- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

Three field goals and a cloud of dust. That’s where the Redskins’ offense is right now, one year and one game into the Gibbs Restoration. After a season in which the Redskins made ordinary defenses look like the Steel Curtain — and after an offseason in which they replaced both starting receivers, brought in a new center and quarterbacks coach, welcomed back Jon Jansen and tried to perform a Vulcan mind meld between Coach Joe and Patrick Ramsey — they beat the Bears 9-7 in their 2005 opener, all nine points coming courtesy of John Hall’s instep.

A win is a win, sure, but Joe Gibbs and his offensive think-tankers had to be expecting more than three field goals and a narrow victory over a team quarterbacked by a rookie fourth-round draft pick. Truth be told, there wasn’t much difference between yesterday’s halting effort and the one against the Bucs in Week1 last year. The Redskins ran the ball a little more consistently, Mark Brunell seemed a little lighter on his feet, but every score was still of the blood-from-a-stone variety.

Oh, there were a couple of big plays, a few glimmers of hope. Ramsey and Santana Moss connected on a 52-yard completion at the outset of the second quarter, and Clinton Portis broke a 41-yard run at the end of the third, but two sacks (the first resulting in a fumble) effectively sabotaged those series. No, it’s hard to get very enthused about this performance, especially with a Monday night game at Dallas looming.

Already we may be looking at a quarterback change — Ramsey leaving, Brunell coming. Patrick had his neck wrung by linebacker Lance Briggs on the aforementioned sack-fumble and was given the rest of the afternoon off, though he felt up to returning in the second half. In his 19 minutes, he had one interception and two fumbles (only the second of which, thankfully for the home team, was lost). That, as much as any strained neck, is why Ramsey stayed on the sideline for essentially the last three quarters. Gibbs saw his opportunity to go to a steadier hand, a more trusted hand, and he took it.

And it’s hard to blame him. Ramsey turned the ball over in the preseason, and he turned it over again yesterday — a disturbing pattern indeed. Coach Joe didn’t say definitively that he was switching to Brunell, but he didn’t give Ramsey a glowing endorsement either. And if you read between the lines — or rather, listened between the lines — you could pretty well figure out the direction he’s leaning in.

After all, he could easily have said, “If Patrick’s healthy, then he’s starting against the Cowboys.” But instead he said, “We will see how everybody heals up, and then I will sit and look at it and decide what we are going to do.” Big difference.

He also did some venting about the Redskins’ three giveaways — of which Ramsey, of course, was responsible for two. “One thing we still have not grasped for ourselves for a team,” he began … is that, well, the team needs to grasp the ball more firmly.”

Who knows what might have happened in this game if the FedEx crowd of 90,138 hadn’t inserted itself into the Redskins lineup midway through the final quarter. The Bears, needing just a field goal to go ahead, had a second down at the Washington 37 when the stadium suddenly got so loud that the visiting team couldn’t hear the signals. Three times in a row Chicago tried to snap the ball, and three times in a row — which might be some kind of record — somebody false-started. Soon enough, the Bears were facing a third-and-38.

“We couldn’t get a play called in the defensive huddle either,” Cornelius Griffin said. “We’re going, ‘What? What?’ But that’s what you want, the 12th man. You want teams to hate coming here to play us.”

It’s not like the day was a total downer for the Redskins’ offense. The running attack, for instance, looked more Gibbsian than it usually did last season, gaining yardage in small, clock-eating chunks that enabled the Redskins to hold the ball — and give their gallant defense time to gather itself. The protection afforded Ramsey and Brunell was also a cut above last year’s, allowing them to at least take a peek downfield every now and then.

Gibbs, too, is doing everything he can to get the offense out of first gear. The shotgun, which he resisted so spiritedly in the old days, is very much a part of the Redskins’ scheme now. And get this: He’s leaving it up to Portis to decide when he comes out and Ladell Betts comes in. Don’t remember him ever doing that with John Riggins and Joe Washington (or with Earnest Byner and Gerald Riggs, for that matter).

But all these changes, all this receptiveness to others’ ideas, all this flexibility added up to three field goals yesterday. And the player who booted those field goals came out of the game with a leg injury — much like the one, the medical staff fears, that sidelined him for half of last season.

So, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em — those victory cigars, I mean. No telling when you’ll be lighting up again.

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