- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 2004

IRVING, Texas.

It’s better this way, trust me. The Redskins had no business making the playoffs, and if they had — at 7-9 — well, it might have been the end of Western Civilization as we know it … or at least the end of the NFC.

The Redskins would undoubtedly disagree, but the Saints, Panthers, Seahawks and, ultimately, the Cowboys did them a huge favor yesterday by eliminating them from the postseason picture. Now, hopefully, they’ll see themselves as they truly are — not as a team on the cusp of something, but as one that still has miles to go before it contends.

Self-delusion is a rebuilding club’s worst enemy, worse than an injured quarterback or a first-round draft bust. But if the Redskins had beaten the Cowboys and somehow sneaked into the playoffs — or gotten aced out on a tiebreaker — it’s unlikely Dan Snyder and his gang would have faced up to the team’s myriad problems. No, they would have been too busy bellyaching about Phantom Motion Penalty against James Thrash in the Green Bay game, the call that kept them from Fulfilling Their True Destiny.

Now maybe the Redskins won’t spend the offseason talking about how “close” they are — as they so often have in recent years. Because, in truth, they aren’t that “close.” Spiritually they’ve made great progress, fought fiercely every week — and did again in yesterday’s 13-10 defeat. But this is still a club that’s 81/2 games behind the Eagles in the NFC East, a club that gained a grand total of 31 yards in the second and third quarters against Dallas’ less-than-Doomsday Defense. Clubs like that shouldn’t be playing the second weekend in January. Clubs like that should be huddling in conference rooms, brutally analyzing the performance of each and every player — and coach — and figuring out how to fix what needs fixing.

Clearly, the Redskins can use all the help they can get. They’re 5-10 — in by far the weaker of the two conferences — and will have to go through major salary cap contortions just to hang onto the guys they’ve got (e.g. Fred Smoot and Antonio Pierce). So if this loss to the Cowboys gives them a shot at a better player in the draft, great. The team has so many, many needs, particularly on offense.

“If we’d just gotten one more first down …” Randy Thomas mused afterward. “Then [Dallas] wouldn’t have had time to score at the end.”

But the Redskins have been a day late and a first down short for quite a while now — since Joe Gibbs retired after the ‘92 season, really. Patrick Ramsey might consider yesterday’s last-minute collapse at Texas Stadium “devastating,” but it’s just a flesh wound to Washington fans. They’ve seen worse, far worse — haven’t they, Romeo Bandison?

So much has changed for the Redskins since Coach Joe’s first go-‘round. They’re no longer a club that finds a way to win, that’s perceived as being greater than the sum of its parts. They’re now a club that repeatedly finds a way to lose — and that’s perceived as being less than the sum of its highly paid parts.

The Pro Bowl balloting spoke volumes about the Redskins’ place in the pro football universe. Even though they have the second-best defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed, only Marcus Washington is going to Hawaii (unless some other selections opt out). Translation: The rest of the league has little respect for the Snydermen. They’re looked upon as perennial pretenders who just can’t get it done when it matters most.

As much as anything, yesterday’s unraveling laid to rest the silly notion that the Redskins would be “dangerous” if they could just get into the playoffs. I mean, come on, if they can’t beat the Cowboys, a 4-9 team against Everybody but Washington, on the road, how are they going to beat a 9-7 team or an 8-8 team? (Let’s see how they fare against the Vikings’ offensive onslaught Sunday. The Vikes, with a wild-card berth hanging in the balance, won’t be holding anything back.)

Vinny Testaverde’s 39-yard touchdown pass to an unforgivably wide open Patrick Crayton with 30 seconds left brought this response from Gibbs: “Things like that happen in close football games.” But they especially happen to the Redskins, who have specialized in close games this year — and, being touchdown-challenged, have managed to lose most of them.

Jeff Chandler’s 57-yard field goal try on the final play could serve as a metaphor for the entire season. It wasn’t close, not at all — and neither, sorry to say, are the Redskins.

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