- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2006

“I’m flabbergasted,” Mike Sellers said.

That’s as good a reaction to the Redskins’ latest catastrophe — yesterday’s 25-22 home loss to the previously winless Titans — as any. Makes a lot more of an impression than shocked or stunned or any other synonym for incredulity.

And yet, why should Sellers be flabbergasted by the depths to which the Redskins have sunk? Wasn’t this team outgained 411-164 by the Giants just a week ago? For that matter, didn’t this team get beat at home last year by the now-flirting-with-0-16 Raiders? Sellers should be beyond flabbergasting — as should we all.

It’s a great word, though, containing both “flab” (which the roster would appear to have plenty of) and “gas” (denoting the hot air of preseason expectations). All those bold predictions of going deep into the playoffs, of playing the NFC title game at FedEx Field — in front of Our 92,000 — seem pretty silly now. A much more realistic goal for the Redskins is simply a winning season. At 2-4 — with a trip to Indianapolis next on the itinerary — they’ve got one cleat dangling over the abyss.

“We can’t let teams hang around on us,” Jon Jansen said. “When we do, this is what happens.”

What happens is: They lose to the Vikings, almost lose to the Jaguars (after leading by 10 in the fourth quarter) and then lose to the Titans.

What happens is: People begin to wonder whether they’re Just An Average NFL Club … that’s obscenely well paid.

When you can’t distinguish yourself from an 0-5 team — in a game you simply have to have — well, it raises all kinds of unpleasant questions. Questions like: What does it say about your quarterback when he gets outplayed by a rookie who had never won an NFL game before? Questions like: At what point does Joe Gibbs stop wasting everybody’s time and start getting the Snydermen ready for next year?

“The season’s not over,” Jansen insisted. “We’ve been in bigger holes before and dug out of ‘em.”

True enough. In 2001, his third season, the Redskins started 0-5 under Marty Schottenheimer and finished 8-8. But they also started 2-4 two years ago and finished 6-10. And in neither case, you may recall, did they make the playoffs.

Here’s hoping the Titans gave Gibbs some ideas — in particular, the idea of playing his young quarterback, Jason Campbell. Tennessee’s Vince Young is far from polished, but — as he showed yesterday — he has enough raw ability to lead a rebuilding club to victory in the NFL’s biggest stadium. By the end of the season, assuming he can stay upright, he’ll be over most of his growing pains, and his team will be ready to rock.

“I’d say they’ve got a real exceptional football player — real cool, calm,” Coach Joe said of the kid QB. “He can run, and he was pinpoint [with his passes] on a number of things.”

So the early returns are already in on Young, just six games into his career. But how much do the Redskins know about Campbell, who’s now one year and six games into his career? Answer: Precious little. He’s seen some action in the preseason but never in a Real Game. From the beginning, Gibbs has been ultraprotective of him, preferring to give a thorough grounding in the ways of the NFL before throwing him to the Strahans.

But the time is fast approaching when it will serve no worthwhile purpose to keep playing Brunell. That time, in fact, may only be seven days away — if, that is, the Redskins slink home from Indy with a 2-5 record. With a bye week coming up and games against the Cowboys, Eagles (two), Panthers, Falcons, Saints, Rams and Giants looming, it would behoove Gibbs to face reality and make the switch to Campbell.

Will he, though? I wouldn’t count on it. The Redskins, after all, overcame a 5-6 start last season, and there will be those in Ashburn who think they can do it again. The circumstances then were much different, though; Gregg Williams’ defense was playing significantly better, and the schedule was significantly kinder.

It’s at moments like these, Marcus Washington said, that “you learn about the guys on your team.” It’s also at moments like these that you learn about the coaches, especially the head guy. Are a few more victories between now and January — but no playoff berth — worth holding off the future, worth delaying Campbell’s development? Is a prettier final record more important than next year and the year after?

This much is clear: The natives are getting extremely antsy. They were reaching for the booze — and the boos — as the Redskins blew a 14-3 lead to the Titans. It’s never a pleasant experience watching an opposing running back brutalize your defense for a career-high 178 yards. Nor is it much fun watching your quarterback badly underthrow a receiver with a minute remaining, resulting in the game-clinching interception.

If that wasn’t the Valley of Death that Brunell and the Redskins rode into yesterday, they can certainly see it from there.

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