- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO The Washington Redskins won the game but lost out on making a statement for 2005. Playing a putrid bunch of San Francisco 49ers, who could have pulled fans out of Section 45 and plugged them into the starting lineup, all the Redskins could muster was a tedious road win worthy of this weary season.

Terrific recent play against some of the NFL’s best teams had Washington eager to take the bewildered 49ers to the woodshed. Instead, the Redskins beefed up their turnover ratio and new kicker Jeff Chandler’s resume. Saddled with interceptions and riddled by field goals, the 49ers slowly and predictably sank to the bottom of the Bay.

The Monday Morning Quarterback would have been better off sunning himself in Napa Valley with a bottle of Cabernet. Oh, well. With just two weeks to go, the Quarterback peers through the ‘Frisco fog to determine just how far from Alcatraz the Redskins really are.

Q: Oh, man. You sound like a barrel of monkeys this morning. How come you’re so down on the Redskins’ win?

A: Washington came in with every reason to pound the 49ers, who have hit the rollover point the Redskins discovered in their final weeks under Terry Robiskie and Steve Spurrier. Plus, San Francisco has fewer stars than the nighttime sky in New York City. Washington once again committed too many penalties (11) and sputtered in its goal-line offense.

Q: Come on. We’ve only seen 20 points twice this year. The defense is closing in on the No. 1 ranking. Isn’t there something to be happy about?

A: That defense is the foundation for whatever Washington might accomplish in 2005 and beyond. Dan Snyder better lock assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams in his office during the offseason to make sure no one tries to give him another head job. Although the unit gives up a big play from time to time, it does a tremendous job limiting the run and gearing up for every play. It’s a group of real professionals.

Q: It was a hoot to see LaVar back on the field. How much difference did he make?

A: Not much. The defense has learned how to play without Arrington providing a focal point for opposing offenses, and he clearly was rusty out there. Most of the time he was lining up at defensive end, but he had no pass-rushing moves to speak of and provided little if any pressure. His impact was limited to two nice tackles in the second quarter moments before Antonio Pierce pretty much sealed the game with his 78-yard interception return.

Q: What can we expect out of LaVar over the next few weeks and beyond?

A: It will be fascinating to see whether Arrington adopts Williams’ defensive scheme and incorporates his “SportsCenter” plays into it. There’s no certainty he will. And one thing’s clear: Arrington will play a lot of defensive end under Williams. He must embrace rushing out of a three-point stance, study it and improve at it.

Q: It sounds like the defense is going to stay together next year if Fred Smoot and Antonio Pierce come back. What are the odds of that happening?

A: Pierce sounds likely to sign shortly, but it’s too early to say whether the Redskins will be able to keep Smoot. Ironically, Pierce is the one who wants to be shown the love, and Smoot is the one who is most interested in simply returning to Washington. The latter fact should help the club as it negotiates with Smoot, as will coach Joe Gibbs’ determination to keep the core.

Q: Pick one. Who’s more important to keep?

A: Pierce. Smoot has played very well this season and his toughness is a motivating factor for his teammates, but the Redskins could find another mid-level cover corner and not lose much in terms of their defensive psyche. Pierce, meanwhile, has become the lifeblood of this unit. He’s almost a coach on the field, and his confidence and intensity ripple through other players. Plus, an offseason working as the No. 1 middle ‘backer will help him roar into 2005.

Q: It seems like the Redskins couldn’t get touchdowns if they were spotted to the opponents’ 20 every drive. Why can’t this team punch it in?

A: The issue is symptomatic of Washington’s larger problem — an inconsistent running game. Although Portis has run extremely well this year, it remains unclear whether he can provide a consistent, week-in and week-out threat in Gibbs’ offense. Perhaps the return of right tackle Jon Jansen will make a big difference in ‘05, but Portis now has seven of 14 games with fewer than 4.0 yards a carry.

Q: Was that really Portis who picked up a personal foul on San Francisco’s onside kick? He wasn’t even on the field.

A: No kidding. The Redskins are building an unassailable lead in dumb penalties, and their University of Miami products — Sean Taylor and Portis — are leading the way. Portis was taunting the 49ers as he came on the field for the Redskins’ offensive series. Gibbs must find a way to drill discipline into his players this offseason.

Q: Just one thing left to say: We want Dallas! We want Dallas! What happens next weekend in Big D?

A: A couple days ago, Washington looked like it might sweep its last three and roll into the offseason. Yesterday’s performance created questions. If the Redskins can’t get into the end zone at least twice on offense and cut their penalties by half, fans are going to hear it from their Cowboys counterparts throughout another long offseason.

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