- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2006

When Joe Gibbs is breaking down film from the Redskins’ breakdown of the 2006 season, he might want to focus on two plays that took place in the second quarter last night — two plays that essentially ended the competitive portion of the game.

On the first, a run to the right by the Giants, Sean Taylor hit Tiki Barber so hard in the open field that Barber actually went backward, even though he was 11 yards from scrimmage and moving at close to full speed.

On the very next snap, Barber tried the other side and broke a 55-yarder to give New York a 17-7 lead. This time the Other Taylor, Opie, showed up — and Tiki easily shook him off en route to the end zone.

When the performance of one of your “better” players can vary so much from play to play — never mind from Sunday to Sunday — you’ve got a lot of trouble on your hands. And Gibbs most definitely does. After the season-ending 34-28 loss to the Giants, which left the Redskins at 5-11, it was hard to figure out who Coach Joe’s core players are. How many guys, at this point, couldn’t the Redskins live without?

Taylor, despite being a Pro Bowl alternate, might have had his worst year yet, a Stephen King horror-fest of missed tackles and blown assignments. Cornelius Griffin, hobbled early by yet another hip injury, was virtually invisible the last half of the season. Mark Brunell? Benched. Clinton Portis? Outgained by Ladell Betts. Chris Cooley? He was better in ‘05 — and not just because they threw him the ball more. Jon Jansen? Did anyone notice a difference when Todd Wade filled in for him against the Saints?

Make no mistake: The Redskins aren’t a playoff team that took a wrong turn. They’re a 5-11 team whose immediate future may be just as depressing as the present. Now that the Jason Campbell Era has officially begun, there’s no telling when exactly they’ll be a force in the NFC East again. They won just one game in the division this year — the miraculous victory over the Cowboys (aka the Day of the Untimed Play). Against the NFC, clearly the weaker of the two conferences, they were 3-9.

These aren’t numbers Gibbs can easily explain away, blame on injuries or unlucky bounces or nearsighted back judges. The Redskins, plain and simple, were stealin’ money this season. Just once in 16 games did they decisively outplay anybody (the Texans, 31-15, back in September). By Week 17, you had to wonder whether they could even beat the Cardinals, who at least have been making strides at the end of the year.

The Redskins’ problems aren’t going to go away by holding a more rigorous training camp. They aren’t going to go away by “rededicating” themselves or playing “smarter” or paying more attention to “the details.” The problems run much deeper than that. For starters, the Snydermen aren’t nearly as good as they think they are, and until their perception of reality more closely matches everyone else’s, they can forget about seriously contending for anything — except maybe the Perennially Most Disappointing Team Award.

That’s why it was disturbing to hear Gibbs say last night that his players “wanted to make a statement at the end of the year, and I think they did in the last six weeks.”

Yeah, they made a statement all right, and the statement was: We need serious help!

The Eagles are going to the playoffs. The Cowboys are going to the playoffs. The Giants, in all probability, are going to the playoffs. The whole division is going to the playoffs — except the Redskins. The Redskins are going home. Home to tend to their wounds. Home to contemplate the errors of their ways. Home, no doubt, to plot their latest New Course.

For years, they were a franchise that had no direction. Now it’s like they have a different direction every season, like their Global Positioning System is on the fritz. Last December, when they stormed into the postseason behind the running of Portis, they appeared to find their elusive “identity”; but then Al Saunders arrived with his 700 Pages of Hocus-Pocus and they lost it again. Who knows what they’ll introduce into the offense next season. A trampoline, perhaps, or a flying trapeze. (Sorry, but Santana Moss has a clause in his contract that prevents Saunders from shooting him out of a cannon.)

“It’s a year you definitely want to forget” was how Phillip Daniels summed things up.

No, it’s a year you definitely want to remember — every turnover, every missed block, every dropped pass, every penalty, every shanked punt, every defensive foul-up. Only then will the Redskins be in the right frame of mind for next season. Anything less, and they shouldn’t even show up for the first OTA.

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