Washington 16, Tampa Bay 10
Folks, the King has returned. Redskins football—hard nosed, ball-controlling, grind ‘em out wins—is finally back in Washington. And I’m more than a little giddy about it. I wasn’t alone yesterday as the Skins offensive line and defense dominated the Buccaneers. I was among the more than 90,000 fans that watched Coach Joe Gibbs bring his successful Old School gameplan to the 21st century NFL. And y’know what? It worked like a charm. Mostly. More on that later.
I won’t take all the credit, but I like to think that last year’s November 17 Redskins Review ( http://redskinsreview.blogspot.com/2003/11/week-11-if-wishes-were-horses.html ), where Coach and I dialogued following a stinging loss to the Panthers, somehow influenced him to re turn to the game. Sure, he didn’t say he’d come back, and it took me nearly passing out for us to talk, and yeah, I made the whole thing up, but I’m pretty sure I had something to do with Coach Gibbs’ decision, and therefore, yesterday’s win. Ahem.
Let’s get to Sunday’s action.
What a joy to have the Hall of Famer, His Joeness, the man responsible for 25% of all Washington Redskins victories patrolling the sidelines; how fitting that this victory was for our franchise’s 500th regular season win. Gibbs immediately made a statement about how this team was going to walk at the pregame player introductions. A la New England, the Redskins were introduced as a team: “And now, Coach Gibbs and your Washington Redskins!” The whole team ran out. Coach emerged from the tunnel, walked behind the cheerleaders and benches and headed directly to the Redskins sidelines. Ready for action. Oh yeah.
I attended yesterday’s game with my Pops. During the offseason majority owner Daniel “I Can Really Fleece You Now That Gibbs Is Here” Snyder opened some new sections in FedEx Field. Pops upgraded his seats from Club Level (aka the Joe Gibbs Level) to Suite Level, and the change is welcome, with some slight reservations. I love the view—just like playing Madden, with the formations and field completely visible. I love the exclusivity of taking elevators up to the level, the free Sunday Washington Post papers sitting out, the multiple plasma TVs broadcasting the day’s action. I like the ledge in front to place your drinks, hat, camera and stuff on. I dig the leather seats. I’m not, however, completely sold on the game watching experience. Here’s why, and it’s easily summed up: nobody danced. I won’t dwell on this now, but to me, you can judge how fanatic (or drunk) your section is by whether anybody stands up and shakes their booty to K.C. & the Sunshine Band. That’s just me.
Nonetheless, the stadium was rocking early in the afternoon. You know a crowd is pumped up for a game when they’re chanting “D-fense! D-fense!” after the coin toss. Arrington, Smoot, and company must’ve fed off of our energy because they quickly ended the Buccaneers’ first drive. In fact, the Redskins defense, under some fantastic coaching from Gregg Williams and playmaking from Smoot, Bowen, completely dominated the first half of play.
According to my notes (taken between swigs of my $4.50 20 ounce Coke), Tampa Bay’s 7 first-half drives went like this:
Drive #1—3 & out
Drive #2—3 & out
Drive #3—Matt Bowen sack, fumble, recovered by Washington
Drive #4—3 downs, 47 yard field goal
Drive $5—3 & out
Drive #6—1 first down, punt
Drive #7—1 first down, end of half.
I know Baltimore Ravens fans love to roll their eyes at any and every comparison to their vaunted defense (which, judging from yesterday’s score, still hasn’t played its first regular season game), but this was reminiscent of Ray “EA Sports Coverboy” Lewis’ squad. And we loved every minute of it.
They only reason Tampa Bay was able to kick that field goal was because of horrendous special teams play. The only reason Tampa scored the other 7 points was because of an offensive miscue. The Bucs’ final three plays all ended in sacks. Two seasons ago, SportsCenter joked that they should be called the “Re-skins” because there’s no D in Washington. Those days, thankfully, are over.
Speaking of the offense, Gibbs called what some later called a conservative game. The Tampa defense is still formidable, so His Joeness ran short passes (I recall only one attempted for more than 30 yards) and lots and lots of running. I was a wee skeptical on the choice to kick a field goal in the first quarter facing a 4th and inches on the two or three yard line. I think our offensive line, unstoppable up to that point, could’ve pushed us in. Further, on the Skins’ second drive, they passed on a 3rd and 2, leading to a missed 50 yard Hall field goal. But when Joe Gibbs is calling the plays, well, you let the man do his job without question.
Clinton Portis? “Mr. President” Clinton Portis? Absolutely worth it. I wasn’t sold during the preseason contests; the offense looked, to quote Gibbs, “listless.” Sultan McCullough, backup-backup running back, seemed to have more success than Portis. But oh, did he silence the critics of the monster trade that sent Champ Bailey to Denver when he hot-stepped his way 64 yards on the game’s third play from scrimmage. More important, let’s note that he earned 80 additional yards throughout the remaining minutes and broke tackles to earn critical, game-clinching 3rd downs. It’s early in the season, sure, but Portis looks like he’s a perfect fit for a Gibbs-run team.
Clearly the defense ruled the day. Would’ve been nice to see a shutout pitched, but football’s a team game. Hope the D doesn’t get overconfident. Apparently the stadium staff was so sure that Tampa wouldn’t score a last-second touchdown that the announcer reminded everyone that our next home game was two weeks away, Monday night, against Dallas. This game certainly wasn’t decided, though Bowen put a definitive stamp down to end the contest.
Let’s also not forget that there were ZERO sacks given up by the offensive line, our backs ran for over 160 yards, and there were a total of THREE penalties by the Skins. Take that, Steve Spurrier.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
The Special Teams…not so special. Kickoff returns were the only bright spot for the Bucs and one particularly heinous play resulted in Tampa’s only non-turnover points.
The offense didn’t wow me, but I’ll take Riggins-style clock-chewing any day that it produces a win. I dunno if I’m sold on Mark Brunell yet; he had a couple passes thrown into double coverage. I can’t help but wonder how Patrick “Pharoah” Ramsey would perform with a monster running game and good pass protection. Plus there were three center/quarterback miscues. After the second miscue, Gibbs pulled the center and replaced him with a gentleman who promptly tripped Brunell, causing the fumble that was returned for a game-tying touchdown. Egad.
OFFENSE: B (Hopefully next week Laveranues Coles will break a sweat during the game.)
DEFENSE: A (Only way to a higher grade is via complete shutout.)
Sp. TEAMS: C- (Bad coverage + good tackling = long returns)
COACHES: A (Gibbs, Joe Bugel, and company showed they can show young coaches like Jon Gruden how the game should be played.)
FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES
Some of you may remember that last year I was owner of two championship fantasy franchises: Young Avengers and Damage, Inc. Well, the latter team is now defunct (though undisputed!) because I wasn’t invited back to play in their little namby-pamby, whining, girlie-girl league. That’s okay, I didn’t want to defend my championship anyway. And no, I’m not bitter.
My Young Avengers are well on their way to a win against Daniel Truxler’s Juggernauts. My squad is composed of:
Mike Vick—Marshall Faulk—Willis McGahee—Terrell Owens—Rod Gardner—As-Zahir Hakim—Mike Vanderjagt—Steelers D—Bengals & Jaguars QBs and some other forgettable players. I’ll post how the season progresses.
The New York Giants host the Redskins, and are coming off a whuppin’ by the Philadelphia Egos—I mean, Eagles. Tiki Barber padded his stats in garbage time but was limited, and Warner looked average. I hear that the Giants pay people to play pass defense and cover their best receiver. No evidence of that yesterday. Skins win, 24 – 10.