They've settled into a pattern already, these Redskins. It's not all bad because their defense is as good as anybody's in the NFL, capable of pitching a shutout. But ooooooh, that sorry, no-account offense is as impotent as the defense is imposing, one of the worst in the NFL. As a result, a whole lot of head knocking, sound tackling and pass intercepting is going completely to waste in a season that has now dropped to 1-4.
This loss, 17-10 to the Ravens last night, was the Redskins' most creative. On a night when the defense, again, nearly pitched a shutout, on a night when the defense also grabbed three interceptions to set up two scores, the team still barely reached double-digits at home and again looked amateurish on offense.
It's not like the Ravens played any differently, really. It's just that they've grown accustomed to it, learned how to not only live with it, but how to win with it. They've been playing pretty much the same way for five seasons, one that ended with a Super Bowl championship. "That's the way we win around here," Ray Lewis said of beating the Redskins without scoring a touchdown on offense. "It's the same formula from 2000: play hard-nosed defense, get one big play from special teams, and run Jamal Lewis like crazy. That's our formula and it works."
Well, the Redskins haven't figured out the rest of the formula. So far, they play hard-nosed defense, give up a play on special teams, and watch Clinton Portis run into a stone wall of defenders while Mark Brunell throws passes at receivers' feet like he's skipping stones in a pond.
On a night in which "offense" might as well have been a cuss word, the Ravens produced more points on defense and special teams than the Redskins did, and the result wasn't just a Baltimore victory, but a second home-field loss in three games for the Redskins, who are winless since opening day and have fewer victories than the Chargers, Texans and Lions.
The coaches can defend Brunell all they want, and certainly somebody needs to rally around him after he completed just 13 of 29 passes for 83 yards. But it doesn't change the team's inability to get the ball downfield or put together any kind of passing game that might help open holes for Portis, who rushed 25 times for only 53 frustrating yards. It's an offense that hasn't yet scored 20 points in a game, which is downright shocking considering the man running it already has a bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Great as the Ravens' defense is, and there's no question about that when you watch Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs play, the Redskins' offense is toothless. It didn't even challenge Baltimore last night and the Redskins would have been shut out were it not for Baltimore's own offensive ineptitude. "I think Mark is a reflection of all of us," Coach Joe Gibbs said of Brunell's play. "We're all together on it. Our offense didn't play well. It was a very good defensive team, but we didn't play well. We haven't been playing well. We have to find a way to make things click for us."
Usually when a coach says that, it hints at a quarterback change. But that's unlikely in this case because backup Patrick Ramsey played poorly in his only action of the season, up at Giants Stadium in Week 2. And it's hard to see Gibbs going from his big free agent acquisition to the guy holding the clipboard, his No. 3.
Even with offensive numbers down all over the league, even at a time when polished quarterbacks struggle to pass for more than 200 yards in a game, Ravens vs. Redskins promised two offensively challenged teams trying to move the ball against two sharp, hard-hitting, run-stuffing defensive teams.
The result was a game that produced only 339 yards of total offense from both teams. You think that's bad? How about net yards passing? The Redskins had 55 of those to Baltimore's 76.
A lot of that offensive ineptitude had to do with the fact that the Redskins were playing, for my money, the most talented defense in the NFL, and that defense had just been smoked on Monday night by the then-winless Kansas City Chiefs. There was no chance whatsoever the Ravens would have an off-night again.
The Ravens, because Kyle Boller is so incomprehensibly bad, knew they not only had to stop the Redskins but put points on the board, too. "We're a really hard defense to run on," linebacker Suggs said, "and a very hard defense to score on. And when we're scoring ourselves, we're a pretty hard team to beat."
(Imagine if the Ravens had come away with Byron Leftwich on draft day 2003 instead of Boller. They'd be en route to a 13-3 season now instead of struggling every single week to just move the chains. And only Heaven knows what they'll do for two games, particularly the one in Philly, without Jamal Lewis -- whom the NFL should have suspended for more than two games and who should be serving his plea-bargained time now, not at his convenience at the end of the season.)
Lewis's 116 rushing yards seemed like twice that much because the Redskins were playing such good defense until they were hang-dog tired in the fourth quarter. "I wanted to make the best out of it, which we did," Lewis said of his upcoming two-game suspension. "What happens off the field stays off the field and that shows what type of team we really are."
Clearly, the Ravens have come to believe, since they've been playing this style for awhile now, that they'll get the tough yards late in the game from Lewis, a 78-yard punt return from the rookie B.J. Sams, a great find by General Manager Ozzie Newsome, and some kind of score from Ed Reed, the slightly undersized but dominating safety out of Miami who changes the game with his intelligence and speed the way Ronnie Lott used to change the game with his hitting. When Reed sacked Brunell, stripped him of the ball, then picked it up and scooted 22 yards for a touchdown that cut the Washington lead to 10-7, it lifted the Ravens beyond the scoreboard.
It can take awhile to fix an offense, particularly when there's no quarterback phenom warming up in the pen, so perhaps the Redskins had better start to look at these tight, low-scoring, no-offense games a little differently. Perhaps they had better start to relish being in every game, having a great defense, and figure out a way to win that not only doesn't depend on the offense, but doesn't even include it.