- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

Joe Gibbs could not compete with his legendary self yesterday.

You wanted 20 men in motion on each play. You wanted multiple shifts. You wanted the flea-flicker play, the end-around trickery, a reverse or two and a high number of long forward passes.

You wanted it to be Mark Rypien’s MVP season all over again. You wanted Doug Williams throwing four touchdown passes in the second quarter of the Super Bowl. You wanted all that glorious stuff of yesteryear on the first NFL Sunday of the season, in the game marking the return of Gibbs to the sport he once dominated.

But there was none of that on display on this muggy afternoon inside the bowl by the Beltway.

All we received from the guru was the Redskins 16, the Buccaneers 10.

It was a grind-it-out affair, which led to a dulling of the senses as the tedium proceeded forward. It was a game of punters, field position and time-of-possession statistics. There was no pizzazz, no dazzling moments other than the 64-yard touchdown burst by Clinton Portis in the first quarter and no real feeling of the Buccaneers posing a threat.

Brad Johnson’s right arm apparently has died and gone to football heaven. You saw stronger arms zipping passes in the parking-lot before the game. Johnson has dissolved into the master of the dump-off pass that results in a 1-yard gain. His passes downfield either die in mid-air or float like sickly sparrows to their intended targets.

One of his receivers can beat a cornerback by 15 yards, only to have the ball swatted away by the time the sad, forlorn object reaches its destination.

Johnson was sacked on the final play of the game, which was fitting. If given one last chance to throw the ball, Johnson undoubtedly would have dumped the ball underneath the coverage for another 1-yard gain.

The Buccaneers produced 10 points only because of a long kickoff return that led to a field goal and a botched handoff exchange that led to a touchdown.

Their offense served no function other than to provide a moment’s rest for a stellar defense.

Yet Gibbs insisted this was a worthy opponent, which may come to be if Johnson undergoes an arm transplant or Chris Simms shows he is ready to play.

Of course, Gibbs talks up opponents with the best. He would stay up all night in preparation of a meeting with the 120-pound, youth-league champion. He also remains modest to a fault, as if he just stepped off the street from a white-collar job.

He is one of the best there ever was, as he will demonstrate again. Unlike his predecessor, Gibbs is all about the details, and the Redskins already are showing more discipline and restraint than in previous seasons.

Gone is the maddening false-start penalty every other play. Gone is the sense of doom. Gone is the tendency to roll over the first time something goes wrong.

The Redskins surrendered a potential momentum-changing touchdown after quarterback Mark Brunell tried to hand off the ball to Portis while falling to the turf. The faulty exchange resulted in a touchdown fumble return and a tie game in the third quarter. In seasons past, the Redskins would have packed up their equipment and headed for the exit after such a deflating occurrence.

This time, with the legend prowling the sideline, the Redskins absorbed the blow and completed what was rightfully theirs.

“That was a hard-fought game,” Gibbs said later. “It was huge for me, I can tell you that. For me personally, it was a big deal. I told the players that, hopefully, all the attention will go on them now. They deserve it. They make all the plays.”

That is Gibbs for you. He is back living in fear again. It is the fear that he never will win another NFL game.

“I was on the sidelines scrambling for my life,” he said.

It probably is not fair to nitpick with the winner’s winner, but his return would have been so much more satisfying if it had been — oh — 40-10.

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