- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2011

Seems like just the other day the Washington Redskins were 3-1 and alone atop the NFC East. Actually, now that I think about it, it was just the other day the Redskins were 3-1 and alone atop the NFC East.

You have to remind yourself of these things when, in the space of four quarters Sunday, the Redskins‘ impressive start comes to an abrupt halt and the all-too-familiar prospect of a quarterback change looms. All it took was a sloppy 20-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field, one that saw Rex Grossman throw four interceptions and the left side of the offensive line limp off.

By Monday morning, there was panic in the streets of Redskins Nation, and Santana Moss was standing in front of his locker, discussing the possibility that Grossman might be out and John Beck in. The pint-sized receiver pleaded for calm and, stand-up guy that he is, pledged his support for the incumbent QB. To bail on Grossman when he’s struggling like this, he said, is “not the way you play football.”

The scene was yet another reminder of how quickly a club’s fortunes can change in the Not For Long League. It was a reminder, too, of how fragile most football teams are, the Redskins included. It doesn’t take much to throw them off track - some shaky quarterback play, maybe, and a couple of injuries in the wrong place.

In the Redskins‘ case, that place is the offensive line. To make sure his vaunted passing attack operated on all cylinders this season, Mike Shanahan decided to keep eight wide receivers on the final roster (counting kick returner Brandon Banks). This left him with less depth up front than you’d like.

When Kory Lichtensteiger (torn knee ligaments) and Trent Williams (high ankle sprain) were knocked out of action against the Eagles, Shanahan’s day of reckoning was at hand. Center Will Montgomery had to slide over to Lichtensteiger’s left guard spot, Erik Cook stepped in at center - it was his NFL debut, no less - and Sean Locklear, who has spent most of his career on the right side, replaced Williams at left tackle. This put a serious crimp in the running game, which had been the offense’s strength; Ryan Torain and Roy Helu combined for just 28 yards in 12 carries.

This week, when the Redskins travel to Carolina, the possibility exists that Jammal Brown will switch places with Locklear and move from right to left tackle. Think about that: The line would be missing two starters, and yet it might have different players at four of the five positions - left tackle, left guard, center and right tackle. In light of this (potential) upheaval, was it really worth it to hang onto both Donte Stallworth (on pace to catch 16 passes) and Leonard Hankerson (still confined to the practice squad)?

Then there’s the quarterback issue - which won’t be resolved, according to Shanahan, until the coaches are done deliberating on Wednesday. It was awfully loyal of Moss to lobby for the status quo, but what he might really have been saying is: “This is my seventh season in Washington, and I’ve caught passes from six different starting quarterbacks [Mark Brunell, Patrick Ramsey, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Donovan McNabb and now Grossman]. I’m really not eager to go 7-for-7.”

Who would be? One of the reasons successful teams are successful teams is that they find a horse - that is, a quality quarterback - and ride him. The Redskins have been looking for that horse for two decades now. What’s a bit alarming is that, in their second year under Shanahan, they appear no closer to finding him than they were on Day 1.

The thing about quarterback gurus like Shanny (and Shanny the Younger) is that they’re convinced they can work wonders with any QB they cross paths with. And they can - to a point. But there’s only so far you can go with Grossman (career passer rating: 70.4). If the Redskins had better talent around him, then, yes, he probably would put up better numbers, and the club probably would win more. But he’s an ordinary quarterback surrounded, by and large, by ordinary talent. That’s why, for all their roster maneuvering, the Redskins continue to average less than 20 points a game (19.2 to be precise).

This is the situation Beck will step into, should he be named the starter. He won’t be slipping behind the wheel of a Maserati, more like a Hyundai or a Mini Cooper. But if he can squeeze out a few more miles per gallon than his predecessor did … At this stage, that’s about the best you can hope for.

Still, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this if stuff hadn’t happened Sunday - as stuff tends to in the NFL. The Redskins had a great opportunity, coming off a bye week, to get a firm grip on the division. But a sluggish effort, and the casualties that accompanied it, have rekindled all the old anxieties. Once again, Redskins Nation finds itself wondering: Will it never cease?

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