TORONTO — As currently constituted, the Washington Redskins barely resemble a pro football team. They can't run the ball. They can't throw it. They can't stop the opposition from doing either. If the past three weeks are a preview of how it's going to be the rest of the way, they have no hope. Cancel the last nine games and just hold an extended minicamp.
But, of course, you can't cancel the last nine games. You can only sit through atrocities like Sunday's 23-0 blanking by the Buffalo Bills at Rogers Centre - the first time a Mike Shanahan club has been shut out — and wonder how it went so bad so fast. Sure, the Redskins have injuries. The entire NFL has injuries — injuries coming out its earholes. But that still doesn't explain the sorry display against the then 1-5 Panthers or the virtual no-show here in the home of the Toronto Argonauts. I mean, did the Redskins even make the trip? Quick, somebody check the manifest.
The Washington team that arrived in Canada might have been ailing, but it also should have been angry. Its season was spiraling out of control — as so many have before it — and Redskins fans were looking for any vital signs, any indication that, no, this year would be different, this year they would, as DeAngelo Hall phrased it afterward, "put a cork in the sinking ship."
A crisp first offensive series, perhaps, that led to a touchdown. Or a determined defensive effort — against a very good Buffalo attack — to keep the Bills from running off and hiding. Something, anything to suggest that the Redskins plan to go the full 16 rounds this year, that December might actually mean something for a change.
Instead, the Redskins came out flatter than Albert Haynesworth's seat cushion, gave up an 80-yard TD drive in Buffalo's second possession and it only got worse from there. The Bills even tried to help them a time or two, once by fumbling a snap at their 31, but John Beck and Co. couldn't do anything with the gift. Buffalo ended up blocking the (long) field goal try.
"We've just got to play better from the beginning of the game," Jammal Brown said. "It's tough playing catch-up the whole time."
To which Barry Cofield added, more pointedly: "You want to be competitive at least, but we weren't even close. It's going to be tough [Monday watching the tapes]. If we don't get better, there are going to be a lot of changes."
Once again, a lengthy losing streak — three and counting — is sucking the life out of a Redskins season. And once again, neither the coach nor his coordinators nor his quarterback nor anybody else seems to know how to apply the brake. Indeed, after a 3-1 start that saw it shoot to the top of the NFC East standings, the club is facing the prospect of finishing with a worse record in Shanahan's second year than it did in the first (6-10).
Can the Redskins find three more wins in the final nine weeks and avoid the embarrassment of regressing in Year 2 of the Shanahan era? Not as currently constituted (to return to our original thought).
For starters, with Trent Williams (ankle) and Kory Lichtensteiger (knee) gone from the offensive line, which was never very Hog-like to begin with, the Redskins can't do that most fundamental of things: protect their quarterback. Beck, poor fellow, was turned into a crash-test dummy by Buffalo's front seven. The nine sacks he absorbed — tying the franchise record — only begin to tell the story. He was knocked down. He was blindsided. He was buried in the occasional avalanche.
Beck isn't going to remind anybody of Sammy Baugh, but no QB can flourish in that kind of environment (which at least partially explains his Rex Grossmanesque 53.6 passer rating).
Still, "It's not just [the] protection," Chris Chester said in the line's defense. And he's right about that. "We put ourselves in the position a lot of the time of having to throw," he went on — first by getting stuck in a bunch of third-and-longs and then by falling further and further behind. The quarterback almost always gets crunched in those situations sooner or later (and sometimes both).
Besides, even if Beck had received the necessary blocking, he wouldn't have had Santana Moss (hand) and Chris Cooley (knee) to pass to or Tim Hightower (another wounded knee) to run a stretch play. When the Redskins began the game with a fake end-around to Jabar Gaffney — and followed it with a real one by Donte Stallworth — it was almost as if they were saying: We're going to have to do this with smoke-and-mirrors, folks. We really don't have offense.
And the events of the afternoon bore that out. The Redskins made just 10 first downs, gained a mere 178 yards and, until the end, never drove past the Buffalo 16 (and only then thanks to the aforementioned dropped snap by Ryan Fitzpatrick). On defense, meanwhile, despite enjoying fairly good health, they continued to grope blindly for ways to stop the opposing offense. Missed tackles, including a grievous whiff by Rocky McIntosh on Fred Jackson's 46-yard catch-and-run just before halftime, also remained a big concern.
"You see guys working every day in practice and doing what they can to get better," Brian Orakpo said. "Hard work just isn't paying off for us right now. That's the frustrating part."
Let's face it, the Bills, much of the time, looked to be toying with the Redskins. But then, what would you expect? On this day, the Redskins were an NFL team only by the broadest definition. They played more like they belonged in that other league, the one with the 110-yard field and 12 players on a side. Shanahan sure could have used that 12th man Sunday.
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