All NFL teams get a bye week, but the Redskins this year get a double bye week -- a bye-bye week. Say so long to their playoff hopes, folks. After yesterday's 36-22 slicing and dicing by the Colts at RCA Dome, the Snydermen get to spend the next 14 days polishing their resumes and pondering the increasing likelihood of a losing season. Who saw this coming two months ago?
The distance between where the team is and where Joe Gibbs wants it to go has never seemed greater than it did in the second half, when the Colts toyed with the Redskins to the tune of 23-0 before yielding a meaningless touchdown in the final seconds. Indianapolis is undefeated, sure, but it hadn't been whaling on opponents the way it whaled on Washington. Gregg Williams' defense had no answers for Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne et al, and the Mark Brunell-led offense had only one drive longer than 41 yards until the garbage-time dinner bell rang.
The Redskins, at this stage in the Second Gibbs Era, should be better than this -- for all their spending and self-promotion. But they are what they are, a 2-5 club that, on its last possession yesterday -- with the Indy defense attending to dinner arrangements -- still managed to draw two holding penalties.
That's as good a place to begin this autopsy as any. The Redskins will never -- never ever, to borrow Coach Joe's phrase -- be much good until they get out of their own way. The Elias Sports Bureau doesn't keep track of these things, but Washington probably leads the league in ridiculous penalties. The scene at the end of the first half bordered on slapstick, what with Antwaan Randle El being hit with an excessive celebration penalty after his punt return touchdown and then two more flags being thrown at the Redskins on subsequent kickoffs.
This led to the incongruous sight of Nick Novak teeing the ball up on Washington's 5-yard line. Has anybody in the 87-year history of the NFL ever kicked off from the 5-yard line? If the Redskins had any sense of humor, they would have taken an intentional safety.
When they resume play Nov. 5 against the Cowboys, it will feel like the Redskins are kicking off from the 5-yard line. As Phillip Daniels put it, "We have to do what we did last year, pretty much" -- that is, put together a six-game winning streak -- but it's going to be a lot harder given the teams they'll be facing. There isn't a certified gimmie in the bunch, not with the Bucs knocking off the Eagles yesterday and the Saints cruising along at 5-1.
Gibbs welcomes the upcoming break as an opportunity to "work on things that are bugging us and giving us trouble." What's giving the Redskins the most trouble, alas, is football -- they're not playing it very well. And it figures to take more than a bye week to get them straightened out. Heck, it's taken 2 years to get to this point -- 2 years, 19 wins and 22 losses -- and it might take 2 more years to get back to the playoffs. Especially if quarterback-of-the-future Jason Campbell needs much on-the-job training.
What's most disturbing is this: Even in Gibbs' first season back, when the club didn't have much going for it, it battled its brains out every Sunday. Six of the Redskins' 10 defeats that year were by a TD or less. But something's missing now. Too often -- against the Cowboys, Giants, Titans and again yesterday against the Colts -- the Redskins have come out in the second half and ... nothing. It's as if they don't have the will to see games through.
Last season they were at their best in must-win situations like yesterday's. "Usually we respond," Shawn Springs said, "and I felt we would coming into this game. Anytime we're a big underdog, we usually rise up and play well; the Jacksonville game was an example of that."
But after giving themselves half a chance by outscoring the Colts 14-13 in the first 30 minutes, the Redskins "couldn't match their intensity" in the third quarter, said Springs. "They hit some plays, and we missed some tackles."
Gibbs' characteristic calm in the face of a storm, so important to last year's turnaround, seems almost an impediment to the club's progress these days. If Coach Joe truly thinks Brunell played "extremely well" against Indy -- after the offense generated seven points in the first 59 minutes, 41 seconds -- you have to wonder whether Mark might retire as the Redskins' quarterback. At the age of 65.
Through it all, Gibbs continues to believe in his lovable band of underachievers. "If I'm in a mess," he said, "I want to be in a mess with a bunch of guys I have respect for."
Well, Joe, you're officially in a mess. Enjoy your bye-bye week.