- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

PITTSBURGH A cold wind blew in off the Allegheny River. Gray clouds hung overhead. And the Washington Redskins did just what they were supposed to do in a game they had no business winning: Fall behind early and lose.

The only mild surprise was that Washington’s defense contained the powerful Pittsburgh Steelers for virtually the entire afternoon. There was even a bit of drama before the final gun. In a parallel universe, the Redskins might have had a chance. In this one, they were better off playing Keno.

Will Washington ever win another game? Will the offense ever break 20 points? Will Sean Taylor go 15 minutes without being a doofus? The Monday Morning Quarterback is grasping for straws — if only to stir himself a bourbon-and-soda as he tries to put a new spin on the same old story.

Q: At least it wasn’t another blowout. We nearly sold our “Gibbs 4 Prez” hats after the Philly game. How close were the Redskins to actually winning yesterday?

A: Kudos to the defense, which kept playing when it seemed like Pittsburgh might run away with the game. But Washington’s offense further entrenched itself at the bottom of the NFL’s scoring statistics.

The team has scored 13 points in the past two games. Until it proves it can hang 20 on somebody — heck, anybody — there’s little reason to believe a big win is on the way.

Q: Was there any progress made in losing by just nine at Pittsburgh?

A: It’s another game the team will look back on at season’s end and rationalize with the old “a play here, a play there” theory.

Mostly it’s baloney. Every now and then (think Washington vs. Green Bay a month ago) an NFL club literally will be a couple plays from victory.

But you better believe if Washington had legitimately threatened, the Steelers would have played that much harder in the fourth quarter and pulled it out.

Q: ESPN said something about Joe Gibbs maybe quitting after the season. Any truth to that?

A: No chance. Rumors have floated the past few months about the coach’s ostensibly failing health, but frankly the evidence isn’t there.

Sure, he’s looked tired at times. But his job ain’t easy, and it’s made infinitely more tiresome by the constant losses.

Last night Gibbs disputed the report in a very believable manner, and later there was firm assurance from club sources that Gibbs isn’t going anywhere.

And heck, if you believed everything ESPN reported, Steve Spurrier would be coaching the Dolphins these days.

Q: What about Spur-Dog? He must be giggling himself to sleep at night.

A: You can’t blame him. He was ripped hard at the end of last season for Washington’s fall. It looks like the Redskins’ problems are more institutional than everyone thought.

Q: What about Clinton Portis? That was no way to use a $50million back.

A: That was an odd one. Gibbs predictably claimed that there was no secret problem with his franchise rusher, but it was only a few days ago that the coach flat-out said he would never rip a player in the press.

That said, it would be surprising if there were some sort of long-term shift away from Portis under way. Heck, the guy averaged 4.5 yards a carry and twice went over 145 yards over a four-game stretch from mid-October to mid-November.

Q: So what’s going to happen at that position?

A: The fact Portis wasn’t totally removed from the game likely indicates Gibbs was experimenting. Portis should get plenty of chances to prove himself over the home stretch of the season, and this week he’ll probably do fine against the Giants’ lousy run defense.

The larger issue is something that has been evident for weeks: Gibbs shouldn’t have spent so lavishly during his first offseason. He didn’t know modern NFL personnel or what style he would need to win.

Q: At least the special teams weren’t … whoops, they stunk too. How much blame should the punt coverage get?

A: Plenty. Although no one knew it at the time, Gregg Williams’ defense wasn’t going to let this game get out of hand. Ten early points could be pinned on bad punt coverage. The Redskins lost by nine. Do the math.

Q: Patrick Ramsey threw for just 138 yards. Will he grab the starting job by year’s end?

A: Look at the way Big Ben moved in the Steelers’ pocket. Roethlisberger is just a rookie, but already he can buy time, move laterally and use his blockers.

That’s something Ramsey simply can’t do right now. He’ll continue to absorb sacks and make bad plays until he gets a better sense of pacing in the pocket. At this point, the odds are the Redskins will sign a veteran quarterback this offseason.

Q: All right, give us some hope. How many wins down the stretch? And what should Washington’s goals be in the final five games?

A: There’s no way to count on anything other than a win at awful San Francisco. But the NFL consistently surprises. Frankly, if the Steelers’ defense wasn’t so stout, the Redskins might have sneaked away with one yesterday.

Washington should pick up two more victories to finish 5-11. And its focus should be to get the offense going. Other NFL teams are winning with worse personnel. Gibbs needs to dig up, as Spurrier would say, some decent ball-plays.

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