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At core, it looks like it’s time to start over

- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

PHILADELPHIA.

The Redskins have been going backward all season, losing games and ground to everybody in the NFC East. But never has their regression been more painfully obvious than it was yesterday at waterlogged Lincoln Financial Field.

Indeed, if you're looking for a microcosm of their miseries this year, I'd strongly recommend the series of three plays starting at the Washington 33 in the fourth quarter, by which time the Snydermen trailed the Eagles 27-3. A brief summary:

First down: Flat pass, 3-yard loss.

Second down: Flat pass, 9-yard loss.

Third down: Flat pass, 9-yard gain -- 12 less than needed.

To recap: Three passes, three completions, minus-3 yards.

And after the first two passes, the receiver got earholed because (a) the ball took so long to arrive, and (b) defenses have begun to anticipate Mark Brunell's Sideways Offense.

Even Joe Gibbs, Brunell's staunchest supporter, couldn't ignore the pitifulness of this display. He actually had Todd Collins warming up on the sideline in the final minutes, getting ready to relieve No. 8. But the Eagles held the ball for the last 9:03, delaying the long-overdue Quarterback Change for at least one more week.

There was progress on one front, though.

Coach Joe actually acknowledged that it was "a tough day for Mark." This isn't quite the same as saying, "The emperor has no clothes," but it's a step in the right direction.

Brunell did have a tough day, too: 16-for-31 for 132 measly yards with one interception that Sheldon Brown returned 70 yards for a touchdown. That's right, in a 27-3 loss the Redskins could ill afford, their quarterback produced more points for the other team than for his own.

"I didn't play as well as I needed to," he said. "I thought our offensive line did a good job pass protecting. We ran the ball well. We needed to be more consistent in the passing game." The problem is, at this stage of his career, Brunell doesn't appear capable of playing as well as he needs to -- that is, well enough to take the Redskins deep into the playoffs.

Nine games into his third season in Washington, the offense is still stuck in reverse ... and headed toward a cliff, it seems.

Here's a stat that puts it all in perspective: In the Redskins' three division road games this year, the offense hasn't crossed the goal line once. All it has managed is three field goals -- one at Dallas, one at New York and one at Philly. How horrific is that? And get this: The only time the Redskins threw the ball into the end zone yesterday -- on a first down early in the second quarter -- they had Antwaan Randle El throw it. He did a pretty fair job of it under the soggy circumstances, but Chris Cooley was just too well covered.

That's where the offense is right now: Al Saunders has so little confidence in his quarterback that he's running trick plays in scoring territory and asking one of his receivers -- a former college QB, fortunately -- to make the tough throws. Weren't we at this point two years ago, with Clinton Portis heaving touchdown passes to Laveranues Coles?

But enough Brunell bashing. As Gibbs said, "I don't think you can single out any part of our team." And after an effort like yesterday's, you really can't. The defense, after all, wasn't much better, racking up its usual quota of missed tackles, dumb penalties (including two 15-yarders by Sean Taylor) and long scoring plays (i.e. the 84-yard bomb to Dante Stallworth) and forcing zero turnovers ... again.

Let's face it, this isn't a very good club. It wasn't very good in September, after whiling away the exhibition season, and it isn't very good now. In fact, you have to wonder whether the Redskins shouldn't just blow it up and start over. How irreplaceable, really, is anybody on the roster? After Portis, for instance, left in the first quarter yesterday with a broken hand, Betts (20 carries, 83 yards) and T.J. Duckett (two for 16) did just fine. And how much of a difference, honestly, has Shawn Springs made to the secondary since he came back? The bombs keep dropping, don't they?

I'm not trying to point fingers here, I'm just playing devil's advocate. When you lose, everybody looks expendable -- just as when you win, everybody looks more essential. There's little doubt, though, that as the defeats pile up, the number of "core Redskins" dwindles. You could probably look, oh, 40 of them in the eye these days and say, with complete conviction, "We're in last place with you, and we could be in last place without you."