- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

So much has changed in the past nine days not just in the world at large, but in the cubicle the Redskins occupy. Because of the events of Sept. 11, the NFL's schedule has been reworked, and Dan Snyder's juggernaut finds itself going to Green Bay for the second game of the season instead of coming home to lick its wounds against the Arizona Cardinals.

This is no small thing, football-wise. After playing so wretchedly in San Diego on the heels of an equally horrific preseason the Redskins desperately need a win, if only to reassure themselves that they still belong in the league. And the always accommodating Cardinals probably would have obliged them (unless, of course, Team Schottenheimer really is as bad as it's looked). But the Cards won't be coming to FedEx Field until January, thanks to last week's postponements, and now the Redskins are staring 0-2 straight in its pimply face.

Just to refresh your memory, the Packers were one of the better teams in the NFC at the end of last season. An uneven first half kept them out of the playoffs, but they finished with four straight victories, the last two over the Vikings and Bucs. And as they showed in their 28-6 cuffing of the Lions in Week 1, they've got what it takes to contend in the NFC top-drawer quarterbacking (from the indestructible Brett Favre) and a solid defense.

If San Diego can ransack the Redskins by 27 points, what are the Packers capable of doing to them? That's why this game might be the most significant the Snydermen play all season. After all, after Green Bay, they have to face Kansas City, which just took Oakland to overtime, and then the New York Giants, the defending conference champs. Just like that, 0-2 could become 0-4, and there's no telling where it could go from there. Three years ago, you may recall, we saw 0-4 disintegrate into 0-7.

I'm not saying the Redskins have to win Monday night. Not at all. I'm just saying they have to be competitive (i.e. still registering a pulse in the second half). Because being competitive against a club like the Packers, on the road, would be something they could build on. Another demoralizing loss, on the other hand, would confirm everyone's worst suspicions that this team is a long way from being a contender, that Marty Schottenheimer's roster shuffling has turned the Redskins into a loose confederation of players instead of a united, all-for-one-and-one-for-all bunch.

It's a strange scene at Redskin Park. Jeff George, the putative offensive leader, is already in Full Sulk Mode, refusing interviews (except for his paid gig with George Michael on WRC-TV) after being pulled in the third quarter of the opener. Unbelievable. One game into his tenure as the team's starting quarterback one game! George has managed to remind people why he has never been able to find a permanent home in the NFL.

On the bottom floor of the building, Schottenheimer has taken down all the game-by-game records of recent Redskins championship teams and locked them away in a closet somewhere. His predecessor, a humbler sort, had left them undisturbed, but Marty's determination to launch A New Era has caused him to delete references to the previous one. There's little to remind the current Redskins that the franchise has a tradition, that they have something to measure up to, that there's a reason FedEx Field has 86,000 seats, more than any other stadium in pro football.

The Redskins right now are fighting for relevance relevance in a world beset by much greater concerns than a football team, relevance in a league in which an 0-2 start is rarely overcome. "The best thing about this [Green Bay] game is that it's on Monday night," Kenard Lang says. "Everybody will be watching. It tests your character as a team. We'll see if we can get back to playing [good] football. There's no doubt in my mind we can; we've just got to go do it."

The players had been "looking at the second game [against Arizona] as just a chance to cleanse the wounds [of the San Diego debacle]," Cory Raymer adds. "Now we're going to Green Bay, we've had two weeks off, and we just have to focus and hunker down and work that much harder."

That's pretty much where the Redskins are as their second game draws near hunkering down, circling the wagons, searching for unity in a locker room full of strangers.

Rookie Fred Smoot, one of the many newcomers, says he got to meet the Packers' Favre, a fellow Mississippian, a few years back when he was in junior college. The cocky kid told the Green Bay great, "Someday I'm going to play against you."

And here Smoot is, in just his second NFL game, going up against the quarterback of the '90s. "It came up real fast real fast," he says with a grin.

For the sake of their season, the Redskins can only hope their date with the Packers didn't come up too fast.

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