- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2009

When you hear the words “plate” and “screw” at this time of year, it’s usually in the context of: “I don’t think I can fit any more food on this plate” or “Make me another screwdriver, will ya?” But Jim Zorn used them Monday to describe the surgery to Chad Rinehart’s right fibula, the one the young offensive guard fractured in the Dallas game.

Yup, it’s going to be a Hap-hap-happy Thanksgiving for the Redskins. Ladell Betts and his mangled left knee have also hopped aboard the IR Train, and Clinton Portis, Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall are in various states of disrepair. I’m not sure what the club has in mind as far as replacements go, but I’d strongly suggest open tryouts.

(Idle thought: Anybody know whether Timmy Smith is out of prison yet?)

At moments like these, gallows humor is the best medicine. (And the next-best medicine, I’m told, is a bottle of Gallo’s very best port.) But seriously, folks, things might not be as “bleak” as Zorn would put it, as they appear on the surface. After all, as the Z-Man himself pointed out, “We played the team that’s leading the division, and we went toe to toe with who we had.”

Exactly. I mean, you saw how the Cowboys played in that monstrosity of a 7-6 game. Did that look like a division-leading club to you? And yet Tony Romo and friends are 7-3 - and stand a good chance of going to 8-3 by gobbling up the Raiders on Turkey Day.

Let’s face it, the Cowboys miss Terrell Owens (as T.O. reminded them Sunday by catching 197 yards’ worth of passes in Buffalo’s loss to Jacksonville). In their last two games, they’ve been held scoreless until the last few minutes. And unlike the Emergency Room Redskins, they’ve been relatively healthy on offense.

It’s just that Miles Austin, while having a certain excitement factor, doesn’t command nearly the respect from defenses that Owens did. On top of that, his running mate at receiver, Roy Williams, seems to have morphed into Alvin Harper - after the latter got a big contract and went into semi-retirement. Throw in the quarterback’s tendency, every now and then, to throw the ball like Vicente Romo (e.g. against the Redskins), and you have to wonder how serious a contender Dallas is.

Indeed, the NFC East as a whole has been less than awe inspiring. The Giants are 6-4, but they just snapped a four-game losing streak. The Eagles are 6-4, too, but they lost to Oakland (despite the best efforts of JaMarcus Russell, the Raiders’ since benched QB).

It’s hard to see anybody in the division getting past the Saints or Vikings in the second round of the playoffs, and that’s assuming anybody in the division reaches the second round of the playoffs. Philadelphia might be the most balanced team of the bunch, but it’s not nearly as dangerous without Brian Westbrook, who’s still recovering from the concussion inflicted on him by London Fletcher.

I mention this because when the Redskins are 3-7 - and at least three games worse than any other club in the NFC East - there’s a tendency to think there’s a huge gap between Them and Everybody Else. But as Sunday showed, the divide isn’t that large, even when they’re down to their No. 3 running back and recruiting guys off the street to play in the offensive line.

There’s no super team in the division, not any more. There hasn’t been, really, since the Eagles went to four straight conference title games (2001-04). The Cowboys looked like they might succeed Philly, but they haven’t. The Giants got hot in the 2008 playoffs and won the Super Bowl, but those are Eli Manning’s only postseason victories.

It’s so hard to sustain anything in this league for very long. That’s why Redskins fans shouldn’t get too down. After all, on Sunday their team started Who at one offensive line spot, What at another and I Don’t Know at still another and nearly knocked off the first place club in the NFC East.

This is encouraging - gruesome as the game might have been from an artistic standpoint. It suggests there are some Definite Keepers on Greg Blache’s defense (even though the offense, with all its injuries, packs about as much punch as a water balloon). If nothing else, it’s something to build on.

Anyway, that’s my Thanksgiving message: The Redskins’ situation isn’t as desperate as it looks… because the bar in their division isn’t set awfully high at the moment.

Now if their crack management team will just get a clue - rent one with an option to buy, maybe.

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