- - Sunday, August 13, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There is perhaps nothing in sports that is more fraudulent and unfair than NFL preseason football.

Fans are asked to watch and believe it is football, but it is not, really. It’s workouts, it’s practice, except they run plays like real football and keep score like real football.

But it’s not – and every August, fans are asked to watch but not believe what they see.

Professional wrestling has more credibility than preseason football.

But even in pro wrestling, there are good fake performances and bad fake performances.

The Redskins turned in a bad fake football performance in their 23-3 Thursday night loss in Baltimore against the Ravens. And while Redskins fans would be wise to repeat over and over, “preseason football means nothing, preseason football means nothing,” there may have been enough truth in the illusion on the field last week to be concerned.

The concern? Coach Jay Gruden’s ability to prepare a team to play.

The last time we saw Gruden coaching the Washington Redskins, it was the disappointing end of the 2016 season, when, before the home fans at FedEx Field against a New York Giants team with nothing to play for. Gruden’s team had everything to play for – a playoff berth.

His team played that game like they were playing the Baltimore Ravens in August.

After the Giants loss, Gruden told everyone what a lousy coach he was.

“Anytime you’re standing up here after 17 weeks of football and your season is over, it’s a disappointing season, whether it’s 17 weeks, 18 weeks or 19 weeks,” Gruden said. “We’re very disappointed at the outcome. We feel like we have personnel good enough to win the game. I take responsibility for us having our season over. It’s on my shoulders. We’ve got to do a better job as coaches.”

When he was asked if he had the team ready to play, Gruden replied, “On a gut level I like to think so, but obviously the results say otherwise, so what can you say?”

Two weeks earlier, against a losing Carolina Panthers team, when he led another unprepared team to a 26-15 loss at FedEx Field in a game with playoff implications, Gruden again questioned himself. “We’re disappointed, it’s no question,” he told reporters. “First of all, we were outcoached today. There’s no question about that, and they played better than us, so you’ve got to give credit to the Carolina Panthers. It’s my responsibility to get these guys ready to play, and we didn’t execute like I would’ve liked to have seen. That falls on my shoulders.”

He wasn’t so self-loathing after the first preseason performance last week – the first time he had to get a team ready to play since the Giants loss.

“It was a good learning experience for our guys,” Gruden said, as if this team, in his third season, was going to school on the first day. “I’m glad they got out there and got beat around a little bit, took a few hits, and played against a physical defense. Now they know what to expect next week.”

So what his first team squad saw in the brief time they were on the field in Baltimore came as a surprise? Really? Preseason football?

Or maybe they just weren’t prepared.

“Offensively, I think it was sort of a wake-up call for them, as far as the communication process goes with the young centers that we had in the first, second, third, fourth quarter,” Gruden said. “We had some issues there….a learning experience for everybody.”

Everybody?

Maybe the words weren’t as harsh, but the message was still the same – a team unprepared.

I keep pounding this drum because Gruden is a favorite among local media. He’s a warm, personable, charming guy, and with that has come the assumption that he is a good NFL coach – even though, with his own words, Gruden is telling you that he might not be the guy for this job. And for those who claim it’s coach-speak – a coach falling on his sword for his team – it ceases to be so when it is the common thread.

That’s the message we heard from Jay Gruden on Jan. 1, 2017. And that’s the message we heard from Jay Gruden on Aug. 12, 2017.

• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network

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