Mistakes on the Lake

Rod Gardner pointed to his shirt when a couple reporters asked if he had a minute to talk. ''My shirt says everything,'' he said. And his shirt read this: ''Why?'' To which our answer is this: Because. The Redskins are 1-3 because they're killing themselves with turnovers and costly penalties. They're 1-3 because they allow big plays at the worst time. They're 1-3 because they're not very good right now. That, more than anything, is the worst part after Sunday's 17-13 loss at Cleveland.

Just wondering: How much teams really have figured out what Washington is running. Eddie Mason wrote on this site that he knew what was being run during the Bucs game. But here's the thing: if Clinton Portis doesn't fumble, the Redskins likely win. Just like they probably would have won in New York had he not fumbled twice. And surely there were many games in the 1980s when the opposition had Joe Gibbs' offense figured out. The difference? The players executed the plays better.

Quiet day: Rod Gardner followed up a huge game with a small one, rarely getting opportunities. He's had five games of 100 yards or more and this was the fourth time he's followed such a game by finishing with 50 yards or less.

Off-target: Mark Brunell does a good job managing the game, knowing when to throw the ball away, etc. Had the Redskins not turned the ball over so much, that trait would be praised. But because the Redskins need more from the passing game, Brunell's flaws are more visible. He's not going to carry the Redskins to the playoffs with his arm. Just watch him throw downfield, missing high way too much. His pass to Laveranues Coles late in the game was high, causing Coles to jump, get spun around and then fumble. It wasn't Brunell's fault that Coles fumbled, but he didn't make it easier for him.

Sluggish runner: Clinton Portis doesn't yet resemble the player he was in Denver. Maybe he's still getting used to this offense, but he doesn't seem comfortable running the ball. He's trying to be patient and do what's asked of him, but some of his instincts seem to have been taken away.

Don't panic because: Even the bleak 0-5 start in 2001, during which the Redskins looked much worse, was followed by a good stretch because of the guy in charge, Marty Schottenheimer. I'm not convinced that Washington will have a complete collapse, but I do think my 9-7 prediction is touchy. We heard many of the same complaints about the offense that season and in the second half, after everyone had a chance to be in it for a while, it was sound. If the Redskins stop fumbling the ball, they'll turn this around, too. They might not be high-powered because of Brunell, but they can be efficient. With this defense, and this punter, that would be enough to cause a turnaround.

Playmakers?: Another big problem is the absence of big plays from their supposed playmakers. Portis has one huge run and little else. Laveranues Coles has scored two touchdowns in his last nine games. Sean Taylor hasn't done anything except miss tackles and deflect a few passes. Other than that he's often out of position and still looking like what he is, a rookie. And Marcus Washington was the toast of the summer, with many predicting big numbers for him. While he's been steady, and a help against the run, he hasn't made any big plays. His defensive gaffe lead to Aaron Shea's first TD catch since 2000.

Whatever happened to: The Dirtbags. This is why a unit should not have a nickname until they earn something. They've done very little up front to get the running game going. Chris Samuels has been good, but one guy is not enough to carry a running game.

Defensive goat: Walt Harris got burned for a couple long passes, but at least he was in the right spot. Washington gambled by blitzing and watched his man catch a touchdown pass. Doesn't that sound like something that would have happened last year?

Offensive goat: Brunell was not terrific, but if Portis doesn't fumble the Redskins are 2-2. Portis gained 14 yards on seven second-half carries.

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