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.