INDIANAPOLIS -- Twelve weeks ago today, following the Washington Redskins' first training camp practice, quarterback Mark Brunell acknowledged the high expectations held for this season.
"Anything short of going all the way, honestly, would be a disappointment," Brunell said.
Now fast-forward to RCA Dome, where the Redskins' season essentially ended yesterday under a tidal wave of Peyton Manning touchdown passes, blown offensive and defensive assignments and foolish penalties that resulted in the Redskins' third straight loss, 36-22 to the undefeated Indianapolis Colts.
The Redskins (2-5), who finished last season as arguably the second-best team in the NFC, head into their bye week as arguably the third-worst team in the conference ahead of only the two-win San Francisco 49ers and one-win Arizona Cardinals.
A year ago when the Redskins lost three straight games, they at least knew their remaining schedule was soft and their defense still strong. This season, though, they face a tough schedule with a defense that is a liability.
"It doesn't look good, it doesn't taste good and it doesn't feel good," receiver Santana Moss said.
Coach Joe Gibbs said he would use the break to confer with his staff about how to fix the numerous problems plaguing his team. He doesn't appear, however, to have many options. There aren't any Pro Bowl players on the street to spark the offense, and there isn't a midseason draft to improve the defense.
The most obvious decision: sacrifice the season to see whether Jason Campbell should be next year's starting quarterback. Brunell, who holds a 15-18 record as the Redskins' starter (including postseason), was 27-for-37 for 226 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts. However, 13 of those completions and 106 of those yards came in the fourth quarter when the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Brunell certainly is not the only one to blame, but he's the easiest one to bench.
"When you're 2-5, a lot of things are going to be said," Gibbs said. "I'm not above learning something and listening to anything. What's important is talking to your coaching staff and [evaluating] the players and finding a solution to this and not listening to outside pressure."
As he left the locker room, Campbell said, "To be honest, I don't even know the situation."
So he's in the same predicament as everybody else -- in the dark?
"Yeah, pretty much," he said.
Associate head coach Al Saunders said the quarterback decision is completely in Gibbs' hands, and offensive players were predictably skittish about entering the debate.
"I'm never at a point where I can say who should be doing what," tight end Chris Cooley said. "I'll understand it and support him. But I'm staying as far away from that one as possible."
In Brunell's defense, he doesn't play defense.
The Redskins led the unbeaten Colts 14-13 at halftime, thanks to an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown by Antwaan Randle El. The offense was moving down the field, and a hit by Phillip Daniels and Andre Carter on Manning left the Colts quarterback woozy for much of the second quarter.
"We thought we would be able to come out and put a dent in them," right tackle Jon Jansen said.
Instead, the Colts put a dent in the Redskins, three of them to be specific. Manning threw three third-quarter touchdowns -- 4 yards to Marvin Harrison, 51 yards to Reggie Wayne and 1 yard to Harrison -- as the Colts outgained the Redskins 202-55 and outscored them 20-0 in the period.
It was the most lopsided quarter since Gibbs returned to the Redskins in 2004, and the Colts' 452 yards were the most allowed by a Gregg Williams defense.
"The third quarter was our nemesis," Williams said. "We ended the first half on a high, but we broke down fundamentally in the third quarter, missed a couple tackles on the opening drive and allowed what we couldn't allow to happen -- the explosive plays."
Said Gibbs: "We went after it hard in the first half, but we came out in the second half and couldn't get anything done. They overwhelmed us in the third quarter."
The Colts, 6-0 for the second consecutive season, had 18 plays cover at least 10 yards.
The Redskins' offense, which tied the score 7-7 on Brunell's 13-yard pass to Cooley early in the second quarter and had a nine-play drive end in a missed field goal, stalled in the third.
"We didn't feel like we had to score every time, but we did feel like we had to control the ball," Cooley said. "The first half, we moved the ball and kept it out of [Manning's] hands a little bit. The second half, they scored, we came off the field quick, they got it back with momentum and started to do what the Colts do best."
What the Redskins did best last year was rebound late in the season following a disheartening three-game losing streak. This year they apparently need to fix every aspect of the team in order to be merely competitive in the season's second half.
"We have to find a way to play and coach our way out of this," Gibbs said. "We'll use the bye to get healed up and work on things that are bugging us and giving us trouble. We need to get the most out of this break."