"What it comes down to is that our players have to say to themselves, just as I have to say to myself: What can I do to help the football team?" Gibbs said the day after the Redskins were drubbed 41-0 at New England in the usually most indicative third preseason game. "‘Am I where I was last year — conditioning-wise, playing-wise, mentally — at this time?'"
Last year at this time, the Redskins were 1-2 in preseason but coming off a victory over eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh. Washington went on to a 10-6 season and made the playoffs for the first time in six years.
But these Redskins are leaving observers wondering if this is yet another Washington team — (remember the signings of Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith in 2000, the arrival of the Steve Spurrier in 2002 and the return of Gibbs in 2004?) — that's all hype, no results.
Star running back Clinton Portis, No. 1 cornerback Shawn Springs, top defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin and sacks leader Phillip Daniels are all hurt. New receivers Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El have combined for five catches in the supposedly recharged offense of new associate head coach Al Saunders. New defensive end Andre Carter has been a non-factor and new safety Adam Archuleta has spent most of his time chasing ball-carriers down from behind.
Mark Brunell is the second-lowest rated quarterback among the NFL's 32 starters and backups Todd Collins and Jason Campbell haven't played well either. Special teams has had one of its two field-goal attempts blocked, allowed a kickoff return touchdown and has the third-worst net punting average. Needless to say, August in Washington wasn't pretty.
Even the defense that dominated the past two years has allowed the most points, the second-most rushing yards and the fourth-most yards in the NFL this preseason.
"You don't like some of those things that go on, but in those things are correctable errors," said assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, whose starters gave up 13 plays of at least 10 yards (three of 35 yards or more) to the Patriots. "It's never as bad as it seems. It's never as good as it seems."
The offense has generated the fewest points, second-fewest rushing yards, third-fewest first downs and fifth-fewest yards.
"We can't get too bent out of shape about it," Randle El said. "I'm not sure (that) we haven't clicked because we've made some plays. It's one (missed) block here, one dropped pass here, one overthrow here. It's the preseason. We'll get it going when the time is right."
Perhaps. Randle El played on a Steelers team whose starters didn't reach the end zone last summer but went on to win the Super Bowl. And Gibbs has won Super Bowls after 0-4 (1982) and 1-3 (1991) preseasons.
"We've been in messes before and we understand how to get out of them," said Gibbs, whose team won its last five games of 2005 to go from near-elimination to NFC wild card. "When you go through tough times, it's always interesting to see how you get out of it."
The good news is that the injured starters should all be back by mid-September at the latest, that second-round linebacker Rocky McIntosh should be starting soon enough, that Saunders has shown virtually none of his complex offense and most important, that no one remembers the preseason if the regular season turns out differently.
"I would rather go through it now than go through it later," Pro Bowl receiver Santana Moss said.
COACHING: Joe Gibbs, 15th year, 15th with Redskins (157-82).
REMEMBERING: 2005 record: 10-6 (2nd in NFC East); lost in divisional round game at Seahawks, 20-10.
"If they didn't care, if they weren't shocked, then we have the wrong type of people," Byner said. "You can understand how the guys feel. We had started to get somewhat of a (rotation) going. They had gotten their minds set on some of the things they wanted to achieve. There's nothing wrong with that. If they don't, then we have the wrong type of guys."
Although Duckett practiced for the first time on Aug. 24, he was given the ball four times just two days later at New England.
"I can't say it's going to be an easy battle," Duckett said. "It's going to be hard (catching up). I'm going to have to learn and I'm going to make some mistakes. But I'm out here working to get better."
Ladell Betts, who figures to drop from the No. 2 back to No. 3 when starter Clinton Portis returns from a partially dislocated left shoulder and Duckett becomes fully acclimated, even gave the new man some pointers in practice.
"T.J. jumped right in the huddle in the walkthrough, started slapping fives and broke the ice," Byner said. "He's going to fit right in. The reality is these guys will take T.J. in. They will do some things to try to help him and they'll compete."
"Losing those 25 pounds, he's got his balance, he's not on the ground and he runs a lot quicker," he said. "It was a blessing in disguise. He worked out in Atlanta with some different things and got himself into tip-top shape. He's the real deal right now."
Dockery took boxing lessons to improve his technique and Bugel has noticed the difference.
"The hands are the most important thing," Bugel said. "If you've got strong hands, you can block."
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 — The Redskins can take heart from history. Gibbs' teams are usually better off not winning in August. The Redskins followed all six of Gibbs' previous .500 or worse preseasons with a postseason appearance, including Super Bowl titles in 1982, 1987 and 1991. Washington made the playoffs just three times following Gibbs' eight winning preseasons. So if history holds, the team that looks so shaky in August will be playing in January.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is a reality check. We've got to get it fixed quick. It'll be an uphill battle. We had a good, tough week of practice. I thought we were ready to play. It's kind of shocking. Even if we are vanilla ... when we run the ball inside, we should be able to get four yards. We need to stop believing what we read in the newspapers and just play ball." — Center Casey Rabach after the Redskins were crushed 41-0 by the Patriots on Aug. 26.