- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

MIAMI It was too good to last. The Washington Redskins shook off a variety of ill omens to take control of the playoff-hopeful Miami Dolphins, then came back to earth in the fourth quarter like an anvil on Wile E. Coyote’s head.

In the process, Tim Hasselbeck emerged. Trung Canidate was revived. Bruce Smith got it going one more time. And the defense held up against the run. But ultimately none of those positive signs lasted long enough to change the conventional wisdom about this team, which is that it’s going nowhere.

Of course, that’s not such an awful thing. The world needs ditch-diggers, too. The Monday Morning Quarterback certainly has been told that enough. So let’s each grab a pick and a shovel and clear a path for the Redskins to slip out of yet another season.

Q: Another up-and-down affair, some great play followed by a 13-point, fourth-quarter collapse. What can we make of this?

A: At least the players’ farcical playoff talk can end. The Redskins, now three games below .500 and four games behind Philadelphia and Dallas, are what they are: a team with enough talent to make it interesting, and not enough character to finish the job. Losing at Carolina and Miami the past two weeks aren’t indictments, but both were missed opportunities.

Q: Just being in command was something, though. Can’t the Redskins build off of playing well for three quarters?

A: Certainly the Dolphins gave Washington a boost. Their lousy offensive line and statuesque quarterback (Brian Griese) aided the Redskins’ pass pressure, and Miami’s defense played surprisingly soft against an offense that hadn’t proved it could outmuscle an opponent. Still, it was a credit that Washington played so poised, particularly behind Tim Hasselbeck. For a while there, the Redskins looked like a real team.

Q: How did Spurrier do calling plays again?

A: For the most part, well. He reassumed play-calling duties after a two-game hiatus, and he appeared to have learned something (even if he wouldn’t admit it). Spurrier generally blended runs and passes well and didn’t go deep too often. But we would have liked to have seen more runs in the fourth quarter, when Spurrier easily could have drained another minute or two off the clock. At least he didn’t get booed — like Norv.

Q: Dadgummit, Hasselbeck can zip it in there (as Spurrier would say). How soon until the quarterback controversy starts?

A: Nice try. No one will confuse Hasselbeck with Ramsey’s permanent replacement. Rather, his play was the best of all possible worlds: Washington now has time to rest Ramsey and get him fully healthy, and when he returns the expectation will be for the sharp play he has flashed. Ramsey hasn’t been himself of late, clearly worried about getting slammed to the ground again. That’s not what the Redskins needed. The team deserves credit for finding and quickly developing Hasselbeck.

Q: Trung Canidate got it going on offense, too. Is he back to being the running back of the future?

A: No chance. Canidate has been far too deficient in far too many areas this season, and club officials realized in recent weeks that they would have to find a big-time back for 2004. But Canidate ran with purpose last night, showing that he might have a future as a third-down back.

Q: So where will Washington’s feature back come from?

A: The draft or free agency, unless Ladell Betts recovers from his fractured forearm and puts on a show in the season’s closing weeks. Rock Cartwright, who was sidelined with an ankle sprain last night, has been Washington’s most effective back and best blocker, but he has no future as a full-time tailback. He’s a guy who can produce situationally. Look for Washington to push hard for a feature back in the offseason.

Q: Hmmm, offseason. That’s the best time of year to be a Redskins fan. How’s the upcoming winter and spring shaping up?

A: The club should make a few high-profile acquisitions — think running back, defensive end and defensive tackle. Also, the future of cornerback Champ Bailey is somewhat unclear. As reported earlier this week, the Redskins’ payroll, second-highest in the league, does not have them in bad salary cap shape. Look for Washington to put the franchise tag on Bailey, spend its first-round pick on one of the three aforementioned spots and make two or three splashy signings.

Q: Will all that make a difference?

A: Probably not. Washington’s key problems are organizational trust and focus and the viability of Spurrier as an NFL coach. We’re hearing that there’s very little chance of Spurrier being canned because of the money involved ($15 million) and the amount of pride owner Dan Snyder has invested in “his guy.” But unless Spurrier learns how to coach pro offense, brings in a top-flight defensive coordinator and finds a way to lead this group, no amount of personnel will matter.

Q: Well, they shouldn’t go looking for a defensive end just yet — Bruce is back. How long before the Redskins extend his contract until he’s 50?

A: That’s all they need. It was nice for Smith to pick up the half-sack. Yes, the Redskins have kept Bruce around at least one year too long, but he’s not totally shot. Smith’s pursuit of the record grew cumbersome and awkward in recent weeks as he fought his demotion. The real problem was that Spurrier didn’t put his foot down in the offseason. Smith should have been told he was a reserve to start with, and no amount of lobbying should have changed that.

Q: So how was the rising of the great pumpkins — the Dolphins’ orange third jerseys?

A: Those duds would be great for night-jogging — or hunting. The best thing you could say was that the Dolphins looked like the Miami Hurricanes, which Washington might or might not have had a better chance against. Truthfully, it was a college look. But teams will continue to pull the third-uniform trick as long as fans keep paying major grub for replicas — and there were a ton of Miami fans wearing orange jerseys last night. At least Miami didn’t have that University of Oregon-unitard thing going on.

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