- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2004

When did it become so hard in the NFL to pick up a first down? Seriously, did they increase the distance from 10 yards to 25 or something at the last league meeting? I must not have gotten that memo.

To watch the Redskins and Ravens try, mostly futilely, to make headway last night was to wonder how Joe Gibbs and Brian Billick ever got their reputations as offensive oracles. The game was well into the second quarter before a Washington play gained as many as 10 yards (and only 10). Baltimore, meanwhile, managed more than three yards only once in its first 11 snaps.

That’s entertainment?

With all due respect to the defenses involved — and both fall into the not-too-shabby category — the NFL’s latest Sunday Night Spectacular looked like a rookie scrimmage in August, not a Week5 grudge match with the fate of both teams’ seasons possibly hanging in the balance.

But let’s cut to the chase, shall we? The Redskins simply can’t move the football, folks. They couldn’t move it against the Bucs, couldn’t move it against the Giants, couldn’t move it against the Cowboys, couldn’t move it against the Browns and certainly couldn’t move it against the Ravens, whose defense is probably the best of the bunch. As a result, they dropped their fourth straight last night, this time 17-10, despite being staked to a 10-0 halftime lead by defense.

The horror!

I don’t know about you, but I’m stunned. Points aren’t always easy to come by, admittedly, but when has Coach Joe ever had such difficulty moving the chains? Even the thrown-together ‘87 strike team was more dangerous on “O” than this group.

“They are good,” Gibbs said of the Baltimore “D,” “but we’ve gotta block and we’ve gotta make plays. We didn’t make plays tonight. … On offense, when we make a mistake [the ball] seems to bounce in somebody else’s hands. It’s not just a fumble, it’s a touchdown.”

About the only thing that could have saved the Redskins last night was an opponent with an offense even more hopeless than their own. And for a while, it looked like that might be the case. Kyle Boller, the Ravens’ young-but-not-necessarily-improving quarterback, served up three first-half interceptions — OK, one wasn’t really his fault — that put Washington up by 10.

That would have been enough, were it not for the utter ineptitude of Mark Brunell and Co. Is it just me, or has the Redskins offense made zero progress since Week1 — perhaps even regressed? The possibility exists, harrowing though it is, that things might never get better for the Washington “O” — not this season, at least. This might be, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson, as good as it gets.

If so, the efforts of Brunell, Clinton Portis and the Dirtbags might best be observed from an obstructed-view seat. If you can’t see it, you can’t be repulsed by it.

“You’d like to be taking bigger steps than we’re taking, but we are taking steps,” Walter Rasby insisted. “Look, if we don’t turn the ball over in this game, we probably win. If we don’t turn the ball over last week, we probably win. Not to point a finger at anybody, but that’s pretty much the way it is.”

Midway through the third quarter, the Baltimore defense got tired of waiting around for the offense to score and took matters into its own hands. Safety Ed Reed blew in on a blitz, dislodged Brunell from the ball just as he was about to throw it and ran the fumble in for a touchdown. That made the score Redskins 10, Ravens 7, but the Real Score was Defenses 17, Offenses 0.

Then Baltimore’s special teams decided to get into the act. After the Ravens stuffed Portis on third-and-one, B.J. Sams gathered in a Tom Tupa punt and 78 yards for the go-ahead score. Updated Real Score: Defenses 17, Special Teams 7, Offenses O.

About the only way the Redskins could have lost this game was the way they lost it — by turning the ball over in their own territory and springing a leak on kick coverage. Offensively, Baltimore was totally incapable of putting up the necessary points to win. It needed help, and the Redskins gave it to them.

The same, of course, went for the Ravens. The only way they were going to lose this game was if they gave it away. To their credit — if that’s the appropriate word here — they did a little less giving than the home team.

You have to feel for Gregg Williams’ defense. How much better can it be expected to play, especially without the services of LaVar Arrington? The defense has given the Redskins a chance to win every game — and the Redskins have won exactly one of them.

Gibbs even took my advice and had Brunell flip a few passes in Portis’ direction. The plays didn’t amount to much, but then nothing Clinton did last night amounted to much. Very little he’s done all season has amounted to much. Against the Ravens he averaged 2.1 yards a rush (in 25 cracks) and four yards a catch (on four receptions).

Brunell, meanwhile, had another stinker of an outing. Twenty-nine passes for a grand total of 83 yards — less than three yards per attempt! (The offense as a whole gained a mere 107 yards … or about 27 a quarter.) Through it all, the FedEx faithful were amazingly patient; they didn’t express serious displeasure until Brunell bounced his umpteen pass, this one on third down, with about 10 minutes left.

I never thought I’d type these words, but here goes: The Redskins — Joe Gibbs’ Redskins — don’t have an NFL-quality offense right now. The Redskins — Joe Gibbs’ Redskins — are just about unwatchable. There are no tricks up the Ol’ Master’s sleeve, it would appear, just an unending series of punts.

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