Monday, December 15, 2003

WEEK 15: Bad? No, this was far, far worse…

I had considered a creative introduction to this week’s review; something poking fun at Saddam “Shaggy” Hussein, voicing my annoyance at those “I can’t taste my beer!” commercials, or perhaps even a celebratory Beyonce limerick for her Grammy Award nominations. But let’s be honest: I’d just be stalling. Let’s get right to the pain.
Another Dallas/Washington game, another cringe inducing experience. The Washington Redskins have crashed to 5-9, following a loss Sunday at home to the Dallas Cowchips. The score was 27-0, but the game was much, much worse than the score indicates. How bad was it?

…Tim “Tool Time” Hasselbeck attempted twenty-six passes. Only six of those were completed to Washington players. He completed four to Dallas. Let me say that again: Hasselbeck almost completed as many passes to them as to us. There was a tipped ball or two during play, but if Tim wasn’t throwing passes into the chests of Dallas players, he was sailing balls over everybody’s heads.

…Laveranues “Laveranues”Coles, 7th leading receiver in the NFL, produced negative one yards of offense on the day and had less catches (none!) than rookie Dallas cornerback Terence Newman. Newman’s three interceptions tied a Cowchip franchise record—which hadn’t been touched since the 1980s.

…Washington had not been shut out by the Cowgirls in thirty-two years. Let’s say it this way: I wasn’t alive the last time this nonsense happened. Most of the people reading this review didn’t exist, either. Why has it been so long since it’s happened? Because previous Redskin teams knew how to put up a fight and walk off the field with dignity. I do, however, recall the last time the Skins were shut out. That was a decade ago versus the New York Jets.

…Not to put too fine a point on this, but Tim “Colorblind” Hasselbeck ‘s final quarterback rating was 0.0. That’s not a mistype. He finished with nothing. If Hasselbeck had simply dropped back and thrown the football into the ground on every one of his twenty-six attempts, he would have earned a 39.6 rating. And we would have scored the same amount of points. Washington’s Bryan Barker finished with a better passer rating. He is the Redskins’ punter.

…Troy “Can we play the Skins again?” Hambrick enjoyed almost 200 yards of offense all by himself. He had 33 rushes for 187 yards. It was like watching Buffalo’s Travis Henry all over again: average running back breaks out of slump and has career day against Washington’s run defense.

Boy we can make Dallas look good.

The Redskins played with no code, no honor, and I doubt God was watching after the first quarter. On paper, the Skins had all the motivation necessary to play spoiler and pull off the upset: at home/could split with Dallas/bad weather/knock Dallas out of the playoffs/Dallas on the slide. Any of those factors should have energized the team to fight with vigor on Sunday. Apparently, Coach Superior and Company weren’t able to rally the troops to even look like they cared. Granted, the defense held the Dallas offense down most of the first half, limiting them to 14 points. But without any offensive support, the defense collapsed like a house of cards in the remaining 30 minutes. I clearly recall shouting “we may never score!” during the 3rd quarter.

The worst part of any Dallas win is having to put up with Cowchip fans. My cousin Angie decided that the middle of the 4th quarter was a sufficient time to call and point out that the Redskins stink. Another coworker greeted my arrival at work with “Man, what happened?!? And Hambrick’s a bum!” Worst of all, I lost a bet to another coworker for two Arizona Iced Teas. Shame on each and every one of you.

Thank you, dear Redskins, for the promise of yet another mediocre season of professional football. My prayer back in November was that this team would at least make the remaining games interesting enough to watch. At this rate, I’ll be copying and pasting Washington Post recaps instead of writing reviews.

I am proud to announce that this week’s grading is simple, unbiased, and unanimous.

OFFENSE: Z- (Thanks for being the Dallas defense’s practice squad.)
DEFENSE: Z- (Troy Hambrick. Troy Hambrick?!?)
Sp.TEAMS: Z- (Morton this year: 1 fumble, 1 touchdown return.)
COACHES: Z- (Y’all don’t care. Admit it.)

Next Up: The Chicago Bears face us in Chicago. The Bears have an improving defense, and they’ve played better than us in the last six weeks. They should beat Washington because, frankly, we stink. However, I’m picking us to win by four, 20-16.

Monday, December 08, 2003

WEEK 14: How ‘bout them Cowboys?

Many thanks, good people, for the festive wishes. It is because of the recent holidays that the Redskins Review has been absent. (OK, I admit that I didn’t watch the last two games.) I spent much of the weekend in Lansdowne, VA at a men's retreat for my church. The topic was becoming healthy, wealthy and wise. Not a bad way to spend a birthday... And no, Speed, I'm not coming over to shovel. By the time I finally got home to clear off my car, it was last night around 10PM. 45 minutes and four frozen toes later, my car's still sitting at home. I think I'll let nature take its course.

Speaking of inert objects, allow me to announce that the Dallas Cowchips continue their season's gravitational decent into "fightin' for a playoff spot" with a big 36-10 loss to the Philly Eagles. Cowchip fans have been proclaiming "Ten wins this year! Nobody expected it! Tuna! Tuna! Tuuuunaaa!" since week seven. Funny, they still haven't gotten to ten. Dallas' record (8-5) has more padding that a 36DD Calista Flockhart. They’ve gone 3-4 after starting 5-1. They still haven't beaten a good team (yeah, the slipped by Carolina) and don't win big games. Let that be a lesson, kids: birthday wishes CAN come true...

In other news, it appears that the Baltimore Ravens may possibly win their division and very well could enter the playoffs this season, contrary to popular opinion. (OK, Wes and I said so.) Therefore Wes and I could, to some degree of probability, be buying wings and curly fries for Dominic. Shoot.

I’m man enough to admit that I was far more interested in Bengal/Raven battle for first place than the Redskin/Giant scramble for Least in the East. What I saw Sunday was a Baltimore defense and offensive line displaying proficiency at or near the top in the league. Jamal “Give me the Browns” Lewis is a great runner, sure, but he’s very little without the consistently stellar blocking of his front guys. I watched Lewis break 15-yard runs, but those were usually after being untouched for five yards or needing to beat one defender before reaching the secondary. Lewis gets his props, but let’s give credit where it’s due.

Since this is a Redskin review, I should mention that Washington did best the New York Football Giants on Sunday. I am usually hesitant to fully quote other writers for my own opinion, but allow me to sum up my commentary of the 20-7 win via the words of Washington Post writer Mark Maske: “Bruce Smith made it a memorable day when he broke the NFL's career sacks record with a fourth-quarter takedown of Giants backup quarterback Jesse Palmer. But mostly, it was an afternoon of forgettable football between two teams suffering through highly disappointing seasons.” Thank you, Mr. Maske, for making this portion of the review very, very easy.

Next week we’ll delve into Washington’s Burning Questions. F’instance, should they keep Champ Bailey? What positions should they draft in? Should they lose the rest of their games to improve their draft position? Can Washington possibly play spoiler and keep Dallas out of the playoffs?

Next Up: The Dallas Cowgirls skip merrily into Washington. Oh, there is little sweeter than kicking a Dallas team when they’re down. A win against Dallas drops them to 8-6, in a fight with Green Bay, Seattle and (gasp!) maybe New Orleans for a wild card spot. Time to drop the hammer, Redskins! Skins win, 17-13.

Monday, November 17, 2003

WEEK 11: If Wishes Were Horses…

…Redskins fans would ride. If fans of this team could stroke a magic, gold-plated football and find a solution for this season, there’d be a whole lotta rubbin’ going on in D.C. The Skins dropped another potential win, falling to the Carolina Panthers 20-17 and nose-diving their record to an unsatisfying 4-6.

Seeking solace and answers, I unearthed my 1978 Riddell kid-sized Redskin helmet. After checking that nobody was looking, I gently pulled the SIZE S over my 30-year old head. To no surprise, I immediately began to pass out from lack of blood flow. Before everything went black, I swear I saw the spirit of Coach Joe Gibbs (1981-92) appearing to me! After the usual formalities, we discussed the matter at hand.

Me: Coach, that was one heckuva loss yesterday. The Redskins played well enough to beat a 7-2 team away but couldn’t close the deal. What in the name of Jack Kent Cooke is wrong with this team?

Coach Joe: Funny you should mention him. Cooke, I mean. Ol’ Jack was a curmudgeon if ever there was one. But that man had a dedication to winning, and the right methods to doing it. We won quite a few championships under his wings. You think back to the 1980s and even early 90s and our team was always a contender, if not a champion. Doesn’t look like these current Redskins will ever get there.

Me: My point exactly. Take Sunday for example: was there any greater irony than seeing Stephen Davis—a man who Steve Spurrier deemed a poor fit for his offense—make three tremendous plays to assure his team of victory? He tripped up Fred Smoot to stop an interception for a touchdown, caught a fourth-down flank pass for twenty-something yards on the winning drive, then capped it off with a gutsy rushing touchdown. Sheesh.

Coach: Hey, I understand. Look, times have changed since Washington was a perennial power. The NFL’s free agency position is such that it’s difficult for a team to slowly stockpile high-caliber talent, then keep them there while they plug up deficiencies. Much like society, teams want instant success and make whatever microwave decisions they can to make that a reality. Back in the 80s, you could keep John Riggins, Mark May, Joe Jacoby, Don Warren, and Mark Moseley while you drafted Joe Theismann, Neil Olkewicz, and Ricky Sanders…and you still could pick up Joe Washington off waivers. The NFL allowed the foundation of dynasties to be built.

Me: Ah ha! So it’s the league’s fault that the Skins lost! We’re victims of the system!

Coach: The Redskins lost Sunday because they stink.


Coach: Ha-ha, just kidding.


Coach: Maybe not. It was pretty strange that a hard-running team like Carolina threw for 300 yards. What makes them 8-2 right now? Versatility. Just when Washington thought they had a good game plan, stopping Stephen Davis, the Panthers adjust, survive interceptions, and pass all over the Redskins secondary. That guy Muhammad-somebody had almost 200 yards alone. What was his name…Mo…Mushin…

Me: He’s John Muhammad for all I care. How revolting to see him channel Jerry Rice for one day. Something always breaks down for us.

Coach: That’s because your foundations are weak. Washington lacks the drafting and personnel savvy we used to employ way back. Snyder has to realize that some players may look good on paper, like Trung Canidate, but are dead weight acquisitions. How are the Redskins getting rushing yardage this season? In the end, it’s straight-ahead power running from Rock Cartwright. Sounds like they could’ve used one Stephen Davis this season after all. Now that’s a cold plate of crow to eat.

Hey, every season’s not going to be perfect. But Daniel Snyder must be patient, like Ol’ Jack used to be, when crafting this ship. We didn’t always break .500, but our team wasn’t detonated and rebuilt every Spring, either. Dick Vermeil and the Cheifs management knows this, and see what’s they’re doing? But the Redskins don’t have that management. That’s the bad news.

Me: So there’s good news? I hope you aren’t going to say “but I switched to Geico and saved on my car insurance.” That’s so lame, Coach.

Coach: What’s a “Geico?” Anyway, for Redskin fans, even in loss, there’s always something to hold our heads up high about.

Me: What’s that?

Coach: The Dallas Cowboys got shut out. Again.

OFFENSE: C (Too many red-zone possessions, too few points.)
DEFENSE: C (That was not a touchdown by Davis. Moreover, it was a game-ending turnover. Stupid refs. But our breakdowns on that drive gave them the ability to put the ball in scoring position.)
Sp. TEAMS: C (We can’t afford missed field goals against the upper crust of the NFC.)
COACHES: D (Even Marty Schottenheimer went 5-5. I don’t know what that means.)

Next Up: The Miami Dolphins face us in Florida on Sunday night football. Their offense has been anemic this year, but their defense much improved. All those buffalo-wing-buyin’, backup-quarterback-lovin’, Jamal-Lewis-defendin’ Ravens fans know how good the Dolphins are. The Skins will need to put together a complete game (that means you, offensive line!) to pull this one off. Skins win, 21-20.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

WEEK 10: On the verge of…well…I dunno.

The Redskins squeaked out a win over the Seahawks on Sunday, 27-20. As the old 80s commercial used to say: “Thanks…I needed that.” After the Redskins’ four-game slide, I’m not as enthused as some other folks over this win. Yeah, Washington stayed true to Upset Sunday’s form, knocking off a division-leading squad using some very gutsy play-calling. But I am reasonably sure that if Seahawks receiver Darrell “Teflon” Jackson doesn’t let that easily catchable ball slip through his hands into Fred Smoooooot’s hands, the ‘Hawks continue their unimpeded march toward tying the game.

But Jackson let it through, and we won. It is quite refreshing to be on the winning end of a game. Takes me back to…September when the Redskins had one of the top offenses and defenses (obviously this was real early in September!) and every opponent game-planned to stop Pharaoh Ramsey and Laveranues “Sultan Rock Darnerian” Coles. (What is up with our players’ names? Have you ever seen such a bizarre demonstration of parental neglect?)

I really believe this team has failed to live up to its potential. Sunday reminded me that, in the end, we have a competitive team that could make some noise this season. We’re on the verge of being a force, a NFC powerhouse. (OK, we’re on the verge of winning the NFC East.) But key injuries and poor game-planning have led this team to lose the important division games and severely compromise the future of our star quarterback. I dunno what’s to come for the Skins, with Stephen “I Must Break You” Davis this Sunday, Miami the next week, N’awlins after that, then a string of division games.

I therefore will grab my Howard Cossell toupee, light a big cigar, channel Jimmy the Greek (What is he doing these days? Is he still alive?) and offer these four predictions for the remaining NFL season…

The Ravens are done. Sorry, Baltimore. I was no fan of Kyle “Hail Mary” Boller, but without him at the helm, you’re left with a subpar Redman and Anthony “Who?” Wright tossing the ball. If you thought defenses stacked up against the run before, just imagine what they’ll do now. I’d give them the division, but Cincinnati—can you believe it?—is growing stronger by the week and will win it. This Sunday’s game against the undefeated Chiefs could be the biggest upset of the year. Which leads me to announce that…

The Chiefs will end the regular season 15-1. The one loss? It won’t be to the Bengals. Oh no. It’ll be the clash of the titan game December 20 against the then 11-4 Minnesota Vikings. Trent “Money” Green will have a poor passing game, getting picked off by the stingy Vikings secondary. They’ll take one back for a touchdown. Yep. That’s what’s gonna happen. The Chiefs will be so angry that they let a perfect season slip away that they embark on a tear through the playoffs and win the whole shebang February 1.

The Panthers send Daniel Snyder a postcard from Texas. Yep, Carolina will represent the NFC at Super Bowl XXXVIII, happily riding the back of former Redskin castoff Stephen Davis as he pounds through the weak NFC defenses. Davis’ dismissal still makes me ill. Snyder’s worst mistake (and he’s made a lot to rank) was hiring Spurrier instead of Marvin Lewis while Lewis was with the team. Davis would’ve stayed and we’d have a better D. Think we’d be 4-5 with those changes? Speaking of change…

Redskins coach Spurrier pulls team to 8-8; saves job by demoting himself. If this past Sunday showed Washington fans anything, it’s that the Redskins can compete when Coach Superior gets out of the way of playcalling until critical moments. The light bulb is already brightening over his visor, even now. A shocking win over Carolina will convince the Ol’ Ball Coach to limit himself to, well, coaching.

OFFENSE: B (What was Ray Rhodes thinking when he didn’t blitz?!?)
DEFENSE: C (Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.)
COACHES: A (Huge calls in the fourth quarter and great playcalling to get us out of a 14-3 hole.)

Next Up: The Panthers face us in Carolina with a pipin’ hot offense and smothering defense. I suspect they won’t play zone like Seattle and Ramsey will need extra padding. Our D better step up or this could be ugly. Skins pull of the 2nd biggest upset of the year, 14-10.

Monday, November 03, 2003

WEEK 9: Washington 2, Dallas 73

Yeah, that wasn’t the actual final score. But it might as well have been. Dallas won, 21-14, but in no way was this cringe-inducing game that close. Washington never gained control, never adjusted, and never threatened. The Cowgirls did their very best to make this game interesting, like the Harlem Globetrotters used to do to Podunk College when I was a kid. They fumbled around, took points off the board with penalties, dropped passes, the whole nine. It was almost comical.

But aye, these Redskins lack a competitive spirit. You know what? I had a sense of dread with less than FIVE MINUTES elapsed in the game. Sure, the Skins were winning by six points, and Dallas had committed three turnovers. But we had shown absolutely nothing on the field: Ramsey had been sacked twice, hurried every other time he tried to pass, and we had no running game. Further, we had only SIX POINTS off of turnovers. Even on the touchdown pass Ramsey was smacked down. The Cowchip defense gave up those six only because the interception return put the ball inside the red zone. Even mo’ further, Dallas had two touchdowns removed because of their own silly penalties. We had an extra point blocked for the first time this season. The Skins started their drives with great field position after each turnover. All within the first five minutes.

…and the game never improved. The Cowchips tightened their game and really dissected the Redskins. The disappointing reality of this game was that Coach Superior and company had two weeks to review what failed in the first part of the season, review what worked for Tampa Bay against Dallas last week, then adjust what didn’t work after Sunday’s halftime. It appears that none of that happened. The D gave up a Madden-style reverse to ice the game, the special teams got blown away on the opening kickoff , and the Dallas blitz packages worked flawlessly.

If I were Pharaoh Ramsey, I’d want out. The truth of this season, for him, is that the coaching staff is pimping his energy, toughness, and youth while they continue their flawed attempt to devise blocking schemes. It is ridiculous, and I’m infuriated on behalf of Ramsey (whose nickname I’d considered changing to “Bullseye.”). There isn’t even a competent backup for Ramsey since letting journeyman Rob Johnson hit the showers. What, pray tell, do the coaches want Ramsey to do when his blocking backs miss tackles, receivers don’t read blitz and alter their routes, and the offensive line leads the team in penalties?

It all reminds me of the old story where a sergeant was speaking to a line of his troops. They were about to go to war, but they needed someone to lead the charge, facing inevitable death. The sergeant asked for one man to bravely step forward. In a moment, a soldier stood alone. It wasn’t until he looked around did he realize that everyone else took one step backward.

In my humble opinion, the season is effectively over. The Skins have lost to all of their division rivals and face Seattle, Carolina, Miami, and New Orleans in coming weeks. My prayer is that we make the games interesting enough that I’ll want to pop popcorn and watch. The rest of the schedule has division teams, all of which have better records and smarter coaches than Washington. We can, of course, take Chicago.

OFFENSE: F (“The Ballad of Patrick Ramsey” folk song earns a verse every week.)
Sp. TEAMS: F+ (The plus is for the stellar punting we’ve gotten for consecutive games.)
COACHES: F (I bet George Allen and Tom Landry laughed at this “contest” between “rivals.”)

Next Up: Washington plays at home against the Seattle Seahawks. I have committed myself to choosing Washington to win every week. Now I’m regretting it. Ramsey gets time to throw only three passes, but they’re all for big plays. Skins win 20-17.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

WEEK 7: Aye, these be dark days…

My word. Somewhere around the fourth quarter of Sunday’s lackluster 24-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills, one unavoidable truth became clear to me: The Washington Redskins are on a collision course with mediocrity. Which is a fancy way of admitting that for now and the foreseeable future, we stinketh.

I wasn’t able to write about the Tampa Bay loss last week, but I do remember thinking the following: Well, it was fun while it lasted. If there ever was a reality check for the Redskins, this was it. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers done put it on the Skins; I have already mentally blocked the final score because it was just that shameful. The Skins didn’t bother accomplishing many of the five points I thought necessary to beat the World Champions. (Strangely enough, the 49ers this week put the worst loss on the Bucs this season; the Skins fan in me says that we softened ‘em up. Ahem.)

So why doth we smell most foul? Let me count the ways: 1. Ramsey is once again hurt; but 2. even if Ramsey wasn’t hurt, he’ll be hurting after whoever we play next (more on that later) because 3. Spurrier and Co. have yet to devise a decent protection plan for him…though it’d help if we didn’t have to pass so much as a result of 4. the defense allowing career-best days for injured and non-descript players.

Allow me to highlight one significantly stinky statistic from Sunday. The Bills averaged around 60 yards rushing per game until Sunday, worst in the National Football League. Against the fearsome Redskins defense, Travis “Steel Drivin’ Man” Henry and the Bills earned 196 yards on the ground, averaging 5 yards per rush. That, folks, is ridiculous. It’s like being soundly beaten by the Cincinnati Bengals. *cough*Ravens*cough* I remember remarking to Pops in the third quarter, when the Skins brought the game to 17-7, that “we have a chance if we can stop them from running out the clock. Shame that we can’t stop the run.”

The Washington defense is worthy of criticism, yes, but the aptly-named offensive line needs to be drawn and quartered. Replace ‘em all, I say. If it ain’t Samuels helping a lineman and leaving tight end Chamberlain to block a defensive end, it’s Derrick “I Play Horribly” Dockery knocking the ball from Ramsey’s hand inside the red zone. There was some dark comedy in the second half, as commentators Darryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa were pleading with the Washington coaching staff to do something to protect Ramsey. Within the next couple of plays, Ramsey was being helped off the field. Old Man Rob Johnson subbed in and was promptly dropped for a sack. I’ll admit that it was embarrassingly tough to watch. What in the name of Chief Moose has happened to basic pass protection?

After the bye week, the Redskins will face the surprise of the season Dallas Cowchips. These ladies have managed to best Detroit, Atlanta, the New York Jets and Arizona (combined record 4-15) en route to a 5-1 record. Impressive. Cowchip fans love to dance and prance about how their defense is now #1 ranked, how their offense is unstoppable and how Quincy Carter is now the fantasy football quarterback to have. Wait until after the Buccaneers game this weekend—which I will watch with much earnest—and we’ll see whether Bill “Chicken of the Sea” Parcells deserves the accolades the talk shows bestow. I will admit that he has fused a once-sorry, laughably bad group of players into contenders, but I’ll stop there. No matter what happens Sunday, the following Sunday, or the Sundays ‘til eternity, the Dallas Cowchips will always suck. Just my Redskins opinion.

My suggestion for Coach Superior during the bye break is to comb the free agent wires and pick up some big, burly offensive linemen. I’m talking big like Afa & Sika--the wild-haired 80’s WWF Samoan Tag-Team. At this point, I don’t care if their massive girth prevents them from doing anything more than standing in a semi-circle. I only care that Ramsey, and his inevitable backup, can get more than two seconds to pass. We’ll worry about completing the pass next season.


OFFENSE: F (Did we score any points? I forget.)
DEFENSE: F- (Somebody get Ray Rhodes on the phone—this unit lacks heart.)
Sp. TEAMS: B (Great punting…shame we needed it.)
COACHES: F (Joe Gibbs must be spinning in his grave. Oh, wait…)

Next Up: The Dallas Cowgirls. You always toss the records out when these teams match up, so I expect a hard fight. This one might be close, too. I say that Washington will be sending a bouquet of roses to Gruden for beating down Dallas enough for us to eke out a win. Skins win in a squeaker, 24-21.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Week 6: Ugh. (unfinished)

Well, it was fun while it lasted. If there ever was a reality check for the Redskins, this was it. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers done put it on the Skins; I have already mentally blocked the final score because it was just that shameful.

Let’s quickly go through the checklist I made from last week and rate how Washington did:

Step 1: Protect Ramsey. Egad. Defensive end Simeon “Silent Thunder” Rice had a personal and team record four sacks. He blew by Samuels, by Betts, by the waterboy and by Daniel Snyder. The word on the sports shows is that Ramsey is potentially a great quarterback…who won’t survive to make it to 2004.

I do wish I'd finished this in 2004 it's interesting to see now how close Ramsey came to career-ending injuries during that season. As of today, October 15, Ramsey is backing up Mark Brunell. With the team floudering at 1-4, I suspect Coach Gibbs to give ol' Ramsey the nod before November. I think he can pull it off, if only because of the evidence he showed in 2003. Surely he will return to the courageous, strong-armed accuracy of last season...

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

WEEK 5: We Have A Chance! (Really!)

For those football fans who missed Monday Night Football…I feel for you. Last night the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts played one of the most exciting, jaw-dropping, run-tell-people games I have ever seen. Finally Monday Night Football lived up to the hype, delivering a heavyweight battle between two high-caliber, evenly matched squads. It was one of those games that the highlight packages and stat boxes will fail to tell the whole story. The Colts came from 21 points down in the 4th quarter in under 4 minutes against what is regarded as one of the best defenses in NFL history. These are the Buccaneers, who turn the Favres, Vicks, and Gannons into, well, Ryan Leaf, Heath Shuler, and Rodney Peete. (I love to suggest that if Rodney Peete’s the answer, you’re asking the wrong question.)

I am glad I stayed up past 1AM EST, risking marital frostbite, to watch every snap because this game was just that special. Oh sure, I saw the Music City Miracle, the Giants fold last year to the 49ers and the Buffalo Bills come from almost 38 points down in the playoffs. Those were great comebacks. But nobody in Tampa, Indianapolis, or the rest of the country thought Indy coach Tony Dungy could pull his team together to do what had never been done before. This was the Colts’ mission impossible, and they pulled it off.

What, pray tell, does this have to do with the Redskins? Everything. The Colts gave them (and the rest of the NFL) the silver bullet—a prescription to beat the World Champion Buccaneers. Here’s what the Redskins have to do:

Step 1: Protect Pharaoh Ramsey. The Eagles manhandled Patrick early and often on Sunday, and I don’t doubt that that bell-ringing affected his overthrow on the 2-point conversion. I let that error slide because the aptly-named offensive line gave him the protection of a hardhat in a hurricane. I’d be spooked too when I see 7 men in the box, ready to blitz me into the turf and I know that the odds are high I’m gonna get hit. I’ve said it all year—give Patrick time to throw and he throws a good ball. Before last night, I was going to suggest that Ramsey update his life insurance with the Bucs arriving Sunday. I’ll back off that a little. He needs to ask, threaten, or otherwise blackmail his offensive line into pass blocking. If he can’t pass, we can’t win.

Step 2: Rod Gardner must have a big game. If the Bucs defense showed us anything last night, it’s that they can inexplicably let the best receiver get open when it counts. (How in the name of Doug Williams did “Mahvelous” Marvin Harrison, the #1 target for Peyton Manning, get behind the secondary on the game-tying drive?) For Washington, Laveranues Coles would be the go-to guy. The Bucs know this, and will put their best cover man, Ronde “Doublemint Twin” Barber, on Coles. That means Gardner had best produce over 100 yards and a TD. I bet he’ll be open often.

Step 3: The penalties have to stop. Did you notice that Indy didn’t have one false start penalty? That was with the ball deep in their own end, the Buc fans calling for blood, and Manning doing his chicken-audible routine. Nobody jumped, nobody was rattled. That is how you beat a team as good as Tampa—you don’t make more work for your offense. I covered my head on Sunday as the offensive line jumped time and time again. Our drives lost momentum and frustrated our entire team. “Oh, we can’t hear over the crowd,” I saw those guys saying to Ramsey. “Oh, these audibles are confusing me,” their actions showed. “Oh, we don’t want to work in this league after this year” I say.

Step 4: Lots and lots of points. This step is the most challenging; I suspect Tampa Bay will be mighty tender about the loss, particularly about the phantom penalty that allowed the winning re-kick. I fear that Jon “Grr!” Gruden will have his boys more than ready to stifle Washington’s offense. Nonetheless, our mission is clear: if we can score 20+ points, and quickly, then we can win. Why? The Buccanners’ offense is good, but it ain’t great. In fact, Brad Johnson (who I still miss throwing the ball in DC) couldn’t move the team downfield in crunch time, either to run out the clock or score in overtime. Also note that two of the Bucs’ touchdowns came on a horribly blown assignment and fluke fumble. Third, they may not have Pittman, Keyshawn, or Jurevicius healthy for Sunday. Time to rack up the points and hold on until the final gun.

Step 5: Washington needs a big day from Chad “Scatback”Morton. If the league has learned anything in five weeks, it’s that Special Teams play cannot be taken for granted. (Thanks for the lesson, Dante “Hawaii” Hall.) The Colts got a blazing return in the second half which set up a short run, continuing their comeback. I think the Bucs can be soft—they left a wedge that even Big Wes could’ve run through and those were 90 yards Peyton and Co. didn’t have to work for. In the NFL, you only need one excellent return to make or break a game.

So that’s it. I honestly believe that if we accomplish all five steps, the Redskins will upset the Bucs. I also believe that Heatwave’s “Boogie Nights” is a kickin’ song, so take my opinion for what it is.

DEFENSE: B (The Eagles/Skins game was, in the final analysis, a defensive battle that ended in a draw.)
Sp. TEAMS: B (John Hall = worth every dime.)
COACHES: C (Enough with the audibles, and it’s time to put a fullback in for more protection. They’re going to be short one QB if they don’t.)

NEXT UP: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I was mighty close on the margin of victory prediction last week. I see us either winning by 10 or losing by 10. Final score: Buccaneers 10, Washington 20.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

WEEK 4: We're (technically) #1 (again)!

Washington 20, New England 17.

After yet another cardiac Sunday for Redskins fans, the Skins did just enough to best the Patriots. Sure, the win over New England wasn't the blowout it should have been. And yeah, Washington has won its three games by a grand total of eight points. And I'll even concur that the Skins cannot continue their commitment to thoughtless penalties. And let it be said that Washington has yet to establish itself as a feared force in the NFL.

But we're 3 and 1. You know who has a better record than us? I'll tell you: Minnesota (4-0), Denver (4-0), Indianapolis (4-0), Kansas City (4-0), Carolina (3-0), and Seattle (3-0). That's six teams out of 30, with Tennessee equaling the Skins' record. My point? Despite our silly slipups, questionable play calls, and occasionally porous defense, we're in the upper echelon of the NFL. We're sittin' in the good seats, watching the preseason favorites (Rams, Bills, San Francisco, Oakland) struggle to stay over .500. The view's nice from here. Plus the stadium staff brings you your food.

And yep, Redskins fans are full of themselves, even though our reign over the NFC East is by virtue of New York's bye week. Who cares?

I didn't get a chance to see much of the game beyond highlights, so instead I'll run through a few NFL results from Week 4...

Kansas City 17, Baltimore 10. Ouch. That's gonna leave a mark. After holding down Priest "Marshall Faulk" Holmes and the league's most prolific offense, the Ravens' weaknesses were exposed in just under two minutes. In that time three crucial events occurred: (1) Baltimore kicked off but had to redo the kick because of an offsides penalty; (2) Dante "Headin' to the Hawaii" Hall took the re-kick to the house; and (3) Kyle "Waiver Wire" Boller chucked his third interception. Coach Billick should have his special teams squad--and Kyle Boller--running laps around Owings Mills.

The Ravens remind me a wee of the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. Everybody knew that His Airness was going to score, and score a lot. Opposing teams didn't worry about that so much as limiting the other players on the floor, knowing that Jordan couldn't (or shouldn't) score 60+ points alone. Every team that Baltimore faces should take the same approach: let Jamal Lewis get his 100 yards and a touchdown...but look Kyle and the Ravens receivers in the eye and dare them to win the game.

Tennessee 30, Pittsburgh 13. What in the name of Moses did Steve McNair eat for breakfast? For those who missed the stats line, here it is: 15 of 16, 161 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions. Those are Madden NFL numbers against the well-regarded Steelers defense. And this was after dislocating a finger, breaking a hip, and losing an eye last week! I exaggerate, but this kid McNair has returned to the "Air McNair" the league game-planned for when he came into the league. Now, though, his dangerousness is less in the yards he throws for and more in his ability to make the impossible possible. For my money, he's the best active QB in the game. (I know Peyton Manning also had a PlayStation moment against New Orleans, but Manning pales next to McNair's consistency, toughness, and accuracy.)

Atlanta 3, Carolina 23. Not much to add here, except that the Panthers are still slept on in the eyes of pundits and prognosticators. Their D is fearsome and their offense gets it done old-school style by running football all day and mistake-free passing. I love the Redskins' offense and our record, but I sure miss the 300+ rushing yards Mr. Stephen Davis has put up this season. Oh yeah--Atlanta is in deep, deep doo-doo now. I feel for these guys, because they were one of the early bandwagon teams; you know, the one that everybody follows though you have no particular ties to the team. Michael "Coverboy" Vick may return (probably at 85% strength) to a team that's so far below .500 that they are no longer in contention.

Sentinals 103, Young Avengers 108/ Damage, Inc. 108, Tha Hitmen 86. In steely fashion my two Fantasy Football squads--the Avengers and Damage--both put up 108 points to improve their records to 3-1. The Young Avengers earned their points behind the Panthers defense (39 points), Mike Vanderjagt (19 points), and Joey Harrington (20 points), barely holding off the Sentinals power team of Rich Gannon and LaDainian Thomlinson (34 and 39 points, respectively). Damage, Inc., named after the sleeper Metallica 80s anthem, put it down on my very own brother Roy's Hitmen squad. Everybody on my team scored, from Marvin Harrison (26 points) to my sleeper WR Bobby Shaw (11 points) to my other sleeper WR Tai Streets (10 points). The amazing part of the Damage, Inc. win is that, after four weeks of playing, I still have no idea how points are scored. I just earn 'em, baby.

NEXT UP: Washington at Philadelphia. I don't like the Eagles. They're ugly and their mother dresses them funny. Nonetheless, I'm worried about this game, particularly after Philly beat the improved Buffalo Bills squad. Every year the Eagles manage to steal a game from the Skins in frustrating fashion. It might be Donovan "Chunky Soup" McNabb scrambling for a 65-yard touchdown, or James Thrash having an unbelievable, unrepeatable day against Fred Smoot. Washington has great momentum, and every reason to further their reign in the East. Heck, the Eagles are even going to lose safety Brian Dawkins for the game. I dunno what it'll be, but I get bad vibes from this game. Makes my toes itch. Skins win by two, 30-28.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Week 3: In. Ex. Cusable.

How does one rate these Redskins after Sunday's performance against the New York Giants? I dunno--there were flashes of brilliance, determination, and will-to-win. There were also blindingly stupid displays of arrogance and lack of concentration. Hmm...

Gotta quote Pops once again, who said in the 4th quarter, "At least this will teach the Redskins a lesson: you can't beat yourselves and expect to win." I'll concur and point out the obvious reasons the Redskins lost. There are, in my estimation, two.

Reason #1: 17 penalties for over 140 #%#$#$#!! yards. That's stupendously bad. Tragically bad. Fatally bad. These were not ordinary, garden-variety penalties. Oh no. These beauties took points OFF our side and GAVE points to their side. Literally, in some cases. We have Jeremiah Trotter to thank for his bonehead unnecessary roughness shove after the play was very over, allowing the Giants to continue after failing to convert 3rd and 24. That drive took a relatively close 14-3 game to 21-3 before the half. Darnerian "I Forget I'm Not Terrell Owens" McCants was nice enough to also get a taunting call on a potential scoring drive. Son, that was a routine catch.

But the biggest boneheads of the game have to be the aptly-named Offensive Line. If it wasn't a holding call taking Rod Gardner's touchdown off the boards, it was another call stalling the game-winning 4th quarter drive which ended with a field goal. Drives went from 1st and 10 to 1st and 15 to, eventually, 3rd and 22. Ridiculous. I stopped counting the false start and holding penalties at six.

Who's to blame? Players? Coaches? Lack of concentration or a lack of discipline? Both? Blame it on Isabel? I'll hazard a guess here: blame the players at the time of the penalty, blame the coaches ultimately. Everybody gets caught up in the moment--there was a chap two rows up from me, big as a nose tackle, who was livid throughout the second half. He slammed the seats in front of him, he took every setback personally, he hollered colorful language. We swore he would spontaneously combust. But that's okay--he's a drunk Redskins fan. Our receivers, linebackers, heck, EVERYBODY is a paid professional who should be expected to conduct themselves like one, and it's inexcusable for them to be so busy celebrating, protesting or fighting that they harm the team. The Redskins' heads were not always in the game, and that reflects on Spurrier and Co. They are undisciplined at the worst times, and it will be the death of the our season if it continues.

Reason #2: 30 minutes of good play, 36 minutes of poor play by the defense. Smoot and Bailey may be hailed as great corners. And they might be. But on Sunday they and the safeties got burned early and often on simple out routes and deep passes from Collins. They could not cover Jeremy "Homo" Shockey nor anybody else who dropped into the flats. (The Giants also had a curious weakness, to crossing routes. I think we gained over 100 yards on the same play to Coles and Morton.) I remember Dad getting frustrated with how soft Fred Smoot was covering his receiver. Sure enough, next play, pass to receiver, first down.
Granted, most of that was in the first half. And they did a phenomenal job of shutting down the marginal Giants offense so we could come back. But Lord knows the Redskins cannot keep spotting teams more than 10 points and expect the offense to have the gas to pull out another weekly miracle. We looked tired in the overtime session, so tired that the 12th Man, whipped into a frenzy, couldn't help.

How 'bout that offense? Patrick "Pharoah" Ramsey once again showed that he is for real, and that Coach Steve "Superior" Spurrier made the right choice. Sure, he had some questionable throws into coverage--the Skins' first touchdown was tossed right into double coverage. (Luckily for us later in the game that the Giants defensive backs don't catch too well.) But Ramsey looks sharp, even when he's scrambling for his life. His quick pass to beat the blitz set up the tying field goal. The all-important 2-point conversion near the end of regulation was, dare I say, Favre-ish. I like this kid, and if we can limit the number of blindside sacks he takes through the season, we could end up with a Pro Bowler. You heard it here first.

Joining him in Hawaii should be Laveranues Coles. (I am NOT naming my child "Laveranues." Is this like the masculine "Laverne?") This man is money, the deep and speed threat that we haven't had in Washington since, well, Gary Clark or Charlie "Fun Bunch" Brown. (Bonus points if anybody remembers Mr. Brown.) Coles is tough, has good hands (yeah, he had some early drops), and you can take a risk and just try a go route with him. He makes Gardner and the rest of the receiving corps more dangerous. Worth every penny Mr. Snyder's giving him.

I still like the play of our Special Teams. Chad "Scatback" Morton was but one man away from breaking out a punt return touchdown, and he makes wise decisions on fair catches. No fumbles yet this season. Can't complain there. John "TajMa" Hall missed two kicks. I heard somebody on talk radio complain. F'crying out loud, they were from 53 and 48 yards! He made the ones that we REALLY needed in crunch time, okay? I'll take that any day of the week. Twice on Sunday.

OFFENSE: B (This game would've been over in regulation with the Skins winning by 10 if it weren't for penalties.)
DEFENSE: B- (Nobody but the Giants believed they would score in OT after how the Skins' D performed. Imagine our surprise.)
COACHES: D (The playcalling was fine; those offsides/false start/holding/personal foul penalties reveal a flaw in leadership.)

Next Up: New England Patriots. Looks like (and I'm just saying what NFL PrimeTime tells me) they're hurting with a number of injuries. Even if they were at full strength, I wouldn't care. I root for the Skins, so Washington wins 24-14.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Week One: Undefeated!

Before we get to the actual game, let me say that there was an absolutely shocking moment pre-kickoff. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Skins/Jets game, and I arrived with my boy Nolan (this was his big birthday present) 1 ½ hours before gametime. One of the selling points of yesterday’s event was the pre-game concert featuring Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige, Britney Spears, and featuring the national anthem by none other than Aretha Franklin. We were there early to catch the telecast, which was supposed to satisfy those of us unfortunate enough to not be able to attend the concert.

8:00 came, as did 8:15 and 8:30. All we saw on the Jumbotrons were spinning Redskin helmets; all we heard over the speakers was rap music. (Something about “to the window…to the floor!”) I wasn’t happy, but I tolerated it because, well, I was really there for sport, not Britney’s belly-button or Mary’s lungs. Certainly not for Steven Tyler’s big lips. At 8:45 we got music. We got Britney. Two songs o’ Britney, which were obviously pre-everything except danced.

As she wrapped it up, military color guard came out onto FedEx Field, and they unfurled a huge nation-shaped American flag. When Britney finished dancing, we were informed by the announcer of the military unit on the field, and that we were “waiting for the cue from ABC for the national anthem.” James Brown’s “I Feel Good” immediately followed. Then that silly Rock ‘n Roll song (hey!). Then yet another song. All this while the crowd is on their feet, the American flag is flying, the military is at attention. Something didn’t feel quite right about that.

10 seconds into the third song, the Jumbotrons quickly cut to Aretha, already wailing “…what so proudly we hailed…” Ugh. How does Snyder, Inc. not know that the Queen of Soul’s begun singing? How do you fall asleep at the controls and miss her opening notes? Aside from kickoff, is there no more an important moment than this? How do you not know a woman that big is on stage? OK, strike that last one. My none-too-subtle point is that this was inexcusable. Somebody should lose their job.

Somebody who should definitely keep their job is one Patrick “Pharaoh” Ramsey. Let’s talk Play of the Game: just over 2 minutes on the clock, and the Skins are hoping to use their positive field position to start the season with a win. On 2nd and 4 Ramsey steps out of the pocket, sees nobody open, fakes a pass to his fullback, and takes off. Now Ramsey’s no Randall Cunningham, so it took awhile. But the secondary was so deep (dunno where the Jets linebackers were) that he was able to rip off 24 yards, giving the Skins 1st and 10 at the Jets 31. Three runs later (thank you, Mr. Ladell “Trung Who?” Betts), and John Hall knocks in the winning chip shot.

Overall, Pharaoh Ramsey didn’t look great, but good. I’ll take it. He floated passes early, and his lone pick came when he telegraphed his throw. But his timing otherwise was on, making Laveranues Coles look very good. Coles was everywhere in the first half, and I’m not completely sure why he wasn’t thrown to at all in the second, Spurrier apparently wanting to get Rod “Free Agent” Gardner in the mix. Ramsey had a great play, now overlooked, where he ducked under a potential sack and got the ball out deep to Coles. Great stuff, and I’m positive about the future with this kid.

Ramsey had to make some very quick reads because, well, the offensive line stank badly. Oh yeah, they run-blocked effectively, but oy vey did they rarely give more than 2-3 seconds for Ramsey to get his pass off. They allowed three sacks, one time failing to provide any protection for Ramsey’s blind side.

On the other side of the ball, LaVar “Beast” Arrington continues to live up to, um, the name I gave him. First four plays: four tackles. He had a great game, as did Trotter, Ohalete and the rest of the defense. Apart from some silly, drive-continuing penalties, and a failure to stop a 4th and goal run, they stood tall when it counted. The Jets really had little offensive power. I don’t think new Jets WR Curtis Conway got a reception, and Curtis Martin was awful quiet. If I’m a Jets fan, I’ve got lots of worries. As a Skins fan, I see lots of potential. (And yes, Bruce Smith, that was a fumble by Vinny. We wuz robbed.)

Special teams did everything we’d expect. I like Chad Morton, though he’s not much at running back. Ladell and Trung can handle that part, thanks. John “TajMa” Hall was perfect, even from 49 yards. Finally the Redskins can take routine field goals for granted like the rest of the NFL.

This Week’s Three Concerns: First, boring play calling down the stretch. With the game tied, I saw the Jets calling a reverse, play action and that oh-so-sneaky running back bootleg. We did nothing of the sort. OK, maybe one play action pass. But I didn’t see a Fun-N-Gun offense out there, and with the speed of Canidate and Coles, that needs to change. Let’s pretend we’re the Rams for one drive.

Second, that offensive line is gonna be the death of Ramsey. I don’t care how good a QB you are, you still need time to make your reads. Sometimes the Jets defensive tackles went right up the middle at Ramsey. Right up the middle! The front line has pass blocking drills to do this week.

Last, let’s cut back on the turnovers, shall we? The Skins were third in the NFL for most turnovers last season, and I couldn’t help but think we were on our way as the second half dragged on. Great job, though, holding onto tough catches and taking big hits by our running backs and receivers.

OFFENSE: B (We’ve got…hiiiigh hopes…)
DEFENSE: A (Honestly, would the Jets have scored more than 7 without the offensive mistakes?)
Sp. TEAMS: A (I’m just waiting for Morton to break a big ‘un. Big potential here.)
COACHES: B- (Two words for next week: flea flicker.)

NEXT UP: The Vickless Falcons. Skins win, 20-17.