Monday, December 13, 2004

Week 14: Haven't I Seen This Before?

Washington 14, Philadelphia 17

Man, what a tough loss for Washington Sunday night. The Redskins defense certainly appeared up to task, bending on occasion but standing strong enough to put the offense in position to win a very winnable game. Unfortunately, offensive miscues and general ineffectiveness dashed the hopes of Skins fans. When we needed a big play, we came up short.

The sad thing is that the above paragraph surmises nearly any of this season's losses. Last night was deja vu all over again, right down to the puzzling play calling, poor clock management, and abandonment of the run in a tight contest. It appeared after last week's humbling of Los Gigantes that the Redskins had begun to turn a significant corner, with all three team phases operating beautifully in concert. Fans finally felt that the real dawn of Joe Gibbs' return had begun. Turns out that New York just stinks and Washington is still plagued with the same errors from September.

To wit: Washington had over 120 yards of penalties. Larry Sellers committed three personal foul calls, looking around incredulously afterward, as if he didn't know there was an NFL rule about hitting after the play and grabbing face masks. Pharaoh Ramsey burned timeouts and committed delay of game penalties because he didn't get plays in from the sidelines or took too long getting those plays communicated to the offense. The Redskins offense again failed to convert short third downs against a better than average defense.

There were bright sides to this game. Puntmeister Tom Tupa continues his excellent season. His line drive kicks pinned the Egos deep in their territory on a few occasions, making the defense's job easier. Ladell Betts and the special teams set a great tone for the game by returning the opening kickoff to the Philly 14 yard line. With the accompanying penalty, Portis had 7 yards to go for his first touchdown. I know I'm usually hard on Laveranues Coles (and usually he deserves it), but Sunday he manned-up and caught 12 passes for 100 yards, no drops. He took some hard shots from the Eagles linebackers and d-backs but showed no signs of Todd Pinkston's Disease. My man Chris Cooley (Chris Cooley!) played solid, though glory slipped from his fingertips in the form of a sure touchdown late in the game. Nonetheless, Cooley plays hard and has established himself as a favorite target of Ramsey. Sean Taylor is beginning to look like a serious, hard-hitting playmaker, and displayed some controlled aggression against T.O. and Eagles receivers.

For your dollar this was some well-played, hard-hitting, NFC East football on display. Shawn Springs certainly is fortunate to remember his own address after taking a wicked--but clean--blindside block. Eagles linemen were dropping to the ground like someone released sarin. I did suspect, though, that Donovan McNizzle and Terrell Owens weren't too concerned about the outcome of this contest. The Egos had wrapped up a first-round bye earlier in the day, thanks to Atlanta's victory. Perhaps some of their offensive effort may have been restrained. Either way, Sunday Philadelphia learned that they'd best not get too cocky heading into the postseason. They are a beatable team.

This weeks' Hang Your Head Award is distributed to every doofus on offense who committed a penalty. Yes, that's broad and unfair. But with the Redskins playing short-gain plays in this very close game, every five or ten yard loss due to false start or stupid holding penalty presented near-insurmountable challenges. Remember that John Hall missed a field goal from 48 yards; penalties pushed Washington back from a higher-percentage attempt. This offense just ain't good enough to pick up 30 yards on a whim; it felt like our biggest gains were more desperation than calculation.

Coach Gibbs is now assured a losing season. If there be happiness for His Joeness (and boy did he look deflated in his post-game conference), it is in the knowledge that with only minor tweaking and an offseason of practice, the Redskins offense should rise to a more competitive level with the defense. Heck, we might even challenge for the NFC East title. Maybe. Let's shoot for scoring 20 points per game first.

OFFENSE: C+ (What a horrible, horrible pass Ramsey chose to throw into near triple coverage to seal the loss. Ugly. Craptacular. Like Kyle Boller before he became a man.)
DEFENSE: A- (This was tough to grade. Our boys got burned deep more than once, but tightened up and limited a very potent offense. Philly looked pitiful offensively in the second half but really didn't need to play too hard, considering how bumbling the Redskin offense was. But I'll rank 'em high because they made McNabb look like his former self, skipping passes, throwing low, and looking human again.)
COACHES: C (Have we learned nothing from the time management issues earlier this year? Hmm?)

The Festivus Maximus playoffs begin next week, and the Young Avengers look like they'll slide in with either a 9-5 or 8-6 record. Depends on what waiverman running back Larry Johnson will do for Kansas City tonight. And, um, what the playoff requirements are. (What's up, Commish?) The Avengers are down by 11 to the risin' Phoenixes. Michael Vick, I am sick of your wackness. My wide receivers--three people--put up a total of 8 points. My tight end, Chris Cooley, nearly bested them all by himself, adding 7 points. Egad. I secretly hoped pre-game that Terrell Owens would catch a touchdown against Washington; I caught myself, reminded of the first rule of Fantasy Football: never root against your real team.

The Skins face the SanFranciso 49ers, a team who haven't beaten anyone except the Arizona Cardinals. There is no way Washington should lose this game. In fact, if you're playing fantasy football, I'd run Coles, Portis, Cooley and Ramsey and watch the points roll in. I hate torturing myself with the thought that this game could have been an easy gateway to the playoffs, had Washington beaten the teams they should have beaten early. Alas.

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