The return of coach Joe Gibbs has not gone anything like what was envisioned. Gibbs is running one of the NFL's worst offenses, and the team continues to slide. But thanks in part to the relatively high morale Gibbs has maintained, a sliver of hope remains heading into Sunday's rematch with the Giants.
"The season's not over yet," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said. "We've got five games left. There's no telling what might happen."
Washington (3-8) has lost three in a row, but the past two defeats were on the road against two of the NFL's best teams (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). Thus there is some sense that the Redskins need a game against a more modest opponent -- such as the 5-6 Giants -- to gauge where they are.
"We've had two very tough opponents two weeks in a row," Gibbs said. "We played at their place. I thought our guys competed, fought their guts out. We just weren't good enough to get it. Hopefully somewhere in there we'll be rewarded."
The season's first meeting between Washington and New York went to the Giants, who took advantage of seven Redskins turnovers and eked out a 20-14 win. New York had been clashing with coach Tom Coughlin before that game, but the Redskins' myriad mistakes allowed the Giants to get on a roll and avoid a disastrous year.
"Their defense came out and took the ball away more than we did," defensive tackle Brandon Noble said. "We have to remedy that this week."
Quarterback Patrick Ramsey threw three interceptions that day, playing about a quarter and a half in relief of injured Mark Brunell. Now Ramsey is the starter, and he has just two interceptions in his two full games.
A big reason for Ramsey's less mistake-prone play is the way Gibbs has scaled back the offense. The scheme is very conservative right now, taking only occasional shots downfield as Ramsey focuses on quick slants and underneath routes.
Thus, Ramsey feels totally different. Where he was trying to rally Washington from a 20-7 deficit in the first game and still wasn't comfortable with Gibbs' offense, this week he said, "I'm so much further along, it's hard to imagine that (other appearance)."
"I made some costly errors for our team in that game, and that was the difference in the game," Ramsey admitted.
A key question for Washington in this game will be how much running back Clinton Portis is used. The NFC's No. 3 rusher (945 yards) got just six carries for 17 yards last week at Pittsburgh, where a confluence of circumstances had some wondering whether Gibbs was giving up on Portis. The coach has indicated that Portis will be far more active this week.
Defensively, Washington will use Gregg Williams' myriad blitz packages to try to rattle rookie quarterback Eli Manning, who will be making his third NFL start.
"It's going to be fun to see how he adjusts to us, if he can handle the speed at which we play and how many people we're going to bring at him," safety Ryan Clark said. "It was good to see him play (last week) against a Philadelphia team that does bring the blitz. I'm sure we'll bring more than them. We'll see how he fares."
SERIES HISTORY: Giants lead series 82-60-4, including playoffs. New York has won six of the last eight meetings, including a 20-14 decision at Giants Stadium Sept. 19. The Giants' most recent sweep came in 2002, when they were coached by Jim Fassel and the Redskins were led by Steve Spurrier.
--An ESPN report before the Steelers game said coach Joe Gibbs would consider leaving his post at the end of the season for health reasons. But Gibbs issued a strong denial after the game, saying he wouldn't think of abandoning the team a year into his five-year, $28 million contract.
"My health is superb," Gibbs said. "I made a commitment to come here. I feel bad for (owner) Dan (Snyder), our fans, our players. We're all fighting our guts out trying to get something going. I don't know where that (information) came from."
--The Redskins' average of 12.5 points per game not only ranks 32nd in the NFL but has them on pace to be the worst-scoring team since the franchise moved from Boston in 1937. Even the 1938 Redskins averaged 13.5 points.
The awful production is particularly surprising given that Gibbs held the NFL's single-season record for 15 years. His 1983 Redskins averaged 33.8 points, the league mark until it was broken by the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.
"Certainly I wouldn't have dreamed of it," Gibbs said of this year's clip. "But up here, there are no givens. We've talked about that. There's nothing that last year will buy you or the past will buy you."
--Speculation continues to be that QB Patrick Ramsey is auditioning for the starting job in 2005 with this seven-game stretch at the end of 2004. The three-year pro, however, doesn't see it that way.
"If I look at this as an audition, I think I'm kind of putting myself in a hole," Ramsey said. "I look at it as going out and trying to play quarterback in this offense the way I'm asked to do, helping us win football games and letting the rest take care of itself."
--Rookie H-back Chris Cooley has been heating up in recent weeks, scoring Washington's only touchdowns over the past three games. The third-round pick out of Utah State ranks second on the team with four touchdowns, behind only WR Rod Gardner, who has five.
However, Cooley realizes that in each of the four games he has scored, Washington has lost. That statistic doesn't sit well.
"It's nice to play well and catch touchdowns, but it's much better to win," Cooley said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 13.3 -- Carries RB Clinton Portis has averaged over the last three weeks. In the Redskins' first eight games, Portis averaged 25.5 rushes and was on pace to challenge the NFL single-season record.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's for you guys to talk about. I think they're all winnable. I never go out on the field thinking, just because some yahoo in Vegas says I'm supposed to lose, why even play?" -- DT Brandon Noble on the idea that Washington, after games at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, now has a "winnable" contest against the Giants.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Two of last week's roster moves paid off in the loss at Pittsburgh. DE Ryan Boschetti, signed off the practice squad, and LB Chris Clemons, signed from Cleveland's practice squad to replace LB Mike Barrow, who went on injured reserve, both made big plays.
Boschetti had a tackle for loss on Pittsburgh RB Jerome Bettis, while Clemons had one of the Redskins' four sacks. Both players were making their NFL debuts.
The early indications are this week that RG Ray Brown will return to the right tackle spot, where he has started eight games this season. Brown shifted to right guard last week because Randy Thomas was out with a hamstring strain.
Thomas is doubtful this week, but Mark Wilson's knee sprain means the Redskins can't count on Wilson to play right tackle. Lennie Friedman is expected to start for Thomas, barring someone getting healthy.
--LB LaVar Arrington (knee) was ruled out. He will miss a 10th straight game.
--RG Randy Thomas (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday and is doubtful.
--DE Phillip Daniels (groin) practiced Wednesday and is questionable. He'll play if he responds well to practice this week.
--T Mark Wilson (knee) skipped practice Wednesday and is questionable.
--WR Laveranues Coles (hip) made it through practice Wednesday and is probable. Coles, one of the toughest players on the team, is virtually sure to play.
--DE Demetric Evans (ankle) sat out practice Wednesday but is probable for the Giants game.
--DT Cornelius Griffin (hip) didn't practice Wednesday but is probable. He was said to be fine coming out of the Steelers game.
--DT Jermaine Haley (knee) practiced Wednesday and is probable.
--T Chris Samuels (ankle) practiced Wednesday and is probable.
--CB Fred Smoot (shoulder) practiced Wednesday and is probable.
GAME PLAN: The Redskins are eager to go against a team of a more reasonable caliber after consecutive games at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Giants' injuries on defense make them an attractive target. DE Michael Strahan is out for the year, which should give QB Patrick Ramsey more time in the pocket and RB Clinton Portis more rushing lanes on runs to the right side. Ramsey will continue trying to get the ball deep and might be able to connect on some crossing patterns to WR Laveranues Coles, who will be matched up against a suspect Giants secondary.
On defense for Washington, the key undoubtedly will be to attack QB Eli Manning. The rookie still hasn't adjusted to the NFL and is coming off a game in which he completed just 6 of 21 throws. The Redskins shut down RB Tiki Barber in the first meeting and should be able to do so here -- their smallish secondary is better at bringing down quick backs rather than burly ones, such as Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis. LB Marcus Washington gets a big challenge in TE Jeremy Shockey, but Washington did a great job in the first meeting.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Redskins interior line, which remains in flux because of injuries, vs. Giants DT Fred Robbins, who was dominant in the first meeting -- A big reason Lennie Friedman lost the starting job at center was how he played against Robbins and Norman Hand on Sept. 19. Robbins had two sacks, a pass defensed and a forced fumble. Friedman could start at right guard if Randy Thomas and Mark Wilson can't rehab in time for this game.
Redskins LB Marcus Washington, who has been superb in defending tight ends all year, vs. Giants TE Jeremy Shockey, who leads New York in receptions (44) but really hasn't been dominant this season -- Shockey gave the Redskins fits during his first couple years in the league, but the club might have found a long-term solution in its talented strong-side linebacker.
INJURY IMPACT: There's little doubt that injuries on the offensive line will make it difficult for the Redskins to perform. Assistant head coach for offense Joe Bugel can only dream about what it will be like to have Jon Jansen and Randy Thomas back and healthy on the right side next year. Elsewhere, the return of DE Phillip Daniels would be significant for a defense that has given up more than 100 rushing yards in each of the past two weeks.
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