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Prime Time certainly looked past his prime: On his first pass of the game, Wright, a free agent from South Carolina, went right at Sanders, burning him on a 46-yard strike to James McKnight down the left sideline. Later in the second quarter/on an identical play, Sanders bumped McKnight and was nailed for a 28-yard pass-interference penalty.
Offensively the Skins were unwatchable. Mindful that some players believed Turner's formation-happy system had stifled a potentially explosive attack, Robiskie vowed to simplify the game plan. But while doing so, he also unveiled a five-wideout set that left quarterback Jeff George, a Snyder favorite starting in place of the demoted Brad Johnson, vulnerable to an energized Dallas defensive line. With the interior of the Washington offensive line decimated by injuries, George, who didn't complete his first pass until more than three minutes into the second quarter, took a brutal beating. He was sacked five times and frequently smacked around, at one point getting dragged backward several yards by defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban.
That not one Redskins lineman said, "Bah, humbug!" to Ebenezer, let alone rushed to George's defense, was the source of postgame strife. Complained one offensive player, "Our quarterback was getting killed, and our line wasn't even helping him up, much less defending him. What is that? If you're gonna get kicked out, get kicked out for your quarterback."
The latter statement was a reference to the actions of Skins right guard Jay Leeuwenburg, who was ejected, along with Cowboys defensive end Alonzo Spellman, following a one-sided brawl (in Spellman's favor) with 9:44 remaining. That wasn't even Washington's worst misstep. That dishonor belonged to All-Pro halfback Stephen Davis, who after gaining 30 yards on four consecutive carries late in the third quarter threw the ball at linebacker Darren Hambrick, who had been in on the tackle that brought Davis down, to earn a drive-destroying 15-yard penalty. "Coach came in here after the game and said it right—we played like high schoolers," wideout Albert Connell said. Later, without singling out anyone, Connell added, "There's a lot of pressure here, and some guys can't handle it."
If that statement seemed to point back to Snyder, who spent a reported $100 million in signing bonuses and guaranteed salaries to load his roster in the off-season, it's no surprise. Snyder, a marketing and advertising mogul, is an easy target, even in his own locker room. There was much laughter among Redskins players recently after a veteran defender, having been summoned to Snyder's office, told teammates that he'd seen the book Football for Dummies on the boss's desk. Had Snyder followed through on a Dec. 3 middle-of-the-night inspiration to replace Turner with 68-year-old Pepper Rodgers, a 1970s-era college coach with no NFL experience, Snyder would have become the laughingstock of the league.
To his credit, after offering the coaching job to defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, who turned it down, and mulling possibilities ranging from Rodgers (who was instead hired as the vice president of football operations) to former Washington coach Joe Gibbs, Snyder finally picked Robiskie, who seemed to represent the best chance of salvaging the season. Now Snyder must delay until next year his fervent quest to turn the Redskins into a winner. "We'll get it right, over time," he said after the locker room had nearly emptied.
Doing so will be a challenge. The Redskins will have to absorb salary-cap hits, and Rhodes, who helped turn a defense that ranked 30th last season into the league's fourth-ranked unit this season, has told players he's leaning toward leaving after the season. Though Washington's roster is filled with decorated players, its talent level has been vastly overrated.
In reality Snyder purchased a team in April 1999 whose foundation was cracked. He erred by siding with Turner over general manager Charley Casserly in an intramural battle that resulted in personnel expert Casserly's removal. Snyder also was overly enamored of an eventual division winner that wasn't nearly as close to being a Super Bowl contender as he and a lot of others had believed. It's one thing to add high-priced veterans to a proud, self-motivated group—like the '94 San Francisco 49ers, whose acquisition of Sanders and others produced a Super Bowl title—but, as Snyder is learning, when the car is a lemon, all the luxury features in the world won't propel it into victory lane.
"Come on, man, be realistic," said Sanders, the last man left in the locker room on Sunday night. "The Redskins went to the playoffs last year, but they did it by winning a terrible conference. They beat the Detroit Lions! That's why they went out and got all of us."
Prime Time's cell phone rang, and he headed into the stadium tunnel, where a shiny black SUV awaited him. A few feet away, Snyder stared down at his shiny black loafers, plotting his next move. It was so quiet, you could almost hear the other shoe drop.