- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

Once again Sunday, the Redskins were reminded of the errors of their ways. Stephen Davis, the running back they gave an involuntary discharge to during the offseason, helped the Carolina Panthers beat them, 20-17, in a game they simply had to have. The entire Snyder Era has been like that, when you stop and think about it — five years of regret, of letting people important to the franchise get away.

Many if not most of the team’s problems can be traced to these lapses in judgment. Indeed, Dan Snyder’s first major decision as owner was one he later wished he had back. That was when he kept Norv Turner as coach and sent general manager Charley Casserly packing — only to admit to Casserly afterward, “I chose the wrong guy.”

Snyder needed a tour guide in those early years, an experienced GM to take him by the hand and show him how the NFL worked. Without one, he was at the mercy of his own misguided instincts — and, of course, continues to be. Casserly wound up getting hired by the expansion Houston Texans, and in their second season they’re a quite respectable 4-6, the same record as the Redskins in their second year under Steve Spurrier.

Clearly, Snyder should have hung on to Charley.

Brian Mitchell, too. He was the first of the fan favorites booted out the door — after Snyder’s first year in ‘99, his only playoff year. It was the opinion of the Redskins braintrust that Mitchell, at 31, was nearing the end of the line, and on top of that he wasn’t Their Kind of Player (which presumably means he didn’t worship at the Altar of Dan). BMitch went on to have three fabulous seasons in Philadelphia — while the Redskins conducted a never-ending search for a first-rate return man.

You can go right on down the list:

2001 — Got rid of Brad Johnson, a future Super Bowl quarterback — and kept Jeff George (who lasted a mere two games as the starter).

2003 — Got rid of Davis, who’s on a 1,734-yard pace this year for the 8-2 Panthers — and sunk their money into Laveranues Coles and Randy Thomas instead.

Then there’s Marvin Lewis. He was also here, albeit briefly, coaching the Redskins defense last season before landing the head job in Cincinnati. It has taken Marvin all of 10 games to make the Bengals — previously a national punchline — a thoroughly respectable ballclub. They’re 5-5 (a game better than You Know Who), just knocked Kansas City from the unbeaten ranks and are very much in the playoff hunt in the AFC North.

(And they haven’t even played Carson Palmer, the No.1 pick in this year’s draft, yet. The Redskins, on the other hand, continue to subject Patrick Ramsey to all manner of brutality.)

This isn’t to suggest Snyder should have promoted Lewis to keep him from leaving and canned Spurrier after just one season. But if Marvin assembles a winner in Cincy — and the Ball Coach persists in punting here — more than a few Redskins fans will be yanking their hair out in clumps.

Running a football team is all about choices, particularly in the age of the salary cap. If you’re going to make intelligent decisions, you have to know what you’ve got — and Snyder (or whoever’s whispering in his ear) is obviously somewhat confused in this regard. He didn’t realize how much Casserly could help the organization. Or that a kick returner in the hand is worth two in free agency. Or that Johnson’s leadership and level head were more important than George’s arm strength. Or that a franchise running back might mean more to an offense, even Spurrier’s airborne attack, than a glitzy young receiver and the best guard on the market.

In the last case, the logic is quite simple: A defense can keep the ball out of a receiver’s hands — if it wants to go to the trouble, that is — but it can’t keep the ball out of a running back’s hands. If Carolina feels like giving it to Davis 28 times, there isn’t a thing LaVar Arrington can do about it. The Panthers’ secondary can clamp down on Coles, though, and limit him to four mostly inconsequential catches. That’s just how the game is.

At his post-game Q & A, Davis talked about his big fourth-down grab — 25 yards’ worth — on Carolina’s final drive. It came about, he explained, because Redskins middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter “blitzed when I pretended to block” instead of sticking with him in case he went out for a pass. “I saw him [go for the quarterback] out of the corner of my eye, and I said, ‘If I get out [in the flat], I’ll be wide open.’ And I was — and Jake [Delhomme] found me.”

Maybe I’m imagining it, but there seemed to be a certain satisfaction in Davis’ voice. Not just because he had burned his old club, but because he had burned Trotter, whose $36 million contract had helped make his own salary untenable — in the Redskins’ minds, anyway. Of such moves are 4-6 teams made.

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