Monday, November 29, 2004

Week 12: Questions Abound

Washington 7, Pittsburgh 16

OK, I'll admit it.

I have no idea what's wrong with the Redskins. After 11 games, I'm at a loss. And it's not because I took a little time away from the NFL for the last two weekends. (I had actually started writing some thoughts on the Pacers/Pistons melee and the dreadful Redskins loss to the Egos, but work and personal schedules ate up my time. Maybe I'll post up the unfinished stuff.) I mean that what I'm seeing on the field is so uninspiring, so dad-blamed awful that I'm nearly speechless as to its source. How boring has this team become? I felt nary an inkling of guilt in starting the Pittsburgh defense on my fantasy team. And yes, they helped me win.

Nonetheless, I think I speak for many Washington area fans when I raise some lingering questions:

(1) What has happened to the Redskins' offense? I don't mean to cause alarm, but the Skins have scored a total of 138 points this season. 12.5 points per game. Less than two touchdowns per contest. Washington has the worst scoring offense in the league, behind such perennial powerhouses as the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. Not to put too fine a point on this query, but the Redskins have 34 points less than the next lowest-scoring franchise, the Chicago Bears. That's an entire games' worth of scoring! (Or, for us, three games' worth of points.) It is incredulous, but Washington is an entire game behind the league! Meanwhile, our punter is having a career year.

Coach Gibbs runs an offense starring Clinton Portis and Laveranues Coles, two marquee players for their former teams, Denver and the New York Jets. Coles entered this season with seven, five and six touchdowns in his last three seasons. This year, "Parkay" Coles has one touchdown. One. Portis the Pine Rider had 15 and 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons before arriving in D.C. As of today, he has two.

I have no answers for this. I believe it was Michael Wilbon at the Washington Post who noted a couple of weeks ago that if the Redskins' offense had simply been average, they would have won five of their first eight games. Now look at us. Three wins and searching for solutions. Speaking of riddles...

(2) How did Clinton Portis get such great seats for the Pittsburgh game? For the few of you who stomached all of Sunday's game, you saw a Mister Ladell Betts rush more times and for twice as many yards as Portis. The uninjured $50 million running back (who, for the record, is nine touchdowns behind $1 million backup runner Jerome Bettis) got to watch the offense struggle to less than 200 yards of total offense, touching tbe ball seven times for 17 yards. Have mercy.

Now Coach Gibbs is defending the decision to bench Portis, saying that he was relying on Patrick "Pharaoh" Ramsey to push the team down the field against one of the NFL's best defenses. Isn't that like asking Michael Knight to defeat Goliath without KITT (or Arnold Jackson)? You just don't do it. I dunno what Portis did to deserve benching, but the choice virtually guaranteed a loss to the Steelers...considering that with Poris playing, we haven't scored more than than 18 points. Fans should be thankful that Ramsey only turned the ball over once, though he was dropped to the turf five times.

Mum's the word from Portis as to why he sat out. Maybe he spit on someone. Or got a DUI during halftime. Even if you're going to go pass-wacky in the second half, Portis should stay in to, um, catch the ball.

(3) Which headliner gets replaced first in the offseason? Here's what we do know: Mark Brunell played himself out of Washington football. Patrick Ramsey, God bless 'em, has tried as a starter but has produced only 13 total points (albeit to the two top teams in the league) in two weeks. Portis and Coles' numbers I've mentioned. Gardner has the most receiving touchdowns on the team (5), but has disappeared in the last three weeks (7 catches for 65 yards). Washington has no serious offensive threat; nothing like a shrewd field general (Payton Manning), dual-threat runner (LaDaininan Tomlinson), or sure-handed speedster (Randy Moss).

The answer, my friend, means throwing in the wind. I say we pick up a young, proven, free agent quarterback and let him battle (and beat) Ramsey for the starting job. I like the Coles/Portis combination, but this season they're less than stellar. Again I have no idea why Portis is cooling his heels and Coles is dropping passes like they're hot. Perhaps a new signal-caller, under a revised Gibbs offensive plan, is the ticket.

Word is that San Diego's Drew "Summertime" Brees will be a free agent following this season. Take a look at his numbers. He went from being trade bait out on the West Coast to emerging as an outta sight (do people still say that?) league-leading passer. Sure, it helps to have a balanced attack--Tomlinson puts up 1600 yards like it's nothing and tight end Antonio Gates is the next Tony Gonzalez--but Brees' rising is good news for teams who want an accurate, potential star. I like his stock over any forthcoming college phenom. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger is fantastic, but an anomaly in the NFL.

I feel particularly bad for Gregg Williams and the Redskins defense. They've tried, oh, they've tried, to win games for this team. If there is a weakness that keeps them from being truly dominant, it is that they don't score touchdowns on turnovers. But they consistenly slow or halt offenses with blitzes and tight coverage, only to have to return to the field four plays later because Portis got stuffed for one yard, Coles dropped a crossing route pass, and the quarterback threw incomplete to avoid a sack. That's been the life for our defense, so it doesn't surprise me that the Eagles were able to eventually put up more than 20 points, or that Cincinnati beat us at home. Don't go changin', defense, not a thing.

In other NFL news, the Ravens have managed to stay in the hunt for an AFC wild card spot even with a loss to the clearly superior New England Patriots. Tough game to sit through, even while hoping Chester Taylor would produce for my fantasy team, because of the poor field conditions and abysmal quarterback play from Kyle "Fruit on the Bottom" Boller. I was prepared to write that Boller had finally come into his own after sharp play versus the Jets and Vikings. After Sunday, my jury's still out. Baltimore needs him, desperately, to make critical throws on 3rd downs and inside the red zone. As Sully on Dr. Quinn used to say "It. Ain't. Happenin'." And yes, I did quote Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

The Ravens do have their work cut out for them, as they will likely need a better record than the Jets, Broncos, or Jaguars to slip into the postseason. Their final games are a mish-mash of quality: Cincinnati, the Giants, the Colts, the Steelers, then a cool down with the sinking ship called the Miami Dolphins. The truth is that a 10-6 record might get you a wild card in the AFC. In the NFC, that would crown you king.




Sp. TEAMS: C (Don't think I didn't notice you letting Antwaan Randle El run wild on you.)

COACHES: D- (I'd like to hear how Gibbs explains going pro-pass against the 3rd-ranked passing defense.)


After taking a two losses in the same weeks, the Young Avengers have secured a much-needed win over Team Palmer. The funny thing is that virtually all of my points have come from the Steelers' defense, Mike Vick, and Brandon "Smooth Strokin'" Stokely. Marshall Faulk still has to go tonight, but he isn't necessary. Oh, how I wish I had kept Jason Witten and Willis McGahee on my team. My Avengers are facing stiff competition by Roy's Boys, who have pulled a where'd-THAT-come-from (henceforth to be called the "Rudy Huxtable") to be just over one game back. I am sufficiently worried, especially now that Terrell Owens didn't score against the marginal New York Giants. Now that I mention them...


Sábado Gigante comes to town--on my birthday, no less--hoping to salvage the season. Believe it or not, at 5-6, they're second in the NFC East and right in the hunt for wild card spot. Time for the Skins to play spoiler. In the name of all that is holy, can we please run the ball? Los Gigantes are now led by rookie Eli "Pan and Scan" Manning. At this stage of his career, he takes too long in the pocket. I say blitz the kid, see what if he can repeat his 6 for 21 performance. In fact, I'm gonna predict that the Washington defense finally scores on a turnover. That should double our total points. Skins win, 14-10.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Two Minutes to Rebut Myself

I want to believe that Washington can beat Philadelphia this weekend.

I really do.

In my heart of hearts, I wish that Pharaoh Ramsey would find his accuracy, dicing up the 20th-ranked Eagles defense for 225 yards and one touchdown.

I like to think that Clinton Portis can rush for 125 yards and two touchdowns, grinding out the clock and keeping the Eagles offense on the sidelines.

And it pleases me to imagine Fred Smoot shutting down Terrell Owens, limiting him to four catches for 43 yards.

Folks, it just ain't gonna happen. I know I picked the Skins to win in Monday's review, 24-21. But I'm led, after viewing most of Monday Night Football, to break Redskins Review tradition and revise my choice, picking the opposition to win.

The Eagles are just that good. If they don't represent the National Football Conference in the Super Bowl, it will be a travesty. No team in the NFC brings as good a performance, when on their "A" game, than Philadelphia. Monday was evidence of that. Dallas, to my great pleasure, was cleaned, filleted, and fried before a national audience to the tune of 49 points.

This is going to sound like treason, but if they weren't in the NFC East, I might even root for 'em. Not because of all the hype they generate, with their Chunky Soup pitchman and speed-skating wide receiver. No, it's because this team plays sound, fundamental, hope-crushing football. They know how to dominate offensively--even without a solid running game--and make just enough plays on defense to demoralize you. (Did you see Philly linebacker Mark Simoneau's heads up stripping of Eddie George and cornerback Lito Sheppard's Ed Reed impression?).

But the Eagles are in the East, thus I cannot root for them. It's just a fact. You'd never hear a Ravens fan pulling for Pittsburgh. It's like Suge Knight hoping Dr. Dre wins the Vibe Legend Award. And you know how that turned out.

Thus, it's time to dream up some strategy for Coach Gibbs.

Washington will be led by Patrick Ramsey this Sunday. Talk about being thrown in the deep end of the pool. He will need to complete short, 5- or 6-yarders and hope for a breakout game from Chris Cooley (Chris Cooley!), a la Dallas tight end Jason Witten. I dunno how Witten got loose for over 130 yards, but he was frequently available for Vinny Testaverde to check down to. Heck, sometimes he was the main receiver and still got the ball. I doubt Eagles coach Andy Reed will allow the same availability to the Redskins's short game, but it's worth a shot.

That said, Washington must run the ball. We simply cannot allow McNabb on the field. Further, we better not give Portis the ball less than 20 times (he had 17 on Sunday against the Bengals); he can pound away on the interior line for 40 total yards for all I care. But we must open passing lanes for a potentially shaky Ramsey. Only way to do it is to force Philly to play their corners close to the line of scrimmage. Then hope that Gardner and Coles actually catch the passes that hit them in the numbers.

To help the offense mount a season-high 20 points, field position will be critical. The special teams have to produce some favorable returns on kickoffs and punt returns. Following Eagles' scores, Dallas made things interesting by returning the kickoffs well. Without Deadweight Morton--I mean, Chad Morton--fielding kicks, Washington's big play potential is greatly diminished. Somebody, somewhere, has got to shock the Eagles, put them back on their heels. This team could do it.

Hardly anyone has an answer for T.O.; I don't wanna hear anything from Ravens fans who believe that they shut him down. You limited him, perhaps contained him. But when he scores the decisive touchdown (and openly mocks your star player), you forfeit the right to boast of success. This kid is bad. In Madden 2006, he'll probably be rated a 98 across the board. Owens can go short and break two tackles on his way to the open field, as he did against Dallas, or he can burn you deep as he did, um, against Dallas.

To the Cowchips' credit, they appeared to have schemed some double-teams on Owens. The corner would occasionally run with Owens and the safety would backpedal until the ball was released Owens' direction. Other times the corner played zone, and hoped for the safety to slide over in time. Owens' second touchdown was against this defense, and Terrell was wide open in the end zone.

If I'm Washington (and I like to think I am), I make sure that we keep track of Owens' position, whether slot, left or right. Somebody, whether Fred Smoot, Shawn Springs, Antonio Pierce, or heck, Jack Pardee, needs to put a body on him within the allowable distance. Bump him, check him, trip him. If you let him run willy-nilly in his route, you're just asking for trouble. Even in the double team you could get out jumped for six, as he did, um, against Dallas. I'd rather get beaten by Freddie Mitchell, thank you very much.

So what about Ol' McNabb? What's the deal with every middle-aged heavy-set black actress starring as his mother in these Campbell's soup commercials? Soon as I get comfortable with one cooking for him at home, I see a different one knitting scarves and getting dunked in Gatrorade. This is unsettling. My solution: make Salma Hayek his mother in every commercial and let's get on with life.

Donovan played his very best football last night (15 for 27, 345 yards, 4 touchdowns, no interceptions, sacked once), and showed that he's got the arm and the legs to frustrate defensive linemen and confuse linebackers. I'm scared of what he might do with LaVar Arrington still watching from the cheap seats. I suspect that Philly won't be running the ball much, so send the defensive ends to the edge, restricting (in theory, at least) McNabb's ability to scramble for positive yards. Likewise, when he runs around, the defensive backs must maintain their assignments. Sean Taylor, you've looked great this season; here's your first major test on fundamentals. A final word to our secondary: one of you is going to get burned in this game. Don't let it be you.

Coach Gibbs calls the upcoming four games (at Philly, at Pittsburgh, home versus the Giants, Philly at home) a "measuring stick." I prefer to call it a "baptism by blitz" for Patrick Ramsey. We'll have to see.

Despite the evidence, I can't root for nobody but the Skins. Redskins win, 21-20 1/2.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Week 10: ...but on the bright side...

Washington 10, Cincinnati 17

I sat in Suite 338 of FedEx Field for three quarters of Sunday's game, mentally preparing to write a nightmare Review in light of the horrific, strangely familiar gameplay by Washington. To that point, my dread was warranted: Redskins fans begged, nay, demanded nine minutes into the game that Patrick "Pharaoh" Ramsey replace Mark "Retirement" Brunell at quarterback; when their wish was granted, the slow-motion train wreck continued, this time with a different engineer. The Redskins' top-ranked defense allowed 17 first half points and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis seemed content to simply run out the final 18 minutes or so. Things were grim.

Suddenly, the offense seemed rejuvenated. In those final minutes of the third period, Washington went no-huddle, and Ramsey helped author two first downs on one drive--we'd only gotten two total up to that point--that brought Washington to the Cincinnati 29. Unfortunately, soon-to-be-kicking-for-the-Rhine-Fire Ola Kimrin shanked a 47 yard field goal. But something positive seemed to be working for the Skins. In fact, with the defense appearing to pitch a second-half shut out, Washington might make the score respectable.

After allowing just one first down (via penalty), the Redskin defense got young Pharaoh the ball back at the Washington 20, and for the final ten minutes of this game, the fans got exactly what they had been screaming for since the Green Bay game: hope. Mixing in a few runs by Clinton Portis, Ramsey took to the air, finding Coles and Clinton and pushing the ball into the Bengals red zone. Were it not for (yet another) drop by Coles in the end zone, this would have been the best drive of the Skins' game. Kimrin tapped in the easy field goal to make the score 17-3. Those fans who hadn't left in the early third period sensed that Gibbs had finally made the right choice.

The Washington D produced a quick three 'n out, and when Ramsey got the ball back, the offense mixed in no-huddle and went to the air, and Ramsey snuck a 9 yard touchdown to tight end Chris Cooley (Chris Cooley!). The 15,000 of us left in the the stadium went just short of bonkers. Sure, the Skins would need an improbable onside kick recovery, followed by a touchdown, produced without any remaining time outs, to send the game into overtime. But I don't believe I was alone in feeling that the late-game excitement was more for Washington's brighter future with this kid Patrick Ramsey under center.

So yeah, we lost to the Bengals, and probably began "Taps" for our playoff hopes. (Sure would've been nice to squeak this game and the Packers games out, considering how the Sabado Gigante is faltering.) And yep, our defense finally looked vulnerable. And yes, Ramsey was visibly rusty in the first half. I'll also agree that Ramsey was close to making two other interceptions during his play. But seeing a Redskin quarterback post more than 200 yards in one game has been a luxury we haven't enjoyed much this year. And hearing Chris Cooley and other receivers in post-game interviews describe how hard the passes hit their hands sounded like sweet music.

I can't help but wonder how this season might've turned out if Ramsey had been given the opportunity to take every snap this season, facing the weaker part of our schedule. We'd certainly have more than 1400 yards (157 yards per game). And we might've actually given our defense a rest, instead of relying on them to hold an offense to less than 14 points for us to win.

The reality is that Coach Gibbs has finally admitted that the Brunell experiment is an utter failure, and that the future of this franchise is in the hands of Sir Ramsey. At the risk of redundancy, let me say that I stand and applaud the decision.

Oh yeah, if anyone should Hang Your Head, it should be Coles and Gardner, our so-called receiving corps. I was unable to track down the drop statistics for these guys, but I was certain that, combined, they let five catchable passes fall. Some were for third down completions, but others failed to serve an even more important goal: confidence for their new quarterback. Hang your head, fellas, but know that you'll be needed more in the final six games than in the first ten.

Aside from some second-half heroics, it's tough to say much worked well for Washington. Defensively, Fred Smoot and the secondary were beaten like a rented mule for much of the first half, missing open-field tackles of Bengals receiver Chad "Lookitme!" Johnson and allowing Chad "Triple-word score" Houshmandzadeh to earn seven catches on the day. If there be a bright spot, it's that the defense decided that they would not allow any more points by Cincinnati in the second half. For my dollar, if a defense can do that for thirty minutes, they've done their job. It's up to the offense, then, to put up the points.

I can only shake my head at the idea that Clinton Portis gets the ball 17 times against the worst rushing defense in the league. I fail to see how you don't attack a weakness, even if it's ineffective 30 minutes in. The Skins didn't wait that long, passing the majority of the first quarter plays. Clinton still ended up with over 80 yards on the day; he should've had 130. And let's not forget how abysmally poor Mark Brunell's numbers were before being benched: 8 attempts, 1 completion, 6 yards, one interception. I think it's safe to make some vacation plans with the family for next Fall, Mark.




Sp. TEAMS: C (Was that Thrash/Betts reverse supposed to fool someone?)


The Young Avengers appear to be in perpetual freefall. Last week we managed a meek 78 points, losing to Teddy Tax's subpar 85 point total. Throughout the Skins game I kept an eye on other NFL action, and was pleased to see my Steelers defense total four turnovers and four sacks while my wideout Brandon Stokely hooked up more than 120 yards and two touchdowns. Even ol' Marshall Faulk got over 100 yards rushing. Surely I would win. Not so. I forgot that my opponent, the Daemons, had the Peyton Manning and the improbably successful Bears defense starting. Those two positions produced an astounding 93 points alone. The Daemons finished the day with 164 points, and with Terrell Owens still to play, I'm sitting at 122. With my brother Roy's team chalking up another win, he will likely sit one game behind me in our division. Cruel, cruel fate.

The Philly Egos welcome the Skins to Lincoln Field. I intend on spending all week dreaming of ways that Washington will win this game against a likely 9-1 team. Any suggestions would be welcome. Nonetheless, I'm picking that with a balanced attack, Portis gets 100 and Ramsey passes for two touchdowns. Skins win, 24-21.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Week 9: Simple Math

Washington 17, Detroit 10

I've never claimed to be a mathematician, and the numbers I study have little to do with standard deviation, critical value and confounding factors; I instead rely on yards per completion, third down conversions, and touchdown to interception ratios. I try not to get too deep into the numbers--I leave that to the folks at Football Outsiders--because football is a game where hunches, trends and gambles can pay off great dividends. Patriots coach Bill Belichick stuck with Tom Brady under center though his starter, Drew Bledsoe, was back from injury. Rookie Ben Roethlisberger has gotten the nod for the Steelers' remaining games by coach Bill Cowher despite having the proven Tommy Maddox available and ready to play. Everyone knows now that Brady and Big Ben have rewarded these coaches with awesome displays of poise, confidence, and success.

Such choices don't always work. Case in point: Coach Joe Gibbs and Mark Brunell. Anyone from casual fan to gridiron bean-counter can see that Coach Gibbs' love affair with quarterback Mark Brunell is illogical, undeserved, and unproductive.

I have said, for a number of weeks now, that Brunell is rapidly becoming dead weight on the franchise by his continual poor accuracy, suspect time management, and bereft leadership. And I'd like to say it again, but this time, I'll let the numbers do the talkin'. Here are St. Mark's game statistics (readers with delicate sensitivities may want to skip ahead):

vs. Buccaneers: 13 completions, 24 attempts, 125 yards (Skins win)

vs. Giants: 10 completions, 18 attempts, 92 yards (through 2 1/2 quarters)

vs. Cowboys: 25 completions, 43 attempts, 325 yards, 2 touchdowns

vs. Browns: 17 completions, 32 attempts, 192 yards

vs. Ravens: 13 completions, 29 attempts, 83 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception

vs. Bears: 8 completions, 22 attempts, 95 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception (Skins win)

vs. Packers: 25 completions, 44 attempts, 218 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions

vs. Lions: 6 completions, 17 attempts, 58 yards (Skins win)

Third down efficiency: 28 attempts, 76 completions, 2 touchdowns, three interceptions, seven sacks.

QB Rating: 67.4 Total yards: 1188. Only Kyle "Bullseye" Boller 65.9/1101) and Jay Fielder (67.0/1185) have worse numbers.


On Sunday, Marky Mark and the Offense faced the bottom-half ranked Detroit Lions defense. I respect that His Joeness may gameplan a particular attack philosophy to exploit specific weaknesses. Fine. But two pass attempts (one completed) in the second half?!? When did Brunell turn into Adam Vinatieri? Granted, the Redskins were up by 10 and our defense was sparkling. But was this performance a demonstration of how little faith Gibbs has in his hand-picked, personal choice for quarterback?

Despite the win, I'm telling Mark Brunell to Hang Your Head. Yes, Coles and Rod "Negative Fantasy Points" Gardner dropped some catchable balls. But 58 total yards against a suspect defense is deplorable. Redskin fans can only imagine if Brunell was simply average in our five losses. I think we could've taken the Browns, Cowchips and Packers. Maybe even the Ravens. I joke not. That takes us to a very healthy 6-2 or dreamy 7-1. Emphasis on dreamy.

Strangely enough, with the combined win for Washington and losses by everyone else in the NFC East, the Skins have a moderate chance of making something of our season. A look at the NFL standings today shows that the Haves sit comfortably at 6 or more wins; fifteen teams are either 3-5, 4-4, and 5-3. So what does Washington have to do? Those two division losses really, really hurt. So Washington's gotta run the friggin' table between now and January.

You can stop laughing now.


One rarely sees, in box scores or highlights, excellent Special Teams play unless it's some kickoff/punt return. But Sunday even NFL Primetime found the Redskins' punt coverage worthy of notice. From punter Tom "Borderline" Tupa's precision work to James Thrash's heads-up goal line stops, to the verrry rare punt block by Taylor "Tell It To My Heart" Jacobs and touchdown by Walt "On By" Harris, this squad won the game for Washington. What else can you ask of a team?

Also, lots of love to "Mr. President" Clinton Portis. Yes, it's true: when Portis runs for more than 100 yards, the Skins win. Portis put down more than 140 yards and did something Brunell couldn't: throw a touchdown.


Mark Brunell. 'Nuff said. And yep, I have a big bottle of Haterade on tap at home.


OFFENSE: C+ (I feel bad for penalizing Portis despite his excellent performance. He earned an A.)

DEFENSE: A (One field goal and one garbage time, desparate touchdown allowed? I'll take it. Hopefully Arrington will come back in time for the rest of the gauntlet that is our final weeks.)

Sp. TEAMS: A+ (Free drinks on me!)


Due to bye weeks for Atlanta and Jacksonville, I was forced to scrounge through the free agent castoffs for a team's quarterback. I went with the Giants, believing in Kutmasta Kurt Warner and the Giants offense's resurrection. I was mistaken. Warner threw two interceptions and fumbled twice. I earned five points. I did wisely go with my perennial defensive choice, Pittsburgh, who did not disappoint (3 points allowed, 4 sacks, 1 interception, 113 yards allowed). Accordingly, Owens was shut down. So tonight I wait for Brandon Stokely, Marcus Robinson, Mike Vanderjiggy and Mewelde Moore to give me 21 total points for the win over the Teddy Tax team.


One of my favorite coaches, Marvin Lewis, steps back into Landover with his Cincinnati Bengals. I'll be in the stands for this one. I'll analyze this later this week (promise!), but for now I like a Skins win, 16-10.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Week 8: Always Good on Paper

Washington 14, Green Bay 28

Maalox, anyone?

For the second time this season the temptation was to begin this Review with a bold, brazen accusation; one of those Clinton-esque "right-wing conspiracy" numbers directed with deadpan seriousness to the unnamed, well-funded, ne'er do wells who seek nothing more than the public humiliation of their target. Yes, I was gonna call out those Powers That Be, whose silent hand has sought to gently nudge the Washington Redskins into perennial mediocrity, despite hiring, drafting, and trading for very expensive personnel. By their evil doings players dedicate only 80% effort to the game, key injuries occur, coaches forget fundamental time management and crucially negative officiating calls beset important games.

But the reality is--stop me if you've heard this before--the Redskins ain't that good. It isn't the League's fault; can't blame the refs, the eclipse, the illegal motion rule or my sister Jennifer's past boyfriends. Well, maybe we could blame that guy who thought he was a rapper. ( The point is that Gibbs and this franchise have had the opportunity to win every game this season. Some, such as the Giants and Cowboys contests, should have been blowout wins. Through our consistent, self-inflicted wounds this team sits at an abysmal 2-5. Worse than at this point last year. I shudder at the Nielsen ratings for the December 18 matchup against San Francisco.

It occurred to me that the Redskins of the mid-90s to present represent every socialist's argument of why capitalism doesn't work. Under the theory of spend, spend, spend, in the last decade, this Washington team has one playoff appearance. You know the names that have been brought in: Marty Schottenheimer, Deion Sanders, Carrier, Bruce Smith, Steve Spurrier, Jeff George, etc. Teams like the Rams, Seahawks and Patriots have maintained lower profiles, in some cases taking castoff, low-wattage players and built solid foundations. Even in the age of free agency and hot players jumping teams these squads went from horrid to contenders. Monday Night Football reminded me how the New York Jets have somehow managed to survive losing Coles, Morton and Hall to Washington and still had a better record than us at season's end. (6-10 to our 5-11.) The next season, they're 6-1. I'm not suggesting that only the Redskins are covetously seeking Super Bowl trophies; our sin is that we're the team that has gone about getting them the wrong way.

I watched this game from the leather-bound-seat section of FedEx Field. And for three quarters this game was nearly a chore to watch. (Equally challenging was enduring the guttural, off-key attempts at harmonizing by my 112-year old neighbor. Hey, I like our society's elder generation. I do. But hearing him (or anyone) butcher every stadium song, from Beyonce to the Rolling Stones when you know he doesn't know the song only makes watching a losing game worse. Sigh. By the way, he had a message to the cheerleaders following their TV timeout dance presentation: "Y'all did a fantasic job. Now get off the field." Gotta like old folk.)

Speaking of departures, it is time to put Mark Brunell out to pasture. I suggested in Week 6 some parameters for benching Brunell...and sure enough he met 'em all. There was no first quarter touchdown, three passes clearly went over open receiver's heads, and on the Skins' fourth possession he threw an interception. Down 17-7 at halftime, the Redskins didn't have a drive of more than 31 yards. The fans were chanting for Ramsey and the offense was sputtering (our only score came after Shawn Springs' interception which placed the ball at the Green Bay 24). No better time to make the switch.

So Hang Your Head, Coach Gibbs. I feel bad even suggesting that this walking legend hold this week's award, but f'crying out loud, let your quarterback go. We needed this game to keep our slim playoff hopes mathematically viable and we mustered 14 total points. I don't believe our game plan was necessarily that flawed; nice to see a little trickery in the first quarter (though the onside kick to begin the second half was questionable in light of Gibbs stating pre-game that he didn't want to give Favre a short field to work from). But from my seats I thought Brunell wasn't nearly as sharp as he should've been, and with his previous slow starts I hoped Gibbs would cut losses at halftime and hope for a fresher, younger arm. Sam Huff, post-game, said it best: "this game was lost in the first half, not on that play in the second."

Maybe that's indicative of what's wrong with this team. I'm certain that in February, Joe Gibbs thought Mark Brunell looked like he had leadership and skill potential for his team. The dose of familiar, sadly repetitive reality begs me to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit: The Redskins aren't good. We're just drawn that way.

The defense bent, uncharacteristically allowing future Hall of Famer Brett Favre to execute his offense. But credit goes to defensive coach Gregg Williams for shutting down their offense when it mattered most, the fourth quarter. I was shocked how inaccurate Favre was down the stretch as they poorly attempted to run out the final give minutes. I suppose that speaks to his injured hand. Whatever. Fred Smoooot and Shawn Springs did an excellent job of making breaks on Brett's passes. I only wish Springs hadn't run out of bounds on his interception return. At the stadium, you could hear the groans when we realized that Brunell and the offense would have to take the field.

Now more than ever I believe Clinton Portis is the key to any Redskins win. He got the ball 17 times. That's not establishing the run, it's begging the defensive backs to play soft zones and wait for the ball to come their way. This is just silly. Why do you put the game on the shoulders of a quarterback who came into this game with 3 interceptions and 5 touchdowns? Did he suddenly become Joe Theismann during practice last week? Sheesh.

Sp. TEAMS: C (With Chad Morton now out for the year, we must rely on Ladell Betts and James Thrash to run back kicks. Egad.)
COACHES: D (Sorry Gregg Williams. You're on the staff and are guilty by association.)

Oy vey did we lay a stinker this week. I opted not to start Mike Vick, who got loose for 890,000 yards and three touchdowns, for Byron Leftwich, who apparently remained in the fetal position all afternoon. Except when he stood up and threw an interception. I mentioned last week that the Texans were one to watch, and they put it on the very good Jaguars defense, to my chagrin. Terrell "Dancin' Machine" Owens was my only standout, scoring a third of my 60 total points. I should've started the Pittsburgh defense against the Patriots, but who knew? Note to self: next time, don't listen to your notes to self.

hosts the Skins. The Lions remind me of the Texans a bit; they're unpredictably dangerous. They win on the road, lose at home. We've lost LaVar Arrington for another month, but I like what our defense can do. This squad will have to win the game, as I have no confidence that our offense can score more than 17 points. More discussion of this game later this week. For now, I'll say Skins win, 14-13.