Schroeder was playing some ball out there," Grant said admiringly. "He was playing Jay Schroeder football."
Suddenly, after overthrowing his receivers all season -- then underthrowing them in Sunday's first half -- Schroeder clicked in all the old, familiar places: deep down the sideline, and deep over the middle. Exacting passes, thrown in a confident, almost carefree manner.
"I saw a guy playing loose, like he had nothing to lose, like a guy who wasn't involved in a quarterback controversy," said Charles Mann.
In the offensive huddle Raleigh McKenzie felt the same. "Jay was very relaxed," McKenzie said. "It's hard to explain. We were all a step away in the first half, but in the second half we said if we can give Jay some time, if he can just be comfortable back there and not have to be bailing out all the time, there's no telling what he can do. We felt he could complete every pass."
Some will ask: Where's the justice for Williams? Against Philadelphia and Detroit, Williams rescued the Redskins. Against the Falcons and Rams, he played well enough to win, but was undercut by teammates' sloppiness. What happens? After the strike Schroeder announced he was healthy and immediately reclaimed the starting job. Now, after Williams selflessly stepped aside for the good of the team, Schroeder should get the job again? Williams shouldn't have the same rights as Schroeder? That's fair?
No, it's not. But fairness to an individual has lower priority than the sense of what's best for the group. Williams himself saw it coming.
In the wake of Schroeder's dramatic resurrection Sunday, he spoke good-humoredly of what might happen. There's no classier act on the Redskins. "We know Joe Gibbs' rule," Williams said. "But we've all been around a while. We know there are rules that have been broken."
For this week at least, Schroeder should start and Williams should relieve. They're better suited temperamentally to those roles anyway. Williams is a wise and equable 32; Schroeder, a frosty 26.
"Jay handled being benched badly," one Redskin said. "Doug sees the big picture. By saying that rules can be broken, he took the heat off Gibbs. Gibbs gave him a job. Doug's paying him back."
We've seen Williams come off the bench and deliver in a hurry. Schroeder hasn't been asked to do that since 1985, and we don't know he can. And, really, how could you tell Schroeder that a second half of 17 for 25, 217 yards and three touchdowns isn't good enough to merit a start? To soothe the hurt of benching, you told him he was the future. He's not going to get any better than he was on Sunday by waiting. He seized the opportunity presented him, and he was too good to sit down. "You see his eyes in the fourth quarter, and he's got this resolve about him, like he's going to get it done," said Gibbs, clearly impressed.
The irony is that Gibbs can't put Schroeder in just for the fourth quarter, because he needs a whole game to come together. On the other hand, if Schroeder is on his way to 16 for 46, Gibbs can't dare wait for the fourth quarter before getting Williams in. Ask yourself this: If Williams was healthy enough to have backed up Schroeder on Sunday, would Gibbs have let Schroeder start the second half, down 16-0?
The Redskins have lost the luxury of rules. Quarterback has to be a game to game decision. It's risky and extemporaneous, which Gibbs isn't.
But it's great fun and it's just one of those things.