- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

This is what brought Joe Gibbs back? Three wins in eight games? The second coming of MartyBall? A quarterback who flees the pocket like the Iraqi National Guard? This isn’t Gibbs football, which cut a stunning figure from 1981 to 1992. This is Dan Wilkinson in drag.

The drunken enthusiasm of the Washington Redskins preseason has long since given way to a stale, throbbing hangover. Redskins fans are biting their nails against the Bucs and Bears and still afraid to show their faces around Cowboys and Eagles fans. The stands at FedEx Field start emptying in the third quarter — and it ain’t because Dan Snyder runs out of nachos.

Even the Monday Morning Quarterback, whose ever-realistic outlook makes “Family Bonds” look staged, was too optimistic back in the heady days of August. Condemned to cover yet another losing season, the Quarterback quietly hums the theme song to “Annie” and takes solace in the one thing that can’t be taken away, no matter how many hardships life brings: Marriott points.

Q: Where should we start? Mark Brunell stinks. The Dirtbags are, well, dirtbags. Points are harder to come by than tickets for the Inauguration. What happened to the playoff season we envisioned?

A: Don’t misread us here, because we’re certainly not trying to paint a rosy picture. But the Redskins problems are, contrary to their coach’s spin-doctoring, boiling down to one position: quarterback. Mark Brunell is playing terribly right now, and Sunday’s game at Detroit was clear evidence he’s bad even when everyone else is good. Washington needs a QB switch.

Q: Really? We were ready to chase the whole team out of town Frankenstein-style, with pitchforks and torches.

A: We’re not saying Patrick Ramsey is a panacea. In fact, playing him might reveal problems at other positions. But the experiment with Brunell has gone on long enough. With fans sick and tired of poor quarterback play, things could get ugly Sunday at FedEx Field.

Q: Why won’t Gibbs play Ramsey? Does the kid have bad breath? Does he hate NASCAR? Did he give Coy a wedgie?

A: We’ve heard all kinds of theories, from Gibbs disliking Ramsey to the coach not wanting to damage his trade value. But there’s nothing nefarious going on here. Gibbs has a history of riding his starter into the ground. Look at how bad Joe Theismann was back in 1985 (eight touchdowns, 16 interceptions). Gibbs’ spirited defense of Brunell on Monday showed the coach has plenty more leash for this dog.

Q: Maybe Gibbs has a point. Why does there need to be a switch if the Redskins have won two of three? Heck, they would be .500 if not for James Thrash’s phantom illegal motion.

A: Washington’s wins came over lowly Chicago and Detroit. The cupcake section of the schedule is over. Cincinnati is playing well even if its run defense is dismal, and then the Redskins face Philadelphia twice and Pittsburgh in a four-game stretch that effectively should end their season. Seventeen points won’t beat the Eagles or Steelers.

Q: About the scoring. How is it possible Washington hasn’t stumbled past 20 points just once?

A: A lot of it has to do with the defense and Gibbs. The Redskins aren’t playing high-scoring games, remember. No team has been willing to concede 24 because it already has piled on 48. And in the games in which Washington has played well, Gibbs has gone Pat Robertson-conservative to hang on to victory. It’s not a good combination — a bad offense getting institutionally constricted.

Q: Speaking of the defense, did you ever expect Gregg Williams’ scheme would play so well?

A: Not this well. The defensive line was viewed as a major liability, largely because it played poorly in 2003 under George Edwards. But the additions of Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave’a have been huge, and Williams’ blend of creativity and discipline have allowed the defense to attack with its back seven without gagging on pass responsibilities.

Q: There has been a lot of talk lately about the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Is it justified?

A: No. People like to bring up the Ravens because they, like these Redskins, had no passing game to speak of. But that’s where the comparison ends. Baltimore had a legendary, one-for-the-ages unit. This defense is solid, good at adjusting on the fly — as in the loss to Green Bay, when Brett Favre went wild in the first half. But Williams’ guys aren’t ready to carry Washington to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl.

Q: Who’s the best offseason signing? The first-half MVP? The biggest surprise?

A: We would nominate Griffin for all three honors, but we will stop just short and give the last to safety Ryan Clark, who has come out of nowhere to provide a smart, sturdy presence in the defensive backfield. Griffin has played well, blowing up the middle and tackling anything that moves. Washington struck gold there.

Q: Is there any victor in the Clinton Portis/Champ Bailey deal?

A: Certainly Washington needs Portis more than a cover corner — especially since Shawn Springs is performing well. But we’re big believers in two things about running backs: first, develop them yourself (it saves a ton of money) and second, we rather would have 4 yards every carry than 0, 0, 12. We’re not ready to sing Portis’ praises.

Q: The Redskins still can’t win in the NFC East or at home. Any thoughts?

A: The team is 0-2 in the division and 1-3 at FedEx Field. Neither is particularly surprising, largely because the Redskins aren’t playoff material. Thus, any random sampling of their games (except, say, those against the mascots that frightened Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”) probably would reveal a losing record. And while we used to rip Washington for a lack of intensity in division games, we’re not getting that sense anymore.

Q: Despite everything, we’re still just a game out of the wild card. You said 8-8 at the season’s start. Any chance of nudging that up and getting Washington into the postseason?

A: Forget it. The Wizards have a better chance of being .500 in January. This doesn’t mean there aren’t positives for the Redskins or reasons to hope for the future. Like we said, a new quarterback could bring a new dynamic. But without a switch, there’s no chance the Redskins go 5-3 or 6-2 in the second half.

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