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Titanic loss hurts playoff chances

- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2006

This was a game the Redskins couldn't lose.

The Titans weren't supposed to be much more of a challenge than the bye two weeks hence. They had won only nine games in the previous two seasons and were 0-5 this season. They were starting a rookie quarterback against a Redskins defense that usually devours first-year passers the way sportswriters consume trays of chocolate chip cookies.

And this game followed by a week the frustrating-as-usual trip to the Meadowlands and preceded by a week the Redskins' visit to the home dome of unbeaten Peyton Manning and Co.

The Redskins simply couldn't afford to lose yesterday.

They built a 14-3 lead in front of the home fans who went wild with joy when Washington beat Jacksonville in overtime two weeks ago -- and then found a way to do the unthinkable.

The Redskins lost 25-22, a shocking defeat that just about snuffed any thoughts of a return trip to the playoffs considering the schedule ahead.

The one-sided losses to the Cowboys and Giants were more significant, coming against division rivals. But neither was as embarrassing as this one. The Monday Morning Quarterback feels like staying under the covers and hiding in shame this morning.

Q: How could this happen? How could a team that roughed up a serious Jaguars bunch two weeks ago lose at home to the Titanics?

A: Let us count the ways. Other than one long throw to Brandon "I'm Still On The team" Lloyd and an early touchdown pass to Chris Cooley, Mark Brunell's arm had all the zip of an over-the-hill knuckleballer. The last-minute interception he threw was a dying quail.

Al Saunders' playcalling was curious for the second straight week. Danny Smith's special teams allowed the Titans' Casey Cramer to come up the middle untouched to block Derrick Frost's punt. And the defense? Where to begin?

Q: How did the defense add big-time pass rusher Andre Carter and hard-hitting safety Adam Archuleta to the mix and get worse?

A: The chemistry that was so apparent on Gregg Williams' defense in 2004 and helped carry the Redskins to the playoffs last season just hasn't been there. Carter is a liability against the run and has just two sacks. Archuleta is a liability in coverage and hasn't been a force against the run, though he's made plenty of tackles. And reliables like Sean Taylor and Marcus Washington have been subpar.

Q: Anything else?

A: Yes, there are the injuries to key performers. Top cornerback Shawn Springs made his 2006 debut yesterday in a nickel back role after missing two months with pelvic ailments. Top tackle Cornelius Griffin was declared inactive for the game because of a bad hip. And Pro Bowl linebacker Washington also hasn't been himself, missing practice time with a bad hip of his own. As Springs said after the game, the defense's swagger is gone.

Q: Now for the big question: Is it time to bench Brunell and play quarterback of the future Jason Campbell?

A: Joe Gibbs won't give the kid his first start in a dome against an unbeaten Colts team. Besides, Gibbs is committed to Brunell, who entered yesterday's game with a 90.1 passer rating and posted a 100.8 rating through three quarters yesterday.

Don't forget that Gibbs stuck with 36-year-old Joe Theismann into November of what was for Theismann an atrocious 1985 season. Lawrence Taylor broke the quarterback's leg and ended his career, making the question moot. The Redskins will have to be eliminated from contention before Gibbs will change quarterbacks.

Q: What gives with Al "The Wizard" Saunders? Other than the game against horrible Houston and the big plays that Santana Moss made against Jacksonville, I haven't seen much from the playcalling genius.

A: Now, now. There was a big-gaining reverse to Moss and a couple of runs by Antwaan Randle El yesterday. However, I must agree that there's a serious disconnect when Lloyd and Randle El hardly ever touch the ball and Clinton Portis -- the key to the offense -- has just 14 carries.

It looks like the games with the Texans and Jaguars are the exceptions rather than the norm in Year One of the Saunders' scheme. And there figures to be a different triggerman under center next year.

Q: OK, I'm afraid to ask. What happens in Indy?

A: Peyton Manning against this pass defense? A well-rested unbeaten team at home against this fragile Redskins bunch? It could be as ugly in the Hoosier State as a Bobby Knight meltdown. But, then, the Colts barely beat the Titans last week.