It's not just that the Washington Redskins lost Sunday. It's the way they lost. In times of crisis - and that time is definitely at hand for the Redskins - the coaching staff has to check its egos at the door and try to win games however it can. It's not about the sanctity of the offensive system. It's about gaining yards and scoring points by any and all means.
Sorry, but I didn't see much evidence of that in the 19-11 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. I didn't see a halfback pass. I didn't see a wide receiver reverse. I didn't see anybody line up in the wildcat formation. I didn't see much imagination at all, really. (The closest the Redskins came was when one of John Beck's throws was batted by a defensive lineman and caught by Roy Helu for a 17-yard gain. But I don't think it was planned.) Mostly, I saw them curl up in the fetal position, content themselves with a bunch of dump-off passes and never really take a chance - even if it was just a chance to look foolish.
The Redskins say they don't want to act like victims after being hit so hard with injuries, but that's pretty much how they behaved against the Niners. It was as if they were saying, "You'll have to excuse us, folks, but with the people we're being forced to play, this is all we're capable of doing. Come back in a couple of weeks, when Dallas is in town. Maybe we'll have a little more to show you."
I'm not suggesting the Redskins should script 15 variations of the Statue of Liberty play to begin Sunday's game at Miami. In fact, I totally agree with what Beck said Monday: "There is no magic play. It's the way you execute that play."
To me, it's more the symbolism of gadget plays - of departing from your normal way of doing things and announcing to the world, "Look, we know we're undermanned today. So we're going throw the kitchen sink at the opponent and see if we can find something to help us."
Contrary to what some football coaches might think, the fans aren't dummies. They can grasp the reality of a situation - sometimes better than the coach himself. They like to be reassured, though, that their team isn't taking its misfortune lying down, that it's doing everything possible to win. Sunday - on the offensive side of the ball, at least - the Redskins took it lying down.
The reality of the Redskins' situation is this: The offense is broken. The line is in disarray; Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and Tim Hightower are hurt; and Beck, who is probably no better than a backup quarterback, anyway, still is knocking off three years of rust. Add it up, and you get zero points against Buffalo, three in the first 58 minutes against San Francisco - a whole lot of nothing, basically.
In other words, the Redskins are at the "What have we got to lose?" stage. And they're hardly, I'll remind you, the first Redskins team to find itself in this predicament. The 1998 club, you may recall, lost its first seven games and saw one offensive starter after another go down. That was the season Norv Turner uttered the immortal words, "If you can't beat 'em, fool 'em."
What Turner meant was: We can't just line up and play power football the way we'd like. We don't have the personnel. We have to get away from our usual tendencies, open up the bag of tricks occasionally and try to win that way.
With their reinvented offense, the Redskins went 6-3 in their last nine games - which is a lot better than throwing 14 screens and drop-offs to Helu.
Joe Gibbs found himself in similar straits in 1992, the year after he won his third and last Super Bowl. Jim Lachey, Joe Jacoby and Jeff Bostic missed large chunks of the season. During one six-week stretch, the Redskins scored 12.2 points a game. But here's the thing: Gibbs left no stone unturned in his quest to, well, make a darn first down.
Among other gambits, Coach Joe wrung every last drop of versatility out of Brian Mitchell. He lined him up in the wildcat - and split QB Mark Rypien wide. He snapped the ball to him on a fake punt. He had him throw lateral passes on a punt and kickoff (one of them resulting in a touchdown). It might have been B-Mitch's finest hour - and was certainly one of Gibbs' better ones.
Is this what we've been getting from the firm of Mike and Kyle Shanahan? Or have we been getting something else - catatonia posing as an offense?
"I think if you get caught up in trying to fool -em," Beck said, "you don't get better. We're trying to get better."
Yeah, John, but how much better can this current offensive group get - what with Mo Hurt, the rookie seventh-round pick and former practice squadder, holding down the left guard spot? Good enough, playing straight, unadorned Shanny Ball, to beat the now 7-1 49ers, whose defense is one of the best in the league? Good enough to beat any of the clubs, most of them quite capable, left on the schedule?
There is no magic play, yet still I cry: My kingdom for a fumblerooski! (If only to break up the monotony.)
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