- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

Catharsis finally arrived yesterday for Joe Gibbs’ offense. A season of ineptitude, of stalled drives and short-armed throws, of players running into each other and eventually off the field with hang-dog looks, gave way to a consistent, powerful performance against the New York Giants.

The Washington Redskins found the end zone three times in the first half alone. A week ago, one would have given better odds to a tourist trying to find Adams Morgan from Rock Creek Parkway. The 20-point barrier, which once loomed like Mount Everest, fell effortlessly. Joe Gibbs football was back.

Are the Redskins here to stay? Was it just the Giants? Did Joe Salave’a take dancing lessons from the Funky 4? The Monday Morning Quarterback has a bag full of answers and a belly full of good cheer as Christmas arrives early for Redskins fans.

Q: Whoo-hoo. We haven’t felt this good since Buges wore an XL poncho. Is that the playoffs we spy in the distance?

A: Don’t strain your brain computing postseason scenarios. Washington might be only a couple games out of the wild-card in the crummy NFC, but reality is comin’ in the form of a rematch with the Eagles. Yesterday was a feel-good win, but the fact remains that the Redskins’ only other victory might come at San Francisco.

Q: Dude, Marty won five straight in ‘01 — and he had Tony Banks at quarterback. Can’t this team do the same?

A: Washington has some momentum for the stretch run and a reason to keep believing. A loss yesterday would have been tough to take. But Philadelphia is drawing a bead on 15-1, and the Redskins could find themselves roadkill Sunday night.

Q: The Eagles needed 3 quarters to put Washington away a couple weeks ago. Don’t we have any chance?

A: The Packers are still trying to find their way out of the woodshed this morning after a 47-17 loss at Philadelphia. The Eagles seem to have found the magic combination of stars and role players and are gaining steam.

But that doesn’t mean Washington can’t take positives out of yesterday. You could feel the offense’s success ripple hope throughout the club.

Q: How much of the big day was due to Coughlin, Manning and the rest of the stumbling Giants?

A: Yes, New York is a mediocre team beset by injuries and starting a rookie quarterback. But Washington won in a fashion that builds confidence no matter the opponent.

The offense followed Gibbs’ blueprint — establish the run, hit the play-action and keep ‘em off-balance — and the defense maintained its usual high standard. This was a real win — unlike the Redskins’ previous three.

Q: What the heck happened to the NFC East? All everyone could talk about in the offseason was how the division had returned to its lofty past.

A: There’s little doubt the NFC East has some of the league’s most accomplished coaches. But Gibbs was a crapshoot after 11 years of retirement. Bill Parcells clearly was prepared to scrap the season when he traded his top pick and installed 100-year-old Vinny Testaverde at quarterback. And Tom Coughlin is as likely to divide a team as unite it. Praise for the division was premature.

Q: At least Gibbs remembered to give the ball to his $50million back. Why does Portis seem to get either no carries or 30?

A: A big part of the problem is how poorly Washington’s offense has played. When a unit can’t convert third-and-5 with any consistency, drives stall, rhythm isn’t established and the team falls behind.

Gibbs sounds like he will focus more on the run even when behind, and yesterday showed why: If Portis gets 25 carries, he’ll bust a few for 10, 15 or 20 yards. Those long runs are a vital part of the attack.

Q: There have been a lot of questions about Portis. Is he the man long-term?

A: He’s got to be. The Redskins committed too much money to pull the plug just a year or two into his contract. But more importantly, Washington has incorporated the stretch plays that made him so successful in Denver, and he has learned how to make the most of Gibbs’ slow-developing pulls and traps.

He’ll finish with 1,500 yards this year and could go for 1,800 in 2005 if he stays healthy.

Q: It sounds like the Redskins could go to the playoffs if their defense stays strong. Will the unit be as good in 2005?

A: Probably. Gregg Williams has given a tutorial in how good defense often comes down to 11 players knowing their roles — not 11 big names. He should be back in 2005 because the perception of his talents as a head coach really haven’t changed. Plus he truly likes being in Washington and doesn’t want to subject these players to more turnover.

He’ll get another top job in coming years, but probably not next year.

Q: Maybe if he sticks around he can work on celebratory dances. What the heck was Salave’a doing — the Samoan Shake?

A: We’ve seen that air guitar routine now several times — Renaldo Wynn did it earlier this season. Maybe the D-line wants to join the E Street Band. At least the Redskins have players in position to celebrate something.

Q: How tough was it for Randy Thomas to play with a strained hamstring?

A: Early last week, it was all but assumed that he had no chance. What he did out there — not just playing, but coming up huge — might have been the first step in the Dirtbags developing real character.

They’ve been up and down all year, lost at sea with Jon Jansen out. Potential stars such as Thomas and Chris Samuels must continue to lead.

Q: Do you see changes this offseason? Will Gibbs get a GM? Change his offensive coaches?

A: This organization always seems in line for major change, but Gibbs sounds determined to create some stasis.

There has been outside criticism of the team’s personnel moves, but Gibbs has spoken in complimentary tones of the overall job. Plus V.P. of football operations Vinny Cerrato is extremely close with owner Dan Snyder — there’s almost no way Snyder lets Cerrato go again.

As for the offensive coaches, who’s complaining after 31 points and 379 yards?

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