- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It already is part of franchise lore: The Washington Redskins, down and nearly out, won five straight games to close last season and clinch a playoff berth.

That comeback, however, had a solid foundation that this season’s team thus far lacks: The Redskins entered last December with a losing record but a strong 5-2 mark in the NFC and 2-1 in the NFC East.

Just five games into this season, the Redskins (2-3) arguably are in bigger trouble than they were at any point last year. The Redskins are 0-2 in the division and 0-3 in the conference.

The Redskins’ victories over the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars of the AFC count in the standings, of course, but they simply aren’t as important as those games that also can deal a defeat to a team chasing one of the six NFC playoff spots.

The Redskins are tied with the San Francisco 49ers for 11th in the race for those six berths, but they’re actually in worse shape because the 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals each have a conference victory.

Only the winless Detroit Lions (0-5 in the conference) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3) are as bad off in NFC play as the Redskins. And, of course, the Redskins are in last place in the NFC East, trailing the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, all of whom are at least .500 overall and in conference and division games.

“We can’t afford to lose any more in the division,” receiver Antwaan Randle El said.

But the Redskins can’t gain any ground in the conference or division tiebreakers, either, at least not until November. Their next two games are against the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts of the AFC, followed by their bye week.

Also troubling for the Redskins is that they saved their best last season for the crucial division games, but this season they have given their worst in those matchups.

The Redskins delivered a dramatic 14-13 victory over the Cowboys in Week 2 last year and consecutive thumpings of the Cowboys, Giants and Eagles to close the season.

The Redskins played poorly in their two division games so far this season, getting outgained 778 to 409 and outscored 46-13 by the Cowboys and Giants.

“We just didn’t operate,” coach Joe Gibbs said of Sunday’s 19-3 whipping at Giants Stadium.

“It’s very humbling,” fullback Mike Sellers said. “We just didn’t show up. I don’t know if guys started getting a big head about the offense after [the 36-30 victory over] Jacksonville. It was a quiet ride home yesterday.”

The one-sided losses to the Cowboys and Giants revealed some major, chronic problems: The Redskins converted only five of 25 third downs in those games, allowed eight completions of at least 20 yards and surrendered nine sacks, and quarterback Mark Brunell had just 306 yards passing.

The offense has produced only two field goals and no touchdowns in NFC East play compared to seven field goals and nine touchdowns in non-division games. And quarterback Mark Brunell’s passer rating was 63.9 against the Cowboys and Giants but 107.1 against the Minnesota Vikings, Texans and Jaguars.

“We hate the fact that we’ve given up so many yards,” cornerback Carlos Rogers said of a pass defense that has crashed from a No. 10 ranking in 2005 to 28th this year, in part because top corner Shawn Springs has been hurt all year.

“You can’t [record big gains on screen passes] every week. You can’t give somebody the Hawaiian Punch every week,” said receiver Santana Moss, who gained 138 yards against a tough Jaguars defense but just 39 against a Giants pass defense that came in ranked 29th. “They see it time and time again, and it doesn’t always work. If it ain’t there, don’t try it. That’s pretty much what happened yesterday.”

Or didn’t happen.

Said Gibbs: “We’re used to making things happen, and we didn’t. … Sometimes it’s probably not explainable. One week doesn’t guarantee you the next week. You can play real good, and the next week, if you don’t play great football, then you get in trouble, and that’s exactly what happened up [in New York].”

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