- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

Yes, there are worse teams in the NFL than the Redskins. And yesterday, Joe Gibbs’ club had the good fortune to play one of them.

The Giants are as hopeless now as the Redskins were back in October, when Coach Joe was still pretending that Mark Brunell was his best quarterback.

They’ve turned the offense over rookie Eli Manning, who has all he can do to get the plays called correctly. Their defense, once stout, has been neutered by the loss of ends Mike Strahan and Keith Washington. They’re in a Total Free Fall, basically — for the second year in a row.

And the Redskins welcomed them to FedEx Field with open forearms. (Well, Sean Taylor did, anyway.) It was a pleasure, an absolute delight, to go up against a team that couldn’t throw the ball, couldn’t stop the run, couldn’t do much of anything that might help it win a game.

It couldn’t have come at a much better time, either. After back-to-back beatings in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the Redskins desperately needed to be reminded of how the other half lives — the Have-Not half, that is.

And what they learned in their 31-7 gouging of the Giants was that they really have made some progress these last few weeks, since benching Brunell and waving in Patrick Ramsey. Improvement can be hard to see against the likes of the Eagles and Steelers, but against someone of New York’s ilk it’s much more easily identifiable.

Start with the 31 offensive points. That’s 13 more than the Redskins had managed all season. (And it’s not like they haven’t faced any namby-pamby defenses before. The Bengals, if I’m not mistaken, gave up 48 points to the Browns last week.)

Then you have Ramsey’s numbers, in particular his 19 completions in 22 attempts. That’s 86.4 percent, darn close to Sammy Baugh’s club record of 87.5 percent, set in 1940. It’s also a heck of a lot better than his scatter-armed predecessor was doing (49.8 percent).

Throw in 148 rushing yards by Clinton Portis and another 64 by Ladell Betts, and you have the second-happiest afternoon of the season for the Redskins (after the runaway euphoria that followed the victory over the Bucs in the opener). In the first three quarters, they outgained the Giants 338-66 — 338-66! I mean, Alexander the Great didn’t outgain the Persians by that much.

“Obviously, anybody can throw the ball when you’re running the ball the way we were,” said Ramsey.

Not necessarily. Portis gained 148 yards against Tampa Bay — and Brunell went 13-for-24 for 125 yards. Portis gained 171 yards against Chicago — and Brunell went 8-for-22 for 95 yards. Portis gained 147 yards against Detroit — and Brunell went 6-for-17 for 58 yards.

Usually, there’s a correlation between the first and the second, but that hasn’t been the case this year … until yesterday.

Now the Redskins will try to build on this, their first Gibbs-like effort of the season. That’s what these last five games are about, getting the cement blocks in place for next year.

Ramsey is auditioning to become the permanent starter; under-producers like Rod Gardner are attempting to justify their existence; the coaching staff is being evaluated — or so Gibbs says — to see if any changes are needed there. What should have been happening in the first half of the season, in hopes of setting up a strong finish, is happening now.

But, hey, at least it’s happening. At least Redskins fans can begin to look ahead — instead of looking back in anger at one putrid offensive performance after another. And at least the players can feel a bit better about Coach Joe’s sometimes mysterious X-and-O-ing. As Ramsey put it, when you have some success, “It reinforces the way the coaches want you to play.”

With his efforts the past three weeks, maybe Patrick has done some reinforcing himself. He wasn’t Gibbs’ first choice to play quarterback, as we all know, but he seems to be growing on the coach.

In the Eagles and Steelers games, he earned Coach Joe’s appreciation by sticking to the script and throwing only one interception. And yesterday “he took another step,” Gibbs said. “It was kind of a complete turnaround for us on offense.”

It was a big change for Ramsey, too. In Steve Spurrier’s high-stakes attack, he was often a tackling dummy, but Coach Joe takes greater pains to keep his QBs upright. “It’s maybe as comfortable in the pocket as I’ve ever been as a Redskin,” Patrick said, “as far as being able to read things … getting the ball to the receivers quickly and letting them run with it.”

Gibbs has been through too many battles, though, to read too much into one game, one win, no matter how impressive. “I don’t know what it means,” he said. “… Can we do it more than once? That’s the question now. We’ve got some real tough teams to play here.”

If the Redskins can do it more than once, as they come down the stretch, it will mean a lot more than it did yesterday. It will mean they might finally be getting somewhere.

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