Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Everybody Sees It But Them: The Sickness of Joe Gibbs and Mark Brunell

Politicians often issue announcements they’d like to hide “out with the trash,” releasing information late in a news cycle so it won’t make the weekday morning papers.
Congratulations, Joe Gibbs: You’ve now sunk to the level of a politician.
On Monday, Washington Redskins Quarterback Mark Brunell had major shoulder surgery on his THROWING ARM. The surgery took place, of course, after Gibbs finished his slate of year-end pressers so no one will have access to him for comment on the situation.
The ramifications of this news are stunning, depressing, and far-reaching. If I hadn’t invested more than two decades of emotion and fandom in this now-pathetic franchise, I would throw out every scrap of Redskin memorabilia I own. Today.
Even a half-blind man like me could see Brunell couldn’t throw the ball from here to there this season. If I could see it, my wife could see it, my brothers could see it, my parents could see it, the moron twins on SportsTalk 980 could see it, then it stands to reason every single defensive coordinator in the NFL could see it, too. Thus opposing defenses packed the line of scrimmage against the Redskins, knowing Brunell couldn't threaten them deep—whether the play was a run or another awful short pass, either way it was going to be right in front of all 11 defenders—and promptly stopped.
Some morons in Washington wonder if backup Ladell Betts should be the starting running back next season over Clinton Portis. Well, is it any wonder Betts' monster rushing attack began at the same time Brunell was benched and second-year QB Jason Campbell—who possesses a laser-rocket arm, as Peyton Manning would say—was moved into the lineup? As soon as defenders had to start worrying about passes traveling more than 10 yards through the air—what a shock!—the Skins' excellent offensive line was able to open up some running lanes again. If Betts gained 1,000 yards this season, a healthy Portis would have run for 1,600-plus with Campbell as a backfield mate. Perhaps the Skins could have won more than five games and actually made the playoffs in the pathetic NFC.
What makes me the most sick, though, is Gibbs' loyalty-to-a-fault for Brunell. With this news about Brunell’s obvious season-long injury, it's become a full-on sickness between these two guys. And what's worse, they're both Christians! Brunell should have had the moral integrity to bench himself if he was so hurt he was hampering the team, and Gibbs should have had the moral integrity to own up to his mistake.
Instead, Gibbs subtly passed the blame off on to new offensive coordinator Al Saunders, claiming the team got away from "Redskins football," meaning power running. Well what, exactly, was Saunders supposed to do with Brunell as his dilapidated triggerman? Saunders' offense relies on a QB willing to take hits and deliver the ball deep; Brunell can do neither. So Saunders had to start coming up with what Rick "Doc" Walker dubbed the "poodle offense" to try and cover for Brunell's obvious liabilities. By the end of the year, with a real QB in Campbell under center, the offense was clicking pretty well—both running and passing.
So however you look at it, Brunell and Gibbs cost the Redskins multiple victories for reasons unknown and inexplicable to anyone other than those two men. Their relationship has been an albatross around the team's neck for the past three seasons. From the very beginning of this second tenure in Washington, Gibbs hasn't felt like the same person this city has worshipped for nearly three decades. His first move was bringing in Brunell, and he's been covering up for that horrendous mistake ever since due to what I can only assume is abject vanity. In the same offseason, he then traded away Champ Bailey (the best cover-corner in the league) and a second-round pick for Portis; I love Lil' Clinton, but the team could obviously use Bailey right now more than Portis.
Gibbs has spent the past three seasons defending these awful moves, all the while championing second-rate players. He’s acted like Grandpa Joe, the kindly old guy who never says a bad word about anybody and just wants everybody to love him. Well, that doesn't cut it "up here," as Gibbs is fond of saying.
My only hope is this: When the reality of the worst season in Gibbs’ career finally settles in over the next weeks and months, perhaps that will reawaken the hard-nosed man of integrity I knew from my childhood. Perhaps he’s finally through worrying about expectations so he can finally get back to fulfilling them.
If so, Gibbs is off to a very, very bad start. This latest Brunell indignity foisted upon Redskins fans was an inexcusable act of cowardice perpetrated by a coach previously thought incapable of such a thing.

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