- The Washington Times - Monday, October 5, 2009

Don’t worry, Redskins fans, more help is on the way. The Redskins’ next home game is against the Kansas City Chiefs, who at one point Sunday were being outgained 425-91 by the Jersey Giants. Dan Snyder might even fly the Chiefs here in his private jet just to make sure they show up.

Sorry, but it’s hard to be jolly after watching the Redskins spot a truly awful Tampa Bay team a 10-point lead and have to hang on in the last few minutes for a 16-13 win at FedEx Field. Of course, as Clinton Portis noted: “A win is a win. It’s the NFL, man.” And if Clinton hadn’t deigned to note it, some other player or coach surely would have.

This is what the Redskins spend most of their time doing these days, trying to tell people it’s not as bad as it looks. They took the same tack after their 9-7 victory over a St. Louis club that hasn’t won since last October. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.

The Redskins’ last three games, after all, have been against teams that right now aren’t even in the NFL’s Football Bowl Subdivision. And the cumulative score of those games, from a Washington perspective, has been Us 39, Them 39. That’s right, Us and Them have been virtually indistinguishable.

Sunday, the Redskins came out and, anxious to atone for the Detroit Debacle, gave up a sack on their second offensive play and a sack-fumble on their third. This not only helped the offense-challenged Bucs to an early touchdown, but it also gave them the one thing you never want to give a down-on-its-luck club: hope.

Jason Campbell later added three interceptions to his opening turnover, causing him to remark afterward: “It’s the first time in my career I ever had three picks, even [in] peewee, high school and college.” That’s the kind of day it was for Campbell and the offense, especially in the first half - the kind of day in which a man finds himself thinking, “Have I ever played this poorly at any level, even in my backyard?”

“It was really frustrating for us all,” Jim Zorn said. “I kept looking at the game plan and thinking: What else could go wrong with my playcalling? I kept looking for the right sequence, that rhythm, that play selection that was going to get guys unleashed.”

Fortunately, the Redskins were playing the Bucs, whose quarterback was starting his first NFL game and whose winless streak, dating back to last season, now stands at eight. Seriously, how many other teams could they have beaten Sunday playing the way they did? Heck, you could have asked the same question after the Rams game.

Everybody thought it was an aberration when the Lions went 0-16 last year, a case of cosmically bad karma that might not happen again for another century. But here it is, the very next season, and we have four legitimate candidates for 0-16-hood - the Rams, Bucs, Chiefs and Browns (three of whom, miraculously enough, are on the Redskins’ schedule).

It’s easy to ignore context and spout platitudes like “a win is a win.” But the fact of the matter is that all wins are not created equal. A conference win, for instance, is more valuable than a nonconference win, and a division win is more valuable than a nondivision win. We know this because the league’s tiebreaker rules tell us so.

A narrow victory over the Bucs - what’s that worth? What does that tell you about your club… other than, whew, at least it’s not as bad as Tampa Bay?

Once again, FedEx wasn’t always a friendly place for the home team. There were boos after Campbell fumbled, boos after a third-down pass got batted, boos after interceptions, boos after another throw hit an official in the head, boos as the Redskins left the field at halftime. Granted, they weren’t boos that would register on the Richter scale, but they were constant reminders of the fans’ growing unrest.

Zorn’s West Coast attack continues to spin its wheels - it made little headway Sunday except for a 10-minute outburst in the third quarter - and there’s no indication it will gain traction anytime soon. So it goes when an offense is struggling. Improvement tends to be in the smallest increments; almost never does everything get sorted out in a single afternoon.

“We’re taking baby steps,” Casey Rabach said. “I hate to say it because of the way it sounds, but that’s the way it is. We took a baby step today, and we’ve gotta try to take another one next week and just keep going.”

The defense fared a little better, holding the Bucs to 229 yards and allowing them to convert only two third downs. They did this by turning up the pressure on Josh Johnson - standard operating procedure when you go up against a neophyte quarterback (particularly one with a suspect line).

“We wanted to be aggressive on every play,” Reed Doughty said. “We knew he wasn’t going to be Peyton Manning and sit back there and go through one, two, three, four reads. We knew they were going to condense it for him, give him one or two reads, and if it wasn’t there he was going to run.”

It’s certainly not a strategy the Redskins can rely on every week, not with Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers on the horizon. But it was successful Sunday against a first-time starter on an 0-4 team. And a win is a win - or so I hear.

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