The last time the Washington Redskins were 1-5, they jump-started their offense by giving the ball to John Riggins.
This time, they're going to try to ignite their offense by throwing the ball to Desmond Howard.
"I think we have to look at Desmond," coach Richie Petitbon said yesterday in the wake of the team's 36-6 loss to the Phoenix Cardinals on Sunday.
Howard, the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner from Michigan who cost the Redskins two first-round picks in the 1992 draft when they traded up to the fourth pick to select him, probably can't control a game the way Riggins did in his heyday. He could, however, give the Redskins the long pass that has virtually disappeared from their offense.
When Joe Gibbs was hired as head coach in 1981, he was the offensive coordinator in San Diego, and he brought the wide open "Air Coryell" offense of Chargers coach Don Coryell to Washington.
The Redskins didn't have the personnel to run it and started 0-5. Gibbs switched to the one-back, featuring Riggins, and the Redskins rebounded to go 8-3 in their last 11 games and went to the next two Super Bowls.
Now the Redskins hope wide receiver Howard can give them a lift.
Howard was slowed by a groin injury in training camp and then apparently fell out of favor because of poor practice habits. Even when he apparently stepped things up in practice, his playing time didn't increase. He's caught four passes this year.
Although Howard hasn't complained, he said a week ago, "I think this is harder to piece together than the assassination of JFK. I've never really known what's going on."
Petitbon said yesterday: "I think the injury set him back and the guys ahead of him were playing well. It was just a combination of a lot of things."
Whatever the problem was, Howard now will get his shot, apparently in place of Tim McGee.
Petitbon said that besides inconsistency, the team's two biggest problems are that they're giving up too many big passes and they're not throwing enough of their own.
"We have to make an effort to get the ball downfield," Petitbon said.
Even the return of Mark Rypien at quarterback hasn't made a difference. His longest passes to a wide receiver the past two games went 21 and 17 yards.
Petitbon said that part of the problem is that teams are playing a soft deep zone against the Redskins and are making it difficult to throw deep.
There's also been speculation that the Redskins have gotten away from the Gibbs offense while going to more of the San Francisco offense that offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower has implemented. It features more ball-control passes.
Petitbon, though, said that except for using some two-back sets, "It's basically the same offense."
With the bye this week, the Redskins' first priority will be to get healthy. With the trading deadline set today, general manager Charley Casserly, who tried to get Richard Dent from the Chicago Bears last week to shore up the defensive line, said he doesn't anticipate any last-minute trades.
Another issue the Redskins will address is defensive tackle Eric Williams, who aggravated his hip Sunday and may be ready to retire. He already had announced he was planning to quit at the end of the year.
Williams said the doctors told him that "it's kind of crazy to keep this thing going" because he has a congenital hip problem.
But Petitbon said he didn't want to address that issue the day after the game. "Let's let the emotions calm down, and we'll see how he feels," he said.
Petitbon said he appreciated the fact that both Williams and Shane Collins, who has a foot injury, tried to play despite their injuries.
"They're two tough guys," he said. Petitbon said there's been no lack of effort by the team. If anything, he says the players are "trying too hard."
How is Petitbon dealing with the poor start in his first year?
"You have a job to do. You wake up every morning and you go do it. Everything is not always going to be the way you plan it. You have to do the best you can," he said.
NOTES: Petitbon said that RB Brian Mitchell (shoulder) and DB Alvoid Mays (hamstring) may not be ready for the Buffalo game on Nov. 1. . . . He hopes to have two defensive linemen, Charles Mann (knee) and Tim Johnson (thigh), back for Buffalo, but a third one, Jason Buck (shoulder) may not be ready.