- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We begin this autopsy with a few words from Jim Zorn, uttered in the aftermath of the Redskins‘ Latest Wrenching Loss, this one 27-24 to the 49ers in the 2008 closer. Standing at a podium in his burgundy team garb, Zorn said - as he has often this season - that the team’s failings were as plain as the frown on Dan Snyder’s face.

“The absolute truth comes out when you see that [game] film” was how he phrased it.

Who needs to see any game film? Anybody who has watched this club the past five months - blasting out of the blocks with a 6-2 start and then staggering to the finish line - knows what ails the Redskins: They still don’t have enough good players. And their coach is still learning on the job. And their management team of Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, a decade into their stewardship, still has too many strange ideas about how to construct a successful franchise.

But other than that …

Let’s not pretend, for instance, we don’t know why the Redskins kept losing leads late in the season - to Dallas, to Seattle (whom they were fortunate to beat) and Sunday to the Niners. To paraphrase the late, great Bill Walsh, nothing is more important in the NFL than a fourth-quarter pass rush, and the Redskins don’t have one. In fact, nobody on the defense had more than four sacks. Some guys get that many in a game.

The trade for Jason Taylor was supposed to solve that problem, but he was hurt - and asked to play out of position - for most of the season. That’s almost beside the point, though. There wouldn’t have been any need for Taylor if the club functioned the way it’s supposed to function, if it addressed its needs properly in the draft - the needs “you can see on that film,” as Zorn puts it, where “the absolute truth comes out.”

Instead, the Redskins’ brain trust dealt its latest No. 1 pick, accumulated three second-rounders and then spent them all on pass CATCHERS instead of pass RUSHERS, something no team had ever done. Will Dan and Vinny ever get a clue about this, or will the next draft be more of the same? (I can hardly wait to find out.)

But this is old news. I bring it up only because, well, it’s old news that won’t go away - like the Redskins’ continuing mediocrity won’t go away. Newer news is the concern that Jason Campbell might not be the answer at quarterback, that he’s an 8-8 QB on an 8-8 team. This concern is totally legitimate, by the way. When Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco can come in as rookies and lead the Falcons and Ravens to the playoffs, it’s fair to wonder why Campbell, now entering Year 5, has yet to lead the Redskins to anything.

Once a game, it seems, Campbell will make a throw - or not make a throw, as the case may be - that will cause you to mutter, “You’ve GOT to be able to complete that pass if you want to be a top quarterback in the NFL.” Sunday’s teeth-gnashing moment came in the second quarter, when Jason had Santana Moss wide open for a touchdown, five yards from any defender, and couldn’t get the ball over 6-foot-5 linebacker Manny Lawson, who batted it down.

Zorn tried to defend his QB, jokingly referring to the “stilts” Lawson was wearing, but it wasn’t Manny’s height; Campbell just didn’t arc the pass high enough. That one play cost the Redskins four points - they had to settle for a field goal - and they wound up losing by three. So …

But it’s hard not to feel like better times are ahead for Jason. For one thing, he had the lowest interception percentage in the league this season (1.2 percent). In 12 of his 16 games, he didn’t throw ANY interceptions. That’s a hugely encouraging sign. Also, his completion rate (62.3) suggests he’s accurate enough, and he has nice mobility, as he showed several times at San Francisco.

What he has to get better at, much better, is putting the ball in the end zone. Only two quarterbacks had a lower touchdown percentage than his 2.6 - the Bengals’ Ryan Fitzpatrick (2.2), who is really a backup, and the Rams’ Marc Bulger (2.5). Good luck going deep into the playoffs with 13 TD passes in 506 attempts.

Simply put, it’s too early to give up on Campbell. If Zorn decides to make the position competitive in training camp next year, fine. Nothing wrong with that. Who knows? Maybe Colt Brennan is another Tony Romo. But nothing Jason did this season should make anybody want to bail out on him. He hardly, I’ll just point out, had the best receiving corps to work with, and his aging offensive line sprang the occasional leak.

Asked for an instant analysis late Sunday of the Redskins’ bulls-and-bears journey to 8-8 - and what it all meant - Pete Kendall smartly said, “I don’t know how it all fits together. The macro picture I don’t really know about. I know about my own particular niche, my own part of the world. … And I know we need to produce more as an offense.”

Andre Carter chose to look at it as “just another chapter. We’ll flip the page and start a new chapter - go through the draft process, free agency and continue to try to develop a championship ballclub. There’s probably a few pieces of the puzzle missing.”

If it is, indeed, just another chapter, it’s another chapter in a very long book, one that has taken 10 years to read - with no end in sight. Redskins fans are still waiting for the happy ending like the one they enjoyed in ‘82, ‘87 and ‘91.

There’s little joy in a first-round playoff loss, and as for an 8-8 record … we’ve read that chapter before, too many times.

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