- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Coach Marty Schottenheimer declared his Washington Redskins to be Super Bowl contenders before the season began. After Week 6, he was relieved to finally win a game. Now, everything's changed: The bandwagon is full, and fair-weather fans are talking about playoff scenarios and trying to reclaim the tickets they gave away after the 0-5 start.
Schottenheimer said this season has been anything but normal. No kidding. The Schottenheimer "Death Watch" began after two games. The starting quarterback was sent packing before the home opener. The team may never see Dennis Miller again after two embarrassing Monday night losses.
A 3-5 record at midseason is a fair achievement for the Redskins, considering their horrific start. The question now is, can they make the playoffs? The Monday Morning Quarterback makes a Wednesday appearance to offer a midseason look at Jay Leno's favorite team.
Q: If the Redskins sweep Philadelphia, beat Denver and New Orleans, can they …
A: Stop right there. Here's the rule: no talking playoffs until the team is .500. It doesn't matter that the NFC East is filled with more losers than a Star Trek convention. It doesn't matter that a 9-7 record might be good enough to win the division. No talking playoffs until the Redskins reach sea level.
Q: Come on, can't the Redskins turn it around? They went 6-3 after the bye in 1998, when they started 0-7.
A: And they missed the playoffs that year. Has everyone forgotten the first five games of this season? An 0-5 start is an anchor that sinks any realistic chance of making the playoffs.
Q: But Denver doesn't look that tough, Chicago has been lucky and there are still two games against Arizona and one against Dallas. So, why can't Washington have a chance?
A: OK, if we really must go through this, here's the breakdown: Sweeping Philadelphia is the key to making the playoffs. If the Redskins sweep the Eagles, other things are possible because the rest of the division stinks. However, Washington has split every year with Philadelphia since 1996 and it had lost the seven previous meetings. The Eagles are going to snap out of their funk and finish 10-6 or better to win the division.
Q: Get past Philadelphia. What about the rest of the schedule?
A: Denver doesn't look as tough as it did a month ago, so maybe, just maybe, Washington can pull an upset. However, don't forget former Redskins defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes has been waiting for this game for 10 months, ever since he joined the Broncos. Rhodes told friends he wanted to score 50 points against Washington, and he's the defensive boss. Chicago is a paper lion, and New Orleans fades in and out, so maybe Washington can knock them off. Ironically, Arizona and Dallas have been the ones to befuddle Washington each season. Dallas has won eight straight over Washington, so why should the next game be different? Arizona seems to split the series most years.
Q: OK, Sherlock, where do you have the Redskins finishing?
A: The preseason pick was 6-10, and we'll stick to it. Frankly, after the 0-5 start it was hard to believe the team would win more than three games, but they've already matched that. A 3-5 second half is probable.
Q: What's the biggest surprise so far this season? Kenard Lang playing well at defensive tackle? Cornerback Champ Bailey getting beat several times? Cornerback Fred Smoot being as good as he thinks?
A: Jeff George getting released after two games was a shocker. Schottenheimer really misjudged the situation, and it probably cost the Redskins a game or two early. Everyone knew George wasn't the right fit, but Schottenheimer waited far too long to make the move. If he had done it in June, the Redskins could have signed Trent Dilfer and been better prepared for the season than they were with late-comer Tony Banks. Figure the Kansas City and Dallas losses could have been reversed and maybe the Giants defeat, too.
Q: So the whole season was ruined by Schottenheimer's mistake?
A: He admits it was a blown call, and it proved costly. Another mistake was waiting a month to use Stephen Davis the way he was the past two years, when he gained 2,723 yards. Schottenheimer admits the staff is still learning the roster. Why? What didn't they see in the offseason when they watched tapes of the past two seasons? Waiting to use Davis probably cost them the Giants game.
Q: You're really tanking Schottenheimer. Did he do anything right?
A: Sure he did. The man didn't forget everything during his two years at ESPN. Drafting Rod Gardner and Smoot in the first two rounds was smart. So was finding good young prospects like fullback Bryan Johnson, linebacker Antonio Pierce and guard David Brandt. Free agents such as running back Ki-Jana Carter, defensive end Dorian Boose, safety Keith Lyle, guard Dave Szott and returner Eric Metcalf were bargains.
Q: Was the season really lost at training camp when Schottenheimer worked players too hard?
A: That's nonsense spoken and written by media from far away studios and keyboards. Schottenheimer never truly lost the team. He could have done a better job explaining why the system was so harsh, but players buy into winning and will walk across burning coals if a playoff season is on the other side. The players are fine with Schottenheimer.
Q: Bottom line: Is Schottenheimer back in 2002, or are we looking at Steve Spurrier?
A: Forget Spurrier no matter what. Whether Schottenheimer returns depends on what happens over the second half, but the pick is he returns.


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