- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.

In the NFL, Joe Gibbs is fond of saying, “You’re only three weeks away from disaster.” Actually, sometimes you’re not even that far away. Sometimes you’re only three quarters away from disaster.

Who would have guessed, though, that the Redskins were hanging by such a slender thread? They had just run up 52 points on the 49ers, their highest total in 14 seasons, when they took the field yesterday at Giants Stadium. Their defense was ranked high in the league, Mark Brunell was playing better than anyone could have imagined and they were tied for first in the NFC East with a 4-2 record. All systems, seemingly, were “go.”

And then … ka-boom.

By the end of the third quarter, all sorts of uncomfortable questions were hovering over the Redskins, questions such as:

• Has a Joe Gibbs team ever come up smaller in a big game?

• Has Coach Joe ever been behind 36-0 after 45 minutes?

• Has one of his quarterbacks — including the QBs on the ‘87 strike team — ever completed 11 of 28 passes for 65 yards?

• Has an opposing running back ever rushed for 206 yards against a Gibbs club before the end of the third quarter?

• Will Chris Samuels’ sprained knee keep him from playing against the Eagles on Sunday night?

• How come the Redskins kept dropping and fumbling the ball, but not the Giants?

• Was that really the Redskins out there, or did they just send their practice squad?

A loss like this would shake up any organization — especially since the final score could have been a lot worse than 36-nil. The Giants were in the red zone all afternoon, thanks in large part to four Washington turnovers, but they kept coming away with just field goals (five total).

“It’s going to be hard watching this [on tape] and going back to work [today],” Ray Brown said. “They kicked our [hind flanks] today, let’s be honest.”

Did the Giants ever. For one thing, they completely strangled the Redskins offense, which had been so unstoppable just seven days earlier. The Washington running game was nonexistent, and the passing game wasn’t much better — causing Gibbs, looking for any straw to grasp, to insert Patrick Ramsey for Brunell late in the third quarter.

If it looked like the Giants knew what plays the visitors were going to run, well, their middle linebacker, ex-Redskin Antonio Pierce, might have had something to do with that. Players traditionally turn in their playbooks when they leave a team, but you have to wonder if Pierce didn’t make a side trip to Kinko’s first — for some surreptitious photocopying — before dropping off his binder in Ashburn. The Redskins gained just 125 yards, converted only two of 12 third downs and gave up five sacks — in addition to the turnovers. Shades of last season.

Pierce even gave the Giants offense some valuable input, according to Barber, whose 206 rushing yards were a career best. “He told us they line up against five plays they think you’re going to run, and those are the plays they stop,” Tiki said. “So we went against our tendencies a little bit, especially early in the game.”

Granted, it was an emotional game for the Giants, whose longtime owner, the beloved Wellington Mara, died last week at 89. But it wasn’t as if the Redskins didn’t have plenty to play for. A win over the Giants would have put them in great position in the NFC East; they would have been in first place all by themselves at 5-2, and they would have been 2-0 in the division, with both victories coming on the road.

“I’m very disappointed, I’m upset, I’m sick to my stomach,” Renaldo Wynn said. That pretty much sums it up, folks — the Maalox trifecta.

Periodic humblings, of course, are part of pro football. As Wynn put it, “You think you’re too good, and somebody [comes along and] puts you in your place. Maybe we needed this.”

Perhaps. Still, the way the Redskins lost is troubling — even more so than the magnitude of the loss. This wasn’t a game that started snowballing on them in the second half; this was a game they were never in. On the Giants’ first play, Barber took off down the left sideline for 57 yards. On the Redskins’ first play, Robert Royal dropped a pass (after taking a heavy hit from a fast-closing safety). Which club do you think was more ready to play?

Gibbs, as he always does, blamed himself first and foremost. But if his players have any shame, they’ll devote the next few days to solemn self-examination. After all, in the space of three wretched quarters, they put a promising season in jeopardy. It’s not a disaster yet, but then we’re still waiting on the results of Samuels’ MRI.

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