Washington 14, Green Bay 28
For the second time this season the temptation was to begin this Review with a bold, brazen accusation; one of those Clinton-esque "right-wing conspiracy" numbers directed with deadpan seriousness to the unnamed, well-funded, ne'er do wells who seek nothing more than the public humiliation of their target. Yes, I was gonna call out those Powers That Be, whose silent hand has sought to gently nudge the Washington Redskins into perennial mediocrity, despite hiring, drafting, and trading for very expensive personnel. By their evil doings players dedicate only 80% effort to the game, key injuries occur, coaches forget fundamental time management and crucially negative officiating calls beset important games.
But the reality is--stop me if you've heard this before--the Redskins ain't that good. It isn't the League's fault; can't blame the refs, the eclipse, the illegal motion rule or my sister Jennifer's past boyfriends. Well, maybe we could blame that guy who thought he was a rapper. (Must...resist...urge...to...link...to...website...) The point is that Gibbs and this franchise have had the opportunity to win every game this season. Some, such as the Giants and Cowboys contests, should have been blowout wins. Through our consistent, self-inflicted wounds this team sits at an abysmal 2-5. Worse than at this point last year. I shudder at the Nielsen ratings for the December 18 matchup against San Francisco.
It occurred to me that the Redskins of the mid-90s to present represent every socialist's argument of why capitalism doesn't work. Under the theory of spend, spend, spend, in the last decade, this Washington team has one playoff appearance. You know the names that have been brought in: Marty Schottenheimer, Deion Sanders, Carrier, Bruce Smith, Steve Spurrier, Jeff George, etc. Teams like the Rams, Seahawks and Patriots have maintained lower profiles, in some cases taking castoff, low-wattage players and built solid foundations. Even in the age of free agency and hot players jumping teams these squads went from horrid to contenders. Monday Night Football reminded me how the New York Jets have somehow managed to survive losing Coles, Morton and Hall to Washington and still had a better record than us at season's end. (6-10 to our 5-11.) The next season, they're 6-1. I'm not suggesting that only the Redskins are covetously seeking Super Bowl trophies; our sin is that we're the team that has gone about getting them the wrong way.
I watched this game from the leather-bound-seat section of FedEx Field. And for three quarters this game was nearly a chore to watch. (Equally challenging was enduring the guttural, off-key attempts at harmonizing by my 112-year old neighbor. Hey, I like our society's elder generation. I do. But hearing him (or anyone) butcher every stadium song, from Beyonce to the Rolling Stones when you know he doesn't know the song only makes watching a losing game worse. Sigh. By the way, he had a message to the cheerleaders following their TV timeout dance presentation: "Y'all did a fantasic job. Now get off the field." Gotta like old folk.)
Speaking of departures, it is time to put Mark Brunell out to pasture. I suggested in Week 6 some parameters for benching Brunell...and sure enough he met 'em all. There was no first quarter touchdown, three passes clearly went over open receiver's heads, and on the Skins' fourth possession he threw an interception. Down 17-7 at halftime, the Redskins didn't have a drive of more than 31 yards. The fans were chanting for Ramsey and the offense was sputtering (our only score came after Shawn Springs' interception which placed the ball at the Green Bay 24). No better time to make the switch.
So Hang Your Head, Coach Gibbs. I feel bad even suggesting that this walking legend hold this week's award, but f'crying out loud, let your quarterback go. We needed this game to keep our slim playoff hopes mathematically viable and we mustered 14 total points. I don't believe our game plan was necessarily that flawed; nice to see a little trickery in the first quarter (though the onside kick to begin the second half was questionable in light of Gibbs stating pre-game that he didn't want to give Favre a short field to work from). But from my seats I thought Brunell wasn't nearly as sharp as he should've been, and with his previous slow starts I hoped Gibbs would cut losses at halftime and hope for a fresher, younger arm. Sam Huff, post-game, said it best: "this game was lost in the first half, not on that play in the second."
Maybe that's indicative of what's wrong with this team. I'm certain that in February, Joe Gibbs thought Mark Brunell looked like he had leadership and skill potential for his team. The dose of familiar, sadly repetitive reality begs me to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit: The Redskins aren't good. We're just drawn that way.
The defense bent, uncharacteristically allowing future Hall of Famer Brett Favre to execute his offense. But credit goes to defensive coach Gregg Williams for shutting down their offense when it mattered most, the fourth quarter. I was shocked how inaccurate Favre was down the stretch as they poorly attempted to run out the final give minutes. I suppose that speaks to his injured hand. Whatever. Fred Smoooot and Shawn Springs did an excellent job of making breaks on Brett's passes. I only wish Springs hadn't run out of bounds on his interception return. At the stadium, you could hear the groans when we realized that Brunell and the offense would have to take the field.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK
Now more than ever I believe Clinton Portis is the key to any Redskins win. He got the ball 17 times. That's not establishing the run, it's begging the defensive backs to play soft zones and wait for the ball to come their way. This is just silly. Why do you put the game on the shoulders of a quarterback who came into this game with 3 interceptions and 5 touchdowns? Did he suddenly become Joe Theismann during practice last week? Sheesh.
DEFENSE: B -
Sp. TEAMS: C (With Chad Morton now out for the year, we must rely on Ladell Betts and James Thrash to run back kicks. Egad.)
COACHES: D (Sorry Gregg Williams. You're on the staff and are guilty by association.)
FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES
Oy vey did we lay a stinker this week. I opted not to start Mike Vick, who got loose for 890,000 yards and three touchdowns, for Byron Leftwich, who apparently remained in the fetal position all afternoon. Except when he stood up and threw an interception. I mentioned last week that the Texans were one to watch, and they put it on the very good Jaguars defense, to my chagrin. Terrell "Dancin' Machine" Owens was my only standout, scoring a third of my 60 total points. I should've started the Pittsburgh defense against the Patriots, but who knew? Note to self: next time, don't listen to your notes to self.
Detroit hosts the Skins. The Lions remind me of the Texans a bit; they're unpredictably dangerous. They win on the road, lose at home. We've lost LaVar Arrington for another month, but I like what our defense can do. This squad will have to win the game, as I have no confidence that our offense can score more than 17 points. More discussion of this game later this week. For now, I'll say Skins win, 14-13.