- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

If it wasn’t one thing for the Washington Redskins offense in Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants, it was another.

Or another.

And another.

The drive-killing mistakes came in all forms at Giants Stadium. Though the Redskins’ seven turnovers dominated headlines and clearly undermined the team’s chance in a winnable game, they also obscured smaller reasons why Joe Gibbs’ famous offense is balking after two games.

On Sunday, there were breakdowns on the interior line, another bevy of short runs by Clinton Portis, poor execution on screen passes, drops by an array of skill players, blown routes and penalties.

In other words, if there was a mistake to be made, the Redskins made it.

“It was like a virus — everybody caught it,” said wide receiver Rod Gardner, who dropped a pass for a second straight week. “If it wasn’t one person, it seemed like another. We just kept making [mistakes] over and over again. It hurt us.”

This wasn’t supposed to happen. When Gibbs came out of retirement and replaced Steve Spurrier, who guided an error-prone group in 2003, the idea was that Gibbs’ discipline and attention to detail would end the mistakes and elevate a talented roster to its proper place in the league.

That still might happen. But Sunday’s loss ended the honeymoon period for Gibbs, who admitted yesterday he “absolutely” is concerned about his offense’s execution.

“If you play a game like we did this week, you’re very concerned,” Gibbs said. “We need to get out of that rut. We need to be much smoother than what we are. We make a big play, make plays, have a real good drive and then are inconsistent.”

And what about players supposedly being more disciplined under Gibbs?

“We are,” Gardner said. “But we got behind the eight ball and felt like we had to make a comeback real quick. A lot of times we were making mistakes we shouldn’t have. If the game would have been different, some of the throws, some of the things we did might not have happened.”

Such thinking was popular at Redskin Park yesterday — that a lot of Washington’s mistakes came while trying to play catch-up in the second half. That might be logical, but it doesn’t explain why Gibbs’ offense, which dominated the league at times during his first stint, is playing catch-up in the first place.

In two straight games, the offense has gone through long barren stretches. Last week the swoon came in the first and second quarters. Over a stretch of six series, Washington averaged just 6.8 yards a drive, showing none of the varied, rhythmic attack it flashed on its opening series — and consistently throughout Gibbs’ first tenure.

No, through two weeks, the NFC East’s offensive symphony can be seen up in Philadelphia, where the Eagles have picked apart two opponents. Gibbs’ unit, meanwhile, has been in tune for only a few notes at a time.

“We have a good song one drive and a bad song the next drive,” tight end Walter Rasby said with a laugh. “It’s like the composer bumps his head, and he’s waving his stick the wrong way.

“We’re more than capable. We’ve got the skill people in place. We’ve got the line in place. We’ve got the quarterbacks in place. We’ve got the tight end in place. We’ve got everybody in place. It’s just being consistent. Everybody’s seen us do things the way we’re supposed to do them — just not for any extended period of time.”

The media focus this week is on quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey, who combined for five turnovers against the Giants. But perhaps as concerning as any issue is the production of Portis, the Pro Bowl running back. Although his numbers look good overall — 49 carries for 217 yards, a 4.4-yard average — beneath the surface is trouble.

Since Portis’ first run of the season, a 64-yard touchdown in the win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he has averaged just 3.2 yards. Of his 49 carries, 33 (67 percent) have gone for three or fewer yards. And against the Giants, he fumbled twice and dropped a pass.

However, all of Washington’s offensive players have something to improve following Sunday’s game. And perhaps it will happen. Players said that, although no changes were made to practice yesterday, coaches were detailed in reviewing film with players and that the focus in practice was high.

“The only way to fix stuff like that is practice, being real precise at it,” Gibbs said. “To me, the best way to get yourself out of bad habits up here is to practice that way. So we put a special emphasis this week on everything that gave us trouble. Hopefully, we’ll work our way out of it.”

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