Must win for both sides

Questions are mounting with regard to Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. The top one: Did the game, during Gibbs' 11-year absence from football, pass him by?

There is no definitive answer through five games as Washington (1-4) approaches a virtual must-win against Chicago (1-3), but many people among media and fans are arguing in the affirmative. And Gibbs knows it.

"I knew when we took this job, if we lose ballgames, you've got to be a realist," Gibbs said. "That's what's going to be said. ... It's understandable. You've got to expect it. I expect it. I know it's going to be said."

It would be a stretch to say, though, that the Redskins are in controversy mode. A team that has spent much of owner Dan Snyder's six-year stewardship immersed in in-fighting and finger-pointing seems, for now, to be holding it together. A big reason appears to be Gibbs' reserved reaction to the four-game losing streak.

"Coach was pretty cool about everything," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said. "We're all disappointed with the way we're playing, but he's not in a panic stage. He said he's been through this situation before, and the team turned around and pulled out of it. Hopefully we can do that."

The Redskins' clear-cut problem has been the offense, which ranks 26th in the league and is the primary reason Washington ranks 29th in scoring. The unit has struggled to pass and run, with quarterback Mark Brunell throwing erratically and running back Clinton Portis seeing few holes and shaking few tacklers.

Gibbs staved off calls to replace Brunell this week, saying he isn't considering a switch to Patrick Ramsey, whose strong arm might spark the struggling offense. The problems, Gibbs said, have little to do with Brunell per se.

"Mark, in this game in particular, was a lot like all the rest of us," Gibbs said. "I don't think anyone did anything offensively."

Brunell, meanwhile, takes comfort from the fact that he has been through "many" similar stretches during his NFL career. Specifically, he pointed to the Jaguars' 4-7 start in 1996 and eventual rally to the AFC Championship Game.

"We started out real poor, struggling -- real similar to what we're doing right now," Brunell said. "Teams struggle. Hopefully that will be us. Hopefully at Chicago, something happens, we win a football game and start to build some momentum."

The offensive struggles seemed to seep over to the defense the last two weeks. Washington's defense played extremely well through three quarters in both games but finally wilted when the mistakes in other areas led to a lead change.

This week, though, defensive players are trying hard to maintain a sense of team unity.

"We're a team," said linebacker LaVar Arrington, who could return from a three-game absence to play at Chicago. "I don't care how bad it may get or how bad it is. You don't turn on one another. We had opportunities to make plays that could have won that game. That's how we should be looking at it, not looking at it like the offense didn't do anything so we should point the finger at them."

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