- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2004

DETROIT — So that’s what it takes. A trick play, a blocked punt, a 43-yard punt return and a banged-up, inexperienced opposing offense. Just add water for an instant Washington Redskins win. With such a clear recipe for victory, it’s a wonder owner Dan Snyder isn’t surfing Expedia.com this morning for hotel rooms in Jacksonville, Fla.

Ah, heck. At least the boos at Ford Field yesterday weren’t for the Redskins. It’s been a rough return for coach Joe Gibbs, and yesterday’s game against the pimple-faced Detroit Lions was just what he needed.

And thus the dream lives. Well, not that dream — the one with Charlize Theron and a can of whipped cream — but the one where the Redskins fight toward .500 and save some dignity. With the groovy tunes of Motown still ringing in his ears, the Monday Morning Quarterback is ready to get down and get funky just like the play of Mark Brunell.

Q: Go easy, because we don’t get to savor these often. How are the Redskins looking this morning?

A: To be truthful, exactly like they were last week, and the week before that, and the week before that. Washington won yesterday, but nothing changed. This time a few breaks went the Redskins’ way, and the Lions weren’t good enough to come back. If Washington can find seven more opponents incapable of putting more than 10 points on the board, it’ll be headed to the playoffs.

Q: What’s wrong, your jockey shorts shrink in the dryer? Can’t you say anything positive about the Redskins?

A: It’s tough. The team continues to play great defense, but don’t buy into this idea that they can be Baltimore Ravens-like and have a “we-don’t-need-a-passing-game” mentality. The Redskins defense ain’t that great, and this club has no future if it doesn’t find some legitimate quarterback play. And yes, those shorts were left in the dryer a bit too long the other night.

Q: No quarterback? Isn’t Clinton Portis enough of a passer for you?

A: Clinton said his touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles reminded him of Joe Montana to Dwight Clark. It looked more like a seagull with one wing dipped in plaster of Paris. Seriously, the Redskins can’t start relying on trick plays. Portis’ pass actually was the second gimmick of the game — Gibbs tried to go to lineman Ray Brown in the second quarter. Sleight of hand won’t make Washington’s problems disappear.

Q: So is this another call for Brunell’s job?

A: Brunell has had half a season. Yesterday he barely completed a third of his throws. It’s not that Washington can’t pull out a few wins with him behind center, it’s that it’s impossible to see this team reaching the playoffs — ever — with a passing game like this. The Redskins’ passing game is like the Expos in Montreal. The status quo has become a farce.

Q: We feel like we ask this every week, but here goes: Any chance Gibbs makes a change?

A: Call it crazy, but there seemed to be a hint of doubt in Gibbs’ voice last night as he talked about Brunell. “I feel like we can pass the football,” Gibbs said. “We’ll see.” With the FedEx crowd ready to ride every incompletion this weekend, perhaps the coach finally is ready for a switch.

Q: What else we got — defense? How does Gregg Williams’ unit keep playing so well?

A: To a certain extent, they’re getting assists from the competition. Detroit ranked dead last in the NFL entering yesterday’s game, and the Lions’ only legitimate playmaker, wide receiver Roy Williams, was nursing an ankle injury. Williams, Joey Harrington and Kevin Jones are all young players who don’t have the composure to thrive yet on a weekly basis.

Q: So no props for the D?

A: No, that’s not right. Cornelius Griffin is superhuman — he’ll be cheated if he doesn’t go to the Pro Bowl. The run defense continues to be outstanding. It is a testament to the long-term prospects of this unit that Williams can get this sort of performance without LaVar Arrington and with Phillip Daniels getting hurt again.

Q: Why don’t the Redskins miss Arrington?

A: The formula really isn’t that tricky: Stop the run, put teams in third-and-long, then make the plays you’re supposed to make. Arrington’s athletic ability can bail a defense out of a mistake or get inside an opponent’s head, but at day’s end his performance isn’t essential to the team playing good, sound defense.

Q: And now Washington finally has some special teams, too, right?

A: It’s about time Danny Smith’s units got going. The special teams had given up far and away the most punt return yards in the league, hadn’t broken a return of note and generally scared Redskins fans more than opposing coaches. Yesterday Washington played the kind of special teams that win games.

Q: Was that another failed challenge that we saw by Gibbs?

A: Yup. And that was the Redskins, too, calling timeout for Detroit at the end of the first half and helping set up a game-tying field goal. Maybe Gibbs will get the game-management stuff down by next season. For now, embarrassing mistakes continue to pile up.

Q: Well, where do we stand? What kind of potential does this team have in the second half of the season?

A: Everything continues to ride on the quarterback position. Washington went 3-5 in the first half against a weak schedule, and now it faces a series of difficult contests — Philly twice, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and a game at Dallas.

If the Redskins can figure out how to score three touchdowns a game, they can go 4-4 in the second half and consider this season a modest step forward. If not, it’s going to be a long road home.

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