Even as their first-year coach attacked the exhibition schedule as though it were a five-game referendum on his personal worth, the Redskins had a miserable end to their preseason. After three consecutive faux victories, Washington got blown out by the Panthers (47-3) and Jaguars (24-3), making a very unhappy rookie mentor out of Jim Zorn.
"He's not viewing these games as learning tools, or as a chance to evaluate young players," Redskins executive vice president Vinny Cerrato said at the time. "Jim is competitive. He's trying to win."
It turns out the summer of Zorn's discontent incongruously paved the way for what could be an amazing autumn in the nation's capitol, though it took an extra week to get going. Looking back on the team's dead-fish performance during a 16-7 defeat to the Giants in the Thursday-night season opener, Washington tight end Chris Cooley says it was as if the Redskins were still locked in their disjointed late-preseason mindset.
Clinton Portis, left, and Antwaan Randle El celebrate a TD vs. the Eagles Sunday.
(US Presswire/Howard Smith)
"It felt like a preseason game," Cooley recalls. "It was a Thursday, it was at night, and we never got in anything close to an offense rhythm. It's like our season started after Week 1."
Since then the Redskins have won four consecutive games, including a home victory over NFC West-leading Arizona and back-to-back road triumphs over NFC East rivals Dallas and Philadelphia. They have yet to turn the ball over on offense, and there's no sense that an October Surprise is lurking to derail them.
It sounds strange, but this is a team that has a very legitimate chance to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Washington's next three opponents – the Rams, Browns and Lions – have a combined 1-11 record. If the Redskins don't falter, they'll be 7-1 at the midpoint of the season. After that comes a tough Monday-night test against the Steelers at home, followed by a bye week.
It's true that the Redskins play in football's toughest division, but they'll host all three NFC East foes at FedEx Field in the second half. Could their Nov. 30 rematch against the Giants turn out to be the conference's pivotal regular-season game?
While you ponder that very premature hypothetical, here are three-dozen-minus-four other queries to get you through the week, from ultra-strong to just plain wrong.
1. New York Giants: To make last Sunday's game against the Seahawks a bit more sporting, shouldn't Tom Coughlin have suspended his entire offense?
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: Is any quarterback playing bigger than Big Ben?
6. Carolina Panthers: Have they been this good since the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXVIII?
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Will this team be in every game?
11. Jacksonville Jaguars: If they can't get it together in Denver, will 2-4 be too much to overcome?
12. Indianapolis Colts: Is there any doubt that this resilient team is exceptionally well-coached?
13. New England Patriots: With the Patriots spending the week in San Jose, how will Bay Area fans react to the presence of a professionally run NFL franchise?
16. Minnesota Vikings: Along with handing out game balls, shouldn't Coach Chilly be sending thank-you cards to his players for bailing him out Monday night?
18. Philadelphia Eagles: Yo, Eagles fans – what's this week's excuse?
21. Green Bay Packers: Is it fair to say that it's been a decade since the Packers were so happy to be in Mike Holmgren's presence?
22. New Orleans Saints: Does Sarah Palin believe The Bush Doctrine requires teams to punt to Reggie – or am I confusing her with Brad Childress?
24. San Francisco 49ers: If this is the competition, should the Cardinals go ahead and start printing those "NFC West Champions" T-shirts?
28. Oakland Raiders: Is the Cable Guy on the hot seat yet?
30. Kansas City Chiefs: After they scored those 33 points against the Broncos, was that it for the season?