- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

The Washington Redskins return to practice today with their opening 30-3 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Sept. 9 seeming so long ago and their coming game seeming far ahead.
Did the NFL's cancellation of games yesterday because of Tuesday's Pentagon and World Trade Center tragedies let the Redskins regroup from their worst opening loss since 1985, or did it cost them a chance for a needed early victory against the hapless Arizona Cardinals?
Washington must now play four of its opening five games on the road for the first time since 1970. The Redskins travel to the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 24 for a Monday night game. That's a harsh return against one of the NFL's top teams. Emotions will be feverish in one of the league's legendary stadiums for the nationally televised game at Lambeau Field, where local hotels have been sold out since July. The highly charged atmosphere will give the Packers a big advantage. Not that Green Bay needs it. The Packers have a real chance at the NFC Central title.
After playing host to Kansas City on Sept. 30, Washington travels to the New York Giants on Oct. 7 and Dallas on Oct. 15. New York is going to be tough at home, where the former site of the World Trade Center can be seen from Giants Stadium. Dallas may be a bad team, but the Cowboys have beaten the Redskins seven straight times, and a Monday night game will further encourage "America's Team."
The Redskins haven't played at home since Aug. 24. They ended the preseason with a 33-13 loss at the New England Patriots on Aug. 30 and opened the regular season at San Diego. Playing host to Arizona was supposed to be the "feel good" game against a bad Cardinals team missing running back Michael Pittman, who would have been suspended for the game because of domestic abuse. If the game is rescheduled, Pittman already will have served his time.
The chance for the Redskins to right themselves and gain some needed momentum before the coming road games was lost. Washington has been reeling since losing 20-0 to the Kansas City Chiefs in the preseason opener Aug. 12. Besides the reserves beating Cleveland 27-25 in the preseason, there has been nothing but pounding losses that can quickly demoralize a team. Coach Marty Schottenheimer may have publicly shrugged off the preseason losses, but the players and fans know the prevailing problems didn't end with Labor Day.
Playing Arizona would have let the offense gain some cohesiveness against a poor defense. The Redskins badly lack confidence because the offense has done little against anything other than a prevent defense. While pass protection has improved, the offensive line is still troubled by interior run blocking. That center Cory Raymer and quarterbacks Jeff George and Tony Banks combined for three bad snaps against San Diego was baffling given one is unusual.
Running back Stephen Davis' three fumbles can't be blamed on the blocking. However, Davis is the offensive core, and the running lanes have been marginal. If he can't gain momentum, this offense is grounded. That's why it would have been beneficial to face a bad defense right away. Now Davis, Raymer and the rest of the offense have to wait 15 days for redemption versus a playoff contender. That's a lot of time to reflect on a loss, when a normal schedule might have helped them regain their confidence.
Defensively, the Redskins have been bedeviled by their own offense. The defense is spending too much time on the field, often in bad position. That said, they're not helping themselves much. The line is generating little pass pressure, which gives opposing passers too much time to look for second and third options. Give Packers quarterback Brett Favre extra time and it's seven points. Opposing runners have been getting the extra 2 yards after hits far too regularly. Facing Arizona without its prime back might have given a line that has played together only once since training camp's start a chance to develop chemistry. Now they're going to scramble against the Packers.
Conversely, an unofficial "bye" might have been beneficial. Washington opened 0-7 in 1998, including a brutal 41-7 loss to Minnesota, before the bye. However, the week off seemed to provide separation for players. They returned to beat the New York Giants 21-14 in a 6-3 finish.
Perhaps the weekend off will break the cycle for the Redskins, who have seemed down mentally since losing to the Chiefs. Maybe they can look ahead instead of looking awful. Unexpected time off can do it sometimes. That's why coaches abruptly cancel practices when teams are playing poorly. Rather than wear down players, they try to refresh them.
Ultimately, personnel problems will dictate the season's outcome more than the schedule. However, the possible bad start given the reworked schedule could lead to a freefall. If the Redskins don't pull off an upset they could be 0-4 before facing the Cowboys. A season with only borderline promise can quickly vanish.

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