- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

The day started with a 64-yard touchdown run and ended with a clock-killing drive against what traditionally has been one of the NFL’s best defenses.

In between, it was rough going for the Washington Redskins offense.

Generally lost amid the celebration of coach Joe Gibbs’ winning return to the NFL and running back Clinton Portis’ fantasy league-fulfilling debut was that Gibbs’ vaunted offense didn’t perform that well in Sunday’s 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Between Portis’ memorable first carry and the offense sucking down the game’s final five minutes like a kid with a root beer float, the unit had five meaningful drives go for fewer than 10 yards — including all four in the third quarter — and its two field goals were set up by Bucs turnovers.

In other words, the landscape was pretty barren for a stretch of nearly 52 minutes. When the Redskins retake the field Sunday against the New York Giants, they hope to build on the limited promise they showed in the opener.

“We came out of that game feeling good about ourselves, just because of the last five minutes,” assistant head coach for offense Joe Bugel said yesterday. “When you control the ball for five minutes against that football team — running the ball when they knew we were going to run it — kudos to us.

“But we have a lot of work to do: pass-protection-wise, run-blocking-wise, everything. I know our players feel the same way we [coaches] do. We have to keep working hard. We have to build our consistency.”

What’s a bit worrisome is that the performance reflected the preseason. Mark Brunell won the quarterback competition by showing a veteran’s poise and by not playing as badly as Patrick Ramsey. Last weekend against the Bucs, Brunell more or less reprised his uninspiring form from exhibition play.

He completed just 13 of his 24 passes for only 125 yards. His rating (68.9) was in line with the mediocre one he posted in the preseason (74.1) and actually is lower than the one that has Giants fans wondering this week about New York starter Kurt Warner (79.9).

“I’ve got a lot to work on,” Brunell conceded. “Our passing game could be better. That stems from better decisions, being more accurate, putting the team in the right play, all those things.”

One play that Brunell chalked up to needing “better decisions” was his deep attempt to wide receiver Laveranues Coles early in the third quarter. Coles appeared to have a step on the Bucs’ last line of defense, but Brunell’s throw didn’t get there. Coles slowed down and turned for the ball, and the pass easily was batted down.

“He was pretty covered, and it probably wasn’t the best of decisions,” Brunell said. “I threw it up and thought, ‘Maybe number 80 can pull it down.’ But I didn’t really give him a good chance.”

Coles, who caught 82 passes for 1,204 yards last season, had just three receptions for 27 yards Sunday. Meanwhile, Portis, despite a great start and solid finish, had 20 carries of three or fewer yards. His average gain, a gaudy 5.1 yards, was just 3.0 if you toss out the opening burst.

But perhaps no area was of more concern than the center exchange. Lennie Friedman misplayed two snaps, and Cory Raymer, who replaced Friedman for two plays in the third quarter, accidentally tripped Brunell, leading to a fumble and Tampa Bay’s game-tying touchdown.

Coaches, who already had Friedman and Raymer working with wet balls for portions of practice, this week upped the stakes by sending defensive linemen full-speed in drills.

“We’ll have live contact,” Bugel said. “We’ll put the center in the toughest blocking situations known to man. It’s an ongoing thing. You’ve got to work on it every day.”

All this isn’t to say Gibbs’ offense was without solid elements. Portis, of course, enjoyed the big run and snuffed out Tampa Bay’s hopes at the end. Brunell, after the fumble, maintained control. And, perhaps most importantly, the line didn’t surrender a sack.

Gibbs, at week’s start, cautioned that his team couldn’t gloss over errors just because it won. Yesterday, he noted the center exchange and passing game among his areas of concern, but overall didn’t sound too worried.

“There were a number of things that stood out that we did not do well,” Gibbs said. “You try to work every way you can to correct them.”

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