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For Redskins, 'If' Scenarios Create Bizarre Backdrop

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Swine flu? Not a concern. Bird flu? Not worried. Hysteria? Quick, run for the hills. We're surrounded by hysteria.

Hysteria is spread by the "if" bacteria. Repeated use of the word "if" in speculative sentences leads to hysteria and hysteria feeds upon itself, spreading by word of mouth.

Here is an actual question asked this week by a major media outlet: "If the Redskins had not beaten the St. Louis Rams, and if they lose to the Detroit Lions, and if the Redskins fire Jim Zorn, who on the staff could be the next coach?"

That's three strains of the "if" bacteria. All of them strain credulity. Let's start with a premise that did not occur and add two more that could, but haven't. Then let's take a guess. Nothing like good, solid reporting. In fact, it's nothing like it at all.

Yet that's an element of the bizarre atmosphere surrounding a 1-1 football team.

Not an 0-2 team. A 1-1 football team. Like 15 others. Which does not include the Carolina Panthers, who won the NFC South last year, the Tennessee Titans, who ruled the AFC South and had the best record in the NFL, or the Miami Dolphins, defending AFC East champions.

A 1-1 team. Just as they were last year. Yet panic rules the streets and the airwaves. Anger simmers and boils over like overheated porridge, foaming and steaming.

What if the Redskins lose to the Detroit Lions? If? Oh, the gnashing of teeth, the renting of garments, the sackcloth and ashes, the acts of penitence that will be demanded. And you thought this was the week that was.

"There's no game you walk into the NFL that's a given that you're going to win," Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache was saying Thursday afternoon after practice. "If the Lions don't make mistakes, they'll beat people. We can't count on them making mistakes."

"If." Ugh. Though Blache only makes our point. Maybe facts can quell the spread of the "if" bacteria.

First, as Blache indicates, victories are not easy to come by. Even against so-called soft opponents.

The St. Louis Rams, beaten 9-7 by the Redskins, theoretically don't scare anyone. They've lost 12 games in a row. But the three defeats than ended the 2008 season were by a combined eight points, so four of their last five losses are by a combined 10. Can they win a game? Surely.

The Lions have lost 19 straight. Can't dispute that. They lost one last year when their quarterback stepped out of the end zone for a safety. How often does that occur? They were more than competitive after that loss, losing by seven on the road to the Houston Texans and eight at home to the Redskins and by four at the Chicago Bears. Then the wheels fell off. Can they win a game? They will.

The Rams and Lions can certainly explain how hard it can be to win. The margin is thin, maybe even thinner than the four or five plays a game Redskins head coach Jim Zorn cited after the opening-day loss to the New York Giants.

There's no question the offense continues to struggle and some of the mistakes seem inexcusable. The offensive line calls "fan" blocking instead of "man" blocking on a crucial play against the Rams and gets Clinton Portis clobbered on a fourth-down run near the goal line. Drops of potential touchdown passes. Illegal procedure calls at home. Well, everybody has problems.

The Redskins' red-zone spasms have been well-documented. Eight times inside the 20, two touchdowns. And that is bad -- but the Giants are worse. Eight trips, no touchdowns. They've scored 18 points on eight, the Redskins 26 on eight (and one of those, against the Rams, was a clock-killing kneel situation at the end). Have the tabloids pilloried the Giants yet?

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Jim Zorn during the 2008 Redskins-Lions
game. (Ned Dishman Photo)

Only three teams have been inside the red zone more than the Redskins. They're one of six with eight forays inside the 20 and, yes, they're the second-lowest scoring. That says they can move the ball but struggle with finishing. That obviously must be corrected.

Yet the good burghers of Indianapolis appear not too concerned that the Colts have been inside the red zone only three times. Maybe we can spread the "if" bacteria to Indy -- "if" the Colts don't get some sustained possessions and long drives, should they fire Jim Caldwell? Oh, right, they're 2-0.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, this typist covered a football team that started the season 0-3-1. The best explanation put forth for so dismal a display over the opening month: "There's something missing."

Then the New York Jets found it, whatever it was. They won 10 of their last 12 games and earned their first playoff berth in 12 years. That was the 1981 Jets, famed for the Sack Exchange.

Fast starts -- remember the Redskins last year? -- guarantee nothing. Slow starts are exactly that. They're not necessarily symptomatic of a lingering disorder.

The 2001 New England Patriots opened 0-2. They scored a total of 20 points in losses to the Cincinnati Bengals and Jets. Who won the Super Bowl? The Patriots -- and that after a 5-11 season the year before.

The 2002 Titans were 1-4 and gave up 159 points in those five games. They wrapped up with a five-game win streak in which they allowed 66 points and reached the AFC championship game.

The 2003 Philadelphia Eagles got shut out in their opener and outscored 48-10 in opening 0-2. They finished in the NFC championship game.

Problems occur. Problems can get fixed. There's no magic bullet. The "if" bacteria presents different issues. It causes hysterical behavior, weird rants and speculation that dashes past the bounds of the rational. When it's an epidemic, as it seems to be here now, the vaccine no longer is merely winning. It has to be winning by a lot, in a league where just winning is a neat trick.

The Redskins understand the sickness. They need to find the cure.


Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on The Jim Zorn Show on WRC-TV on Saturday night, on Redskins Nation, airing twice nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, all in the Washington, D.C. area. Read his blog at redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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