- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.So this is how it ends. The Washington Redskins come up empty in a game they absolutely had to win. Instead of traveling to Buffalo and putting away a suspect Bills club, the Redskins jumped into a barrel and headed over Niagara Falls.

Remember those rumors that coach Steve Spurrier wanted to quit before the season? Well, now the Redskins are devolving so rapidly that an exodus could happen. Not since the short-lived coaching stint of Terry Robiskie or the disastrous early going for Marty Schottenheimer have the Redskins looked so completely hapless.

The Monday Morning Quarterback is chugging Pepto-Bismol in an attempt to get over this one. No longer do the pertinent questions ask how Washington played or what went wrong or what signs of hope there were. Now it’s, “When does everybody leave?” and, “Who’s next?”

Q: Oooooh. Oooooh. This is why we wore a protective cup when we played baseball. Have another year of hopes already been dashed?

A: Washington’s season has been beaten to tiny pieces by the ugly stick. The Redskins came up totally flat in a game they couldn’t lose. After the open date, they return to the most difficult part of their schedule (at Dallas, vs. Seattle, at Carolina, at Miami), and by late November they’ll be playing out the string. The season’s over.

Q: How did everything go so bad so fast?

A: The Redskins had flaws that luckily weren’t exposed in the early going. When they started playing high-quality teams like Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, problems like freelancing linebackers and abysmal pass protection were unveiled. And once things started to go bad, this team didn’t have the chemistry — either between coaches and players or, really, among players themselves — to persevere.

Q: But at the beginning of the season you said 3-4 would have been a solid record at the open date. What’s changed?

A: To start, the early part of the schedule wasn’t nearly as difficult as anticipated. The Jets, Falcons and Patriots (Washington’s victims) all were riddled with injuries. Also, yesterday’s contest wasn’t considered that tough once it finally got here. By late October, NFL teams generally have shown how good they are — and the Redskins’ next four opponents all seem for real. Plus, the way Washington has played of late and the growing division of this team are terrible omens for things getting turned around.

Q: Bruce, Jansen, LaVar — these guys are supposed to be leaders. How can the chemistry be so bad?

A: The players banded together twice in recent years when they grew frustrated with coaches, both times saying they’d play for one another if nothing else. Something similar could happen now — especially with Spurrier pinning yesterday’s loss on the players. But at some point, they won’t bounce back, and there were signs of hopelessness on their faces last night. The combination of constant turnover in the organization and endless losing wears on players and makes them more likely to mail it in.

Q: So who’s to blame? The players, coaches or personnel department?

A: All share equally. The players are missing assignments, continuing to commit penalties and failing to make plays. The coaches, in many instances, haven’t put them in position to succeed. (Think Spurrier sticking by his audibles and not adjusting to protect Patrick Ramsey, or defensive coordinator George Edwards not forcing his linebackers to play their assignments.) And the ownership once again spent wildly but didn’t address needs like a bona fide pass rusher. And so many moves were made that continuity again was undermined.

Q: Fat chance we’ll get continuity this offseason. What’s up with the rumors about Spurrier leaving?

A: It was a major stretch. Spurrier clearly hasn’t enjoyed himself as Redskins coach. He didn’t realize what he was getting into when he left Florida, and he overestimated how his methods would work in the NFL. Things appeared worst about three-quarters of the way through last season. But he patched things up with his players and focused on revamping for this season. Then owner Dan Snyder cut Danny Wuerffel, Spurrier’s favorite son, and Spurrier once again was taken aback by how cutthroat the NFL is. But he wasn’t ready to quit; he was ready to compete and prove everyone wrong. Eventually, all these things — including yesterday’s collapse — are factors that could lead to his walking away this offseason. But not yet.

Q: And what about the report that Rod Gardner was going to be traded for Terrell Owens?

A: That one was really rich. Whoever reported that didn’t bother to check out the salary cap implications, the primary deterrent to trades in the NFL. Making that swap would have cost Washington about $4.7million in cap space — cap space it doesn’t have and can’t get at this point. And that doesn’t even get into why Washington would want to pick up a head case in the last year of his contract for a productive first-round pick under contract for two seasons after this one.

Q: How was Bruce Smith’s return to Buffalo?

A: Bills fans were just happy they didn’t have to travel to Jurassic Park to see Smith play again. Seriously, Smith had a few good moments in his individual battles, but his team was embarrassed and he didn’t get any closer to the sack record. As for the crowd, it gave him a positive reception. The fans’ biggest moment, though, came in the fourth quarter when Redskins backup quarterback Rob Johnson — the focus of so much frustration and controversy here just a few seasons ago — was sacked.

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