- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

PHILADELPHIA.

A season of growing possibilities for the Washington Redskins gave way to cold reality last night: Any success this team might enjoy still goes through the NFC East and the nasty confines of wherever the Philadelphia Eagles are playing.

The Redskins got a rude welcome to “The Clink,” or our interpretation of what Lincoln Financial Field ought to be called. Philadelphia might have been battered by injuries, questioning its potential and still wondering how the heck it got so involved with Rush Limbaugh, but it dismantled a Washington team that thought it was going places.

Forget the late rally. The Redskins beat the 51/2-point line but didn’t pass the Monday Morning Quarterback’s smell test. This team has to solve some major problems before it starts thinking about the playoffs.

Q: First off, how did everything go so bad so fast? A week ago we were beating the New England Patriots and drinking champagne right from the bottle.

A: Hate to say it, but yesterday’s game had that feel of the old Redskins — and we’re not talking the really old Redskins who won Super Bowls and created a lifetime of memories. We’re referring to the Redskins of recent years where the sense of dread hung like smog on a Code Red afternoon. This team had good mojo going through the first four games, but yesterday things took a major turn for the worse.

Q: You’re getting all mystical on us now. Are you sure you’re not smoking something funny?

A: Just an observation. The default facial expression of Redskins reporters in recent years is rolling eyes, and there was plenty of that yesterday with the putrid offense, the interception returned for a touchdown and all the penalties. And afterward, when a coach might have focused on how his team came back and nearly won a poorly played game, Steve Spurrier sparked controversy by alluding to some sort of internal battle being waged over his audible system.

Q: Is there an internal battle over his audible system?

A: Actually, yes. But it wasn’t really simmering. Players and some club officials have been frustrated that there are so many audibles and that sometimes, when it’s time to just run a play and hit the guy across the line, Spurrier’s fiddling with the play and trying to adjust to another one. The big difference between the NFL and Florida, some argue, is that defenses disguise so well at this level that it’s unreasonable to expect to always be in the right play.

Q: So is this team in turmoil?

A: Coming days will tell a lot. Washington has to forget this loss and brace for the defending Super Bowl champion Bucs on Sunday. If people are pointing fingers around Redskin Park, Washington will get steamrolled by Tampa Bay and be in rough shape heading up to Buffalo before the bye. If everyone gets on the same page, they’ve still got the talent to have a chance this weekend.

Q: How will the Great Audible Debate be resolved?

A: Spurrier didn’t sound like he was ready to concede anything last night. He might need to see how many false starts there are next week (there were seven yesterday, and Washington remains on an insane 11-penalties-a-game pace) before severely curtailing his audibles. But his staff, as most successful staffs would, genuinely believes they’ve got a good system for doing things and that players have to adjust.

Q: Will Washington ever win another NFC East game?

A: Ha, ha — but we know where you’re coming from. The Cowboys are starting to look tough, and the Redskins clearly are developing a mental block to beating the Giants and Eagles. Simply put, these games mean more than those against the Jets, Falcons and Patriots. Washington already is way behind in the division, and its playoff hopes will vanish if it doesn’t figure out how to beat the teams that know it the best.

Q: What happened to the fourth-ranked offense?

A: Quarterback Patrick Ramsey got banged up early and never looked quite in sync. It’s probably the first time he really looked like he was wary of the defense. The metaphorical equivalent might be the Eagles waiting for Ramsey outside a bar and just beating the crud out of him. And without Ramsey’s big plays to open up the defense, it was no surprise that the NFL’s No.1 unit against the run had no problem stopping Washington’s finesse backs.

Q: So was it the Limbaugh Bowl or what?

A: Rush and his unmerited criticism of Donovan McNabb didn’t seem to be much of a factor. McNabb was good but not great, impressive mostly in that he handled the controversy during the week so well. This was clearly one of those news stories that was big because it was so big, if you know what we mean. We’re sure McNabb had extra motivation to show up Limbaugh, but we’ve seen enough football to know that games usually have enough subplots and drama to turn pregame story lines into afterthoughts.

Q: So how’s the Eagles’ new digs? Did you see any good fights?

A: Does Santa know how to take a snowball in the puss? Of course there were fights galore at Stinkin’ Financial Field, which is why we like the name, “The Clink,” so much. Heck, spectators in front of the press box were flipping us the bird in the third quarter. From the outside, it’s a black, urban, spare look that screams intimidation. Inside, the fans look even meaner. Think Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” turned up to 11.


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