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.

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