A few weeks ago, Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs stood before his team and related a story about former NFL players Conrad Dobler and Merlin Olsen, a pair of talents who staked their claim in the mid-'70s, before many of Gibbs' current players had been born.
How did the history lesson go over?
"I think I may've been the only player that knew those guys played football," 41-year-old Redskin tackle Ray Brown says. "A lot of [the other players] were thinking that Merlin was selling flowers and he's on 'Little House in the Prairie.' They just didn't know."
For a Redskins team that just doesn't seem to get Gibbs' message this year, it was a symbolic moment of a losing season. Washington is sitting at 2-5 heading into Sunday's road game against Detroit.
While other coaches have had their woes – guys like Dave Wannstedt in Miami, Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati – maybe none has had a more deflating season than Gibbs.
Even though he'd been away 11 years, many thought Gibbs, who entered this season with a 124-60 lifetime record, could take Washington to the playoffs this year. At least the Redskins were to put up a respectable fight.
Now, almost midway through the season, Gibbs is staring at the likelihood of his worst season ever. Gibbs has finished under .500 only once, when he went 7-9 in 1988.
"[It's been] very rough, to say the least," Gibbs says. "Somebody asked me just the other day if I was enjoying it and I said, 'No. No I am not enjoying it.'
"You don't like getting kicked around. I think for me, it has been a heck of a learning experience. I knew when I came back that it was like starting over again.
"It has been a tough deal. I feel for our coaches; I feel for everybody here. We've played hard, but we haven't won games."
Most of the blame has fallen squarely on Washington's 26th-ranked offense. There was game mismanagement in losses to the Giants and Cowboys – during which Gibbs found himself in close games but with no timeouts down the stretch.
Then there was the messy public snit from running back Clinton Portis, who complained Gibbs' scheme was overly basic after a 17-13 road loss to Cleveland. Now the focus has shifted to the poor play of quarterback Mark Brunell, who has completed only 52 percent of his passes and has plummeted into the lower third of NFL quarterbacks with a passer rating of 69.1.
"Obviously we killed ourselves in some games," Gibbs says. "We had seven turnovers against the Giants. We've made a lot of mistakes. The offense has been very inconsistent. I think that goes back to me. I've not done a very good job there."
Brunell's struggles have been the most damning of all, particularly after he was acquired for a third-round draft choice and given a seven-year contract worth $43 million – with an $8.6 million signing bonus. That package raised the eyebrows of many across the NFL who believed the 34-year-old Brunell was clearly entering his declining years. You don't have to search long to find someone in the league ready to say, "I told you so".
Compounding Brunell's struggles is the team's spate of injury and character problems. Safety Sean Taylor was suspended for four days after a drunken driving arrest and subsequent missed practice. The NFL's No. 1 defense could be missing linebacker LaVar Arrington for a month after he aggravated a knee injury that has already sidelined him for five games.
Stack it up, and Gibbs' glorious return is nearing the point of a write-off. The lifelong winner admits "I don't know that I handle [losing] very well." It looks like he's going to have several more chances to practice.
- With the benefit of hindsight, several roster moves made by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past offseason now appear questionable (letting Thomas Jones go, reliance on Joey Galloway and Tim Brown, etc.). But at least one appears to be dead-on: Letting defensive tackle Warren Sapp leave. Other than Brunell, seemingly no player has seen his stature decline more than Sapp.
There were whispers Sapp was only a shadow of his Pro-Bowl self in his final year with the Bucs. But since signing a seven-year, $37 million deal (including a $7 million signing bonus) with the Oakland Raiders, Sapp has failed to be a major factor on one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL. In eight games, he's registered only 23 tackles and half a sack, and has looked out of shape and fatigued late in games.
Then last week came a quote from Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson, who some believe was referring to Sapp: "I think at this point we have too many stars," Woodson told reporters after last week's loss to San Diego. "Or too many people who think they are stars – and not putting in what it takes to go out there and make this team go. It's showing out there on the field."
One NFC director of pro scouting that we talked with before this season said he thought the success of Bucs tackle Anthony McFarland had a lot to do with Sapp's presence. When we called him this week, he laughed and said "maybe it was the other way around."
- Tight end is suddenly a glamour position in the NFL, with San Diego's Antonio Gates and San Francisco's Eric Johnson catching a slew of passes in the first half of the season. But two personnel sources we talked to last week said that Tony Gonzalez remains the best of the bunch. After Sunday's win over Indianapolis, Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil pointed out Gonzalez's contributions as a blocker first.
"That's not just [talk]," said one AFC scout who saw the game. "In my mind [Gonzalez] is having a great season because of the things he does downfield without the ball. Not just catching [but also] holding things up for Priest Holmes. [Blocking] will never be in his big strength, but their running game gives you hell when he's really committed to it."
- It sure is interesting how the 2003 deals of Peerless Price and Laveranues Coles have worked out. Price was dealt from Buffalo to Atlanta for a first-round pick, while Coles was allowed to leave the New York Jets for Washington as a restricted free agent – in exchange for the Redskins' first-round pick that same offseason.
At the time, the moves had NFL pundits split. Some weren't high on the thought of giving up first round picks for small receivers (Price and Coles are both 5-foot-11) with lukewarm speed. Others liked the idea of acquiring young, "ready made" receivers rather than gambling on the draft.
A year and a half later, you have to like what Buffalo and the Jets reaped.
The Bills used the pick (23rd overall) on Willis McGahee, who appears to be a young star and has given them some trade flexibility with Travis Henry this offseason. The Jets used their pick (13th overall) in a package with their own first rounder to move up and select defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, who is just now beginning to show some of the promise that vaulted him to the No. 4 pick in the 2003 draft.
Meanwhile, Coles has been slow to follow up on a solid first season (1,204 receiving yards, six touchdowns) for the Redskins, racking up 452 receiving yards in seven games, but no touchdowns. And while Price is coming off a pair of touchdown catches against Denver last week, he has been largely a disappointment (1,187 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 24 games), though he deserves some slack for Michael Vick's injury problems last season.
- Here's some food for thought. Going through some old notes the other day, I came across a quote I had scribbled while talking to an NFC scout at last season's pre-draft combine for college talent. He was comparing the skills of Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger:
"I'm sure if you took the names away, it would be a total tossup," he said. "But people would be lying if they said Peyton's success isn't helping his brother. Hey, I'd give both of them a high grade. I'm sure one has an edge because he looks an awful lot like his brother who just happens to be an All-Pro in our league."
Kudos for the good assessment.
- Interesting to see the midseason reports on rookies that raved about Detroit Lions wide receiver Roy Williams but left out Tampa Bay's Michael Clayton. Many teams had Clayton rated behind Williams, Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Williams and for some, even Buffalo's Lee Evans.
Yet in seven games and only four starts, Clayton has put up better yardage (505 yards on 37 catches) than all of those players. And don't say it's a function of Tampa's decimated receiving corps. Last time I checked, only Buffalo's Evans and Jacksonville's Reggie Williams spent the first half of the season playing opposite a major threat.
Another player who should have gotten some nods: San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding. Yes, we know he's a kicker. But Kaeding has hit all 27 of his extra point attempts, and 10 of 11 field goals (including 51 and 53 yard attempts).
Upon further review…
Please, no more blaming the media for the things that come out of the mouth of Terrell Owens. He certainly has the right to say whatever he wants about Ray Lewis and his past murder charge. But for people to keep accusing the media for creating the controversy is now officially ridiculous.
The only thing that provoked Owens into talking about Lewis' past problems was the microphone in his face.