Struggling Redskins: 'I don't know where our swagger has gone'

Updated: October 18, 2006, 6:01 PM ET
Associated Press

ASHBURN, Va. -- In an example of coach-speak run amok, Joe Gibbs said the good thing about the poor play of the Washington Redskins is that it's team-wide.

"Right now what's good about it, if there's anything good about it, it's kind of been all of us together," Gibbs said. "It's special teams, it's defense, it's offense."

It's a tired old refrain that Gibbs has used many times before. This time, however, it happens to be true. And, no, it's not a good thing at all.

"Our backs are against the wall, whether we like it or not," said tackle Chris Samuels, uttering another cliche that happens to be true. "We've got to come out slugging, or this thing is going to go downhill and we're not going to make the playoffs."

The consensus is that the season will be essentially over unless the Redskins (2-4) upset the Indianapolis Colts (5-0) on Sunday, especially with the challenging schedule that follows the upcoming bye week.

"We don't need to be 2-5," guard Randy Thomas said. "We've got to pull something out of our hats and try to get this win."

The Redskins know very well where they are. What they haven't figured out is how they got there or how they can get out of it. Versions of "I don't have the answers" and "I wish I knew" have been common responses this week when players are asked about the team's struggles.

These are more or less the same players and coaches that won five straight at the end of last season and came within one victory of the NFC Championship game. They're mostly hardworking, good-character guys, a trademark of Gibbs' teams, and it would seem implausible that they all would start slumping at the same time.

So what has happened?

For starters, the few key personnel moves the team did make mostly backfired. Letting safety Ryan Clark leave as a free agent and signing overpriced Adam Archuleta as his replacement is looking like one of the league's biggest offseason blunders. New defensive lineman Andre Carter is a liability against the run, and the offense can't seem to find a way to get new receiver Brandon Lloyd involved in the game plan.

Several returning players are having letdown years. Middle linebacker Lemar Marshall has regressed, the offensive line hasn't been as steady, the defensive line is having trouble staying healthy, and young defensive backs Sean Taylor and Carlos Rogers haven't shown as much progress as expected.

Then there's quarterback Mark Brunell, who has been the subject of much scrutiny since he arrived in Washington in 2004. Fans were chanting for Jason Campbell during last week's home loss to winless Tennessee, but Gibbs is a loyalist when it comes to his veterans. The coach said Brunell has been inconsistent, but: "You can probably say that about every position on our team."

"If I felt like it was one person, I'd change that person, and certainly that's not the case," Gibbs said. "I'm not afraid to change anything, but certainly right now changing Mark, I don't think that's the answer."

Asked if he feels he'll be playing for his job Sunday, Brunell said: "I need a solid performance -- regardless of the situation."

Another ongoing debate this week is whether Clinton Portis, who set a franchise single-season rushing record a year ago, is getting the ball enough. He had only 14 carries for 58 yards in the 25-22 loss to the Titans. Interestingly, the Redskins -- a 10-point favorite -- opened the game like a 10-point underdog, running a reverse to Antwaan Randle El on the first play instead of re-establishing the power game that worked so well last year.

"How many times do you have to get to the point of saying, 'Put it on my shoulders'?" Portis said. "If you go over our roster, you know people are going to look and say, 'We're got to stop Portis.' Give them the opportunity to stop Portis."

There's one missing ingredient that has nothing to do with Xs and Os. Calling it attitude, motivation, swagger or whatever, but the team doesn't quite have the same psychological edge that was evident at the end of last season. The players who were so bullish at the start of training camp have been knocked off their pedestal, and they're at a loss as to how to deal with it.

"I don't know where our swagger has gone," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "But we obviously don't have a swagger." Fullback Mike Sellers went further.

"Some guys have to sit back and look in the mirror and figure out if this is something they want to do," Sellers said, "or are they in it for a paycheck?" ^

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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