It's Christmas, so let's talk about what's on the Washington Redskins' wish list and how many goodies they might find in their stocking. Don't fool yourself just because they tattooed the expansion Houston Texans yesterday at FedEx Field; the Redskins are fairly needy, as their 6-9 record would suggest. This list, checked twice, is rather long and could grow even longer depending on what happens against the Dallas Cowboys in the season finale next Sunday.
Let's start by recognizing that the Redskins will almost certainly wave goodbye to Stephen Davis, Big Daddy Wilkinson, Sam Shade, Shane Matthews and kicker Jose Cortez. There's no guarantee Bruce Smith will be back, or that Ladairis Jackson will sufficiently recover from the gruesome knee injury he suffered yesterday.
I know what a lot of you are probably thinking: Who needs Davis if Kenny Watson and Ladell Betts can each rush for 100 yards against the 13th-ranked defense in the NFL? Yep, for those of you who had something better to do than handcuff yourselves to the TV for three hours to watch two bad teams on the Sunday before Christmas, the most intriguing thing you missed probably was Betts carrying 20 times for 116 yards and Watson rushing 20 times for 110 yards. Hey, who needs pitching and catching (though Derrius Thompson is really starting to emerge as a big-time pass catcher) when you can run 46 times for 247 yards to control field position and the clock?
"That's what I call ball control," defensive end Bruce Smith said. "Every phase of the game works hand in hand. And even though it's our job to play defense regardless of the circumstance, good field position and controlling the clock . . . that gives the defense life. It allowed Marvin Lewis to run his whole repertoire. You'd have to ask someone on the offense [about the details], but I can't commend them enough."
You'd have to be a fool to disagree with Smith's analysis. But Smith was talking about this one game, not the future. Davis, sure as sunrise, isn't going to be a Redskin next season, though this could be one of those cases in which you don't miss a guy until he's gone. No other Redskin has rushed for 1,000 yards three straight times. The really tough thing about trying to acquire personnel in the NFL is that rarely can you improve your team through trades. Too bad for the Redskins they can't deal Davis, valuable as he should be to a bunch of teams, for some draft picks, because the Redskins have many needs.
The Redskins will need at least one new starting guard, maybe two depending on how the coaches evaluate the play of Tre Johnson. Even with Thompson showing steady improvement, they need at least one field-stretching, big-play wide receiver and maybe two. (It would be nice to draft Charles Rogers, Andre Johnson or Roy Williams to stick on the field opposite Rod Gardner, but those odds look longer every day.) Even with Watson and Betts starting to emerge, the Redskins will need one more running back, preferably a burner.
Defensively, they have to sign Daryl Gardener and another tackle, at least one safety, and at least one end. Oh, did I mention a new place kicker and, if this kid punter can't pull himself together, a new punter. Have you ever seen such bad punting? "He got to the point," Steve Spurrier said, "where he couldn't even catch it and drop it there at the end . . . Fortunately, we didn't have to punt it again."
That's not an overwhelming list if you're trying to acquire the pieces in two offseasons, but to do it all at once is going to take some real maneuvering, some perfect scouting and drafting.
Spurrier has not publicly complained once about his personnel. He did what any team should hope its leader does toward the end of a season that will result in a record less than .500 and no trip to the playoffs. Spurrier blamed himself more than anybody else. "I learned," he said, "I'm not as good a coach as I used to be. My record is not very good."
I don't believe the first part of that statement for one second. While I, like a lot of folks, have been critical of Spurrier's pass-run ratio for much of the season, he absolutely is a better coach for having been through this season. He's a better coach now than he was in the Orange Bowl last year, or in training camp, or Thanksgiving day in Dallas. I have much more faith in Spurrier's ability to adjust and adapt than I do in the Redskins' ability to get all the players necessary to seriously contend next season.
Let's not fool ourselves, the Redskins have to be plotting for next season, even when Dallas comes to town on Sunday. It's not that beating the Texans was insignificant. I just don't know what it means beyond breaking the three-game losing streak. David Carr has had a decent season and will only get better, but yesterday's 12-for-31 performance suggests the rookie has hit the wall. The college season doesn't reach Week 16. "We should have beat those guys and we did," Spurrier said. But he added, on the topic of winning at the end of the season, "I don't know exactly how much it means. I really don't."
It means a lot if you're Vikings Coach Mike Tice and each "W" gives you a better chance at being in the corner office next season. But Spurrier doesn't have that issue. For the first time in a couple of years around here we know the head coach is going to return. But if he's going to bring all the excitement and the results that were expected when he was hired, he's going to have to get more good players than the Redskins had against Houston, and it's not too early to start thinking in that direction right now.