With their 23-17 overtime loss to the Chargers yesterday, the Redskins officially moved into the NFC's intensive care unit. (In lieu of flowers, though, the club would probably prefer that you send touchdowns.)
Happened fast, didn't it? In early November, the Snydermen were 5-3 and entertaining thoughts of a division title, or at the very least a wild-card berth. Now, after three straight kicks in the teeth, they're beginning to suspect, as Rock Cartwright put it, that "If we want to make the playoffs, we've gotta win out, bottom line."
That figures to be a challenge, inasmuch as the Redskins are in a 2-6 funk and play three of their last five on the road, where they've managed just one victory this season. Of course, once upon a time -- in 1989, to be exact -- a Joe Gibbs team did win out in this situation (only to miss the playoffs). But that was a different group of players and, perhaps, a different Gibbs.
The current Redskins, in Coach Joe's words, "couldn't find a way to win" against the Chargers -- the same problem they ran into against the Bucs and Raiders. Gibbs' clubs in the '80s and '90s rarely had that problem. They would never get a holding penalty in the last minute of regulation and push themselves out of makeable field goal range, as Casey Rabach did yesterday. They would never lose 11 yards on a misfired flat pass when they were trying to run out the clock, as Mark Brunell did. And they would never, ever blow 10-point second-half leads in consecutive weeks, as they have the last two.
"We've just gotta learn how to finish games -- and not be conservative and just go get 'em," Phillip Daniels said. "We've had too many of these [nail-biters]. It's time to start winning them. We've been talking about coming together and this and that. Well, when are we going to come together?"
Not this year, it would seem. Not after this latest string of punches to the solar plexus. The way the defense wilted in OT, allowing the Chargers to go 65 yards in two plays -- the latter a 41-yard touchdown run by LaDainian Tomlinson -- makes you wonder how much the Redskins have left. The 'D' has been the backbone of the team, but Tomlinson traipsed through it for 147 yards after halftime, ripping off ever-longer gains of 18, 22, 32 and 41.
"It really boils down to not scoring enough points," Brunell said. "Seventeen isn't going to do it. Our defense played very well, got some turnovers [three in all]. ... I don't think we really did our job [on offense] tonight."
Thirteen points against Tampa Bay, 17 against San Diego. More than a year and a half into "Gibbs, the Sequel," the offense is still struggling to get into the end zone -- or even to get a first down when it really needs one. The Chargers are good, don't get me wrong, but before yesterday they'd held only three of their 10 opponents to less than 20 points.
Chris Cooley caught a pass on the Redskins' second play of second half, his third of the game, and then didn't catch another. Santana Moss, meanwhile, didn't have a reception in the fourth quarter. Ask yourself: How could Gibbs not get the ball to either of those guys when it mattered most? Did he ever have trouble getting the ball to Art Monk or Gary Clark down the stretch -- Lawrence Taylor or no Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White or no Reggie White, Too Tall Jones or no Too Tall Jones?
The offense's failure is everybody's failure -- players, coaches and management alike (the front office being responsible for Taylor Jacobs and Jimmy Farris serving as the second and third receivers yesterday). But it's particularly shocking that Coach Joe, who once made heroes of Alvin Garrett and Timmy Smith, hasn't been able to jury-rig a solution out of the parts available to him. I mean, who cares, really, if Brunell has a 96.6 passer rating if it only adds up to 17 points -- with only one completion to a wideout longer than 18 yards?
The Redskins haven't broken 20 points in seven of their 11 games, and they needed overtime to do it against the Seahawks. What was an issue in Week 1 is still an issue in Week 12 -- which is another startling development, given Gibbs' history of working the bugs out of an offense during the course of a season.
Good news, though: The Redskins are done playing the AFC West (against which they went 0-4 this season). They're also done playing teams directed by former Washington coaches (against which they went 0-2). Unfortunately for them, they're not done playing clubs capable of beating them. And if one of them does -- the Rams, the Cardinals, the Cowboys, the Giants, the Eagles -- it's going to be a cold winter, indeed.
But nothing, alas, we're not used to.
By Elaine Donnelly
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