- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Losing streaks are like Kevin Costner movies. You never know when they’re going to end.

The Redskins are in the midst of just such a skid.

They’ve dropped four straight games to fall to the bottom of the NFC East.

Their owner is being ridiculed from coast to coast.

Their coach has even the most milquetoast observers questioning his competence.

And it’s only the first week of November!

Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before. Because, of course, you have heard a lot of this before — many times over. Since Joe Gibbs left Washington for Gasoline Alley, these nose dives have become almost annual events for the Redskins. That’s right, just about every season in the last 11 has had its Month of Misery.

To review: The Redskins lost five straight in ‘93, five straight — followed by another string of seven losses — in ‘94, four straight in ‘95, four straight in ‘96, seven straight in ‘98, four straight in ‘00, five straight in ‘01, and now they’re on another four-game bender. Add it all up, and you get nine losing streaks of four games or worse in little more than a decade. And there’s nothing like a four-game losing streak to suck the life out of a season.

One of the measures of a football coach is his ability to keep his team out of these death spirals. George Allen never lost four in a row with the Redskins. In fact, he never lost three in a row. Coach Joe never lost four in a row in one season, either — that is, after starting out 0-5 his first year.

Obviously, we were spoiled. Every coach since Gibbs has had at least one Month of Misery — including Richie Petitbon and Marty Schottenheimer, who only held the job for one season. Norv Turner and interim successor Terry Robiskie even collaborated on a four-game losing streak at the end of ‘00.

What makes the current situation even more desperate is that there are no patsies coming up on the Redskins’ schedule. The next six opponents (Seahawks, Panthers, Dolphins, Saints, Giants, Cowboys) all have playoff aspirations, some of them very serious playoff aspirations. (Translation: They figure to have a good deal more to play for than the Snydermen do.) After that comes a road date with the Bears, and does anybody really feel good about the Redskins’ chances to win in Chicago in late December? We could be looking at a total free-fall here, folks — 3-13, 4-12, 5-11 … something along those lines.

It’s getting ugly fast for Steve Spurrier. A year and a half into his NFL career, he’s no longer a hotshot college coach, merely a guy who’s 10-14 in the pros. Worse, he has nothing to fall back on, nothing that can lend him some much-needed credibility with his players. He can’t stand before them and say, “Look, I know we’re going through some tough times, but stick with me, because what we’re doing here works.” The Fun ‘n’ Gun, after all, hasn’t proved itself at this level. Everything’s still in the hypothetical stage — and the early returns aren’t encouraging.

Also working against the Ball Coach is that the Redskins have clearly regressed in recent weeks. There’s no longer a sense of something being built, only the sense of something coming apart. One minute Bruce Smith — he of the 1 sacks — is complaining about losing his starting spot to Regan Upshaw, the next Spurrier is spreading the blame around thusly: “The natural tendency around here is to blame the coaches when things go bad. I hope you’ve been watching the games like we have. We need to coach better, but we need to play better, too.”

Here’s a stat that will blow your mind: The Redskins have been protecting Patrick Ramsey about as well as the ‘76 Bucs protected a quarterback named Steve Spurrier. Spurrier dropped back to throw 343 times for the expansion Bucs — a team that went 0-14 and suffered five shutouts — and was sacked 32 times, about once every 11 pass plays. Ramsey has dropped back to throw 292 times this season and has been sacked 26 times, about once every 11 pass plays.

Things wouldn’t be so rough for the kid if he had a running game to keep defenses off his back. Alas, his running game — in the person of Stephen Davis — went to Carolina in the offseason because Spurrier decided the offense didn’t need him. Davis has merely been the best back in the conference this year; indeed, a 2,000-yard season is within the realm of possibility. (He has 992 at the halfway point.)

One of the reasons Stephen was let go, you may recall, is that the Redskins thought he was a tad injury prone. (He missed two games in ‘99, one in ‘00 and four more last year.) Well, look at the backs who have tried to take his place. Trung Canidate has been hurt. Ladell Betts has been hurt. And on Sunday, Chad Morton and Sultan McCullough got hurt. The only runner who has survived the first half of the season is Rock Cartwright. Davis, meanwhile, carries on with the 6-2 Panthers. Sweet revenge.

Of such miscalculations are four-game losing streaks made. Spurrier’s job seems safe for now, but that might be because his staff offers no reasonable alternatives. Lucky for him Marvin Lewis isn’t still around. Dan Snyder probably wouldn’t be able to help himself.


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