- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Given the way the season has gone for the Redskins, you have to wonder whether making the playoffs last year wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to them. Well, you don’t have to wonder, I suppose, but humor me for a spell. I’ve got a column to write.

In January, of course, it seemed like anything but the worst thing that could have happened to the Redskins. Indeed, it was as if a dark cloud, which had hovered over Washington since 1993, had finally lifted — as if the Good Times were at long last back. But the euphoria of the moment may have given the team a false sense of security, clouded its vision of what still needed to be done to return the Redskins to the NFL’s elite. At least, that’s the way it looks now.

In the months following the playoffs, did a kind of organizational amnesia overtake the Redskins? Did people forget how incredibly fortunate the team was to win 10 games — and to go on that 5-0 run at the end? You could definitely make that argument.

By “incredibly fortunate,” I’m talking about the two virtual “Hail Marys” that won the first Dallas game and the kickoff return for a touchdown — by a player the Redskins had cut earlier in the season (Antonio Brown) — that made the difference at Arizona. I’m talking about getting to play the Bears when rookie Kyle Orton was quarterbacking them, the Rams when rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick was quarterbacking them, the Eagles when backup Mike McMahon was quarterbacking them and the Bucs when neophyte Chris Simms was quarterbacking them.

I’m also talking about the Redskins’ enviable good health. Their stars missed very little playing time last year. The worst injury they had to deal with was the loss of Randy Thomas with two games left in the regular season. Ray Brown filled in as well as he could, but he was, after all, 43 years old.

Playing Seattle so close (20-10) in the NFC semifinals may have done more harm than good, too. Yes, the Redskins hung tough, but did everybody forget that Shaun Alexander, the league MVP, got knocked out of the game early? The winning margin might have been a little wider if Alexander had gone the distance.

It’s not as if the Redskins’ master planners — Dan Snyder, Joe Gibbs, Vinny Cerrato and the rest — stood pat in the offseason. When have they ever? It’s that they either missed or ignored some of the most important lessons of 2005.

Lesson No. 1: We’re really not that close to the Super Bowl. We’re still a work in progress.

Lesson No. 2: Our depth wasn’t tested that much in 2005, but it probably will be this year. (See the Law of Averages.) So we need to find some quality reserves for the offensive and defensive lines, as well as for the secondary.

Lesson No. 3: Down the stretch, with the passing game struggling, we essentially took the ball out of Mark Brunell’s hands and asked Clinton Portis and Co. to carry the load. Is this the quarterback we want leading us next season — and possibly beyond?

But instead of heeding these lessons, the Redskins threw big money at two receivers, Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd, when one would have been enough. (David Patten is still around, remember.) They also spent heavily on a strong safety (Adam Archuleta) and a pass rusher (Andre Carter). As for the depth in the lines and the secondary, it isn’t much better now than it was last year. And Brunell is still taking the snaps — and still throwing the ball horizontally.

When Cornelius Griffin got hurt, the Redskins had only a rookie, sixth-round pick Kedric Golston, to replace him. When Joe Salave’a came up lame, they had to turn to another rookie, fifth-round pick Anthony Montgomery. That’s their Plan B, two rookies taken on the second day of the draft?

When Shawn Springs had to miss five games, meanwhile, the Redskins plugged in journeyman Kenny Wright. Well, we’ve seen the results, and they haven’t been pretty. As Marcus Washington put it Sunday after the 36-22 loss to the Colts, “For whatever reason, we just can’t seem to get it going [on defense] like we did the last two years.”

OK, now imagine if the Redskins had missed the playoffs, lost out on a tiebreaker or something. Would they have lollygagged quite so much this summer in their exhibition games — or would they have come to camp a little hungrier, a little angrier? And what about Snyder and his braintrust? Would they have been nearly as eager to splurge on a handful of big-ticket free agents, convinced the club was “just a few players away,” or would they have told themselves, “We still have a lot of holes to fill” — and spread the money around a bit more?

You know that oft-spouted line about the military, about how it’s always “fighting the last war”? Well, the Redskins, judging from their offseason decision-making, seem to be trying to win the last Super Bowl. Having Randle El and Lloyd to run pass patterns (instead of Taylor Jacobs and James Thrash) might have gotten them to Detroit … or not. But it’s a moot point. That was last year. The circumstances are different now — and so are the team’s needs.

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