Joe Gibbs has tried a variety of motivational tactics to reach his Washington Redskins this preseason.
The Hall of Fame coach has gone easy, by bringing his team in later than usual so players didn't have to sweat through as many two-a-days as before. He has been tough, by having them endure a few punishing workouts after losing to the New York Jets at home.
Nothing worked, culminating with a 17-10 loss to the Ravens on Thursday night at FedEx Field that ended Washington's first winless preseason in 24 years. Not only did the Redskins lose all four of their preseason games, but they also were outscored 104-27.
"It was disappointing for us," Gibbs said yesterday at Redskins Park. "You don't get [opponents'] offenses and defenses putting everything out there, so it probably evened out. When we played our young guys, chances are they were playing their young guys. We felt like we were trying to make the best decisions as a coaching staff to get the most out of preseason."
Asked if there could be a carryover to the regular season, Gibbs said, "I don't know. Sometimes it is an individual thing and sometimes it is a team thing. You don't know whether they get mad about it and say, 'Hey, we are going to play our guts out.' "
Whether the preseason was miserable or just meaningless will be evident Sept. 11.
"We are pointed to Monday night now," Gibbs said of his team's nationally televised game at home against the Minnesota Vikings in nine days. "Everything we can do from here on out will be pointed toward Minnesota, which is going to be a supreme challenge for us. I think this is going to be one of the most important games I have ever coached in."
That is a pretty remarkable statement coming from a three-time Super Bowl champion coach, but his current team was a mess in the preseason.
The Redskins still don't know whether star running back Clinton Portis will have fully recovered from the partially dislocated shoulder suffered in the team's opening preseason game, or when cornerback Shawn Springs will be back after undergoing a surgical procedure for a partially torn abductor muscle.
Even if Portis and Springs are not ready to play against the Vikings, the Redskins will get two starters back on defense, Phillip Daniels and Cornelius Griffin, and starting quarterback Mark Brunell will be working with his front-line receivers, none of whom played a lot during the preseason.
Gibbs implied that the injury to Portis, suffered when making a tackle after an interception on the first offensive series of the preseason, dictated the way he used - or didn't use - some players for the other three games.
There are more questions about the offense than the defense, starting with the fact that Brunell didn't lead the Redskins to a single point in 13 possessions in the preseason. Gibbs has yet to announce who his No. 2 quarterback is, but veteran Todd Collins had a strong performance Thursday.
"We feel real good about our quarterback situation. Mark is the guy we're counting on ... to win ballgames for us," said Gibbs. "I think Jason [Campbell] has stepped up. Todd didn't really get to play that much. After his two touchdown passes were dropped, I said to him, 'You showed me that you got something.' "
The same can't be said for the rest of the team.
NOTES -- Rookie receiver and return man Mike Espy, who caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Collins against the Ravens, might have locked up a spot with his performance ... The cuts down to the 53-man roster will be announced later today.