ASHBURN, Va. (AP) – A 35-point victory followed by a 36-point loss has put the Washington Redskins at a crossroads. Which way is this team headed, for goodness sake?

They’ll find out soon enough. One week after playing for first place – and getting pummeled 36-0 by the New York Giants in Joe Gibbs’ worst loss as a coach – the rattled and battered Redskins (4-3) will be playing to avoid sole possession of last place in the NFC East on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I think it’s going to be a defining moment for this team, for this season,” quarterback Mark Brunell said. “I’ll tell you, if we can get this one, against a very good football team, we’ll be back on track. If not, we’re going to be in a hole, and we’ll have to fight our way out of it.”

That’s a strong pronouncement from a player who usually isn’t into hype, but the entire team was in re-evaluation mode Monday after an embarrassing performance that highlighted weaknesses on both sides of the ball. It also left several key players battling injuries and exposed the emotional vulnerability of a team that beat up on the awful San Francisco 49ers seven days earlier.

“We went out there and they got that long run, and after that, there was no enthusiasm,” said defensive end Phillip Daniels, referring to Tiki Barber’s 57-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. “It seemed like a deer in highlights. It was a lot of guys wondering who was going to make the play instead of going out and making the play. That’s my opinion of the whole game.”

Restoring the confidence will be up to Gibbs, who had previously been shut out only once – in a 1987 playoff game against the Giants – in his Hall of Fame career.

“I sat there all last night and was thinking about it,” Gibbs said. “Can we do it? That’s the first question. Are we good enough to do it? And so you go back and look at the seven games we played. Six of those games I’d say that we were good enough. … That means we’re probably capable of beating just about anybody, but also anybody can beat us.”

Injuries are a mounting concern. An MRI exam on left tackle Chris Samuels’ right knee revealed cartilage damage but no sprain. He had the knee drained and will miss some practice, but he thinks he’ll be ready to go against the Eagles.

“Thank God it’s not as serious as people thought,” Samuels said.

H-back Chris Cooley has a bruised hip and was awaiting the results of an MRI on a sprained knee. He and Samuels are among a half-dozen players the Redskins cannot afford to lose.

Another is defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, a solid run-stopper who aggravated his hip on Barber’s first run and left the game after two plays. Griffin is questionable for the Eagles game.

The team is running out of healthy defensive linemen. Daniels was in pain Monday after spraining his ankle Sunday, but he’s expected to play against Philadelphia. Defensive tackle Joe Salave’a had a cortisone shot on a nagging foot injury that needs weeks of rest to heal, but he plans to keep soldiering on.

Still, having everyone healthy might not have helped on Sunday. The Giants played an emotional game in honor of their late owner, Wellington Mara, and former Washington middle linebacker Antonio Pierce got revenge by telling the Giants what to expect from his old team.

“They did some things that they normally don’t do, so you can tell he really talked to them and told them some things,” Daniels said. “A.P., he’s a smart player.”

Other teams, including the Eagles, will study the tape and learn how to beat the Redskins if Gibbs doesn’t adjust accordingly. The Giants used a zone to surround Santana Moss, the only consistent threat among the receivers. They limited Clinton Portis to a career-low 9 yards and had five sacks.

Meanwhile, the Redskins’ defense has problems all over, beyond the list of injured linemen.

Linebacker Warrick Holdman’s minimal impact finally caught up with him when he wasn’t in place to stop Barber’s long runs to the left side. Holdman was replaced in the second half by LaVar Arrington – a golden opportunity for Arrington to reclaim a starting role – but the three-time Pro Bowl player didn’t make much of a case with his missed tackles.

Gibbs wouldn’t say whether Arrington now has the starting job. “We’ll just see where this leads,” the coach said.

Safety Sean Taylor remains a hit-or-miss talent, taking bad angles to pursue ball carriers. The Redskins have given up six runs of 30-plus yards this season after allowing none last season.

“Bad angles and missed tackles and stuff like that, we had a lot of that this game,” Daniels said. “That’s not us. We’ve got to come back this week and get back to the basics. We’ve got to put out the fire.”

AP-ES-10-31-05 1834EST


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