Tuesday, June 14, 2005

2005 Season Review Part Deux

The 2005 Season Review continues...
Here's Part One
Week Nine
(November 5) FedExField was ablaze with excessive pyrotechnics when Philadelphia came calling, live on ESPN Sunday Night Football. Perhaps former Redskin and commentator Joe Theissmann put it best: "I spoke with Coach Gibbs Friday night, and you could see that he really wanted to win this game. The Redskins can move into first place in the NFC East, and that door is a window that won't always be open." Perhaps not.

Washington was fortunate to face a rusty Terrell Owens, who finally ended his contractual holdout in October. ("The reason I did that," Owens revealed, "was to show to my friends and family that I do care about people other than myself. This was for them. But I'm back, baby, and I'm ready to get back on the field and prove myself again." But it was far too late in the eyes of Philly fans; he had been burned in effigy next to Rocky on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "I don't care how good you are--nobody disrespects us. He's lucky I had a meeting, otherwise I would have officiated the ceremony," Mayor John Street was quoted in the local press.) Philly quarterback Donovan McNabb couldn't resist the draw of having Owens back on the field, foolishly ignoring the young wideouts who'd brought him early season success, Greg Lewis and Reggie Brown. However, Terrell was but a shadow of his 2004 self, dropping passes and looking like he hadn't bothered reading the playbook since January. ("I didn't know they'd change the plays," he later admitted.)

Washington, on the other hand, put together a solid performance behind Ramsey's 19 for 28, 235 yards and few mistakes. Portis added another 100 yard effort while Chris Cooley and David Patten continued to be the perfect safety valves for Ramsey when Philly's Hugh Douglas and Javon Kearse charged hard into the backfield. But even that wasn't enough, as Egos back Brian Westbrook had an outstanding day. His one-yard dive into the end zone tied the contest at 20, sending the inebriated Philly fans in attendance into raucous E-L-G-A-L-S- Eagles! chants. Their revelry was short lived, as Washington won the overtime toss and marched into place for kicker Jeff Chandler to end the evening. Moments later, Gibbs was hoisted upon the shoulders of his players in victory. Washington won, 23-20, and The Washington Post's Tony Kornheiser backed the Bandwagon out of storage.
Week Eleven
(November 20) "It was like (Raiders head coach) Norv Turner did some 'Revenge of the Sith' Order 66 *#$#% on us," muttered Redskins linebacker Michael Barrow. "He was in our heads, making us screw up." Turner pulled a Palpatine on Daniel Snyder's Republic, exacting a measure of revenge on his former team for dismissing him years ago. Washington seemed ill-prepared following big divisional wins and a trouncing of the Buccaneers in week ten. Portis' third fumble of the year set an ominous tone for the game and mental errors doomed any chance of success. The AFC's hottest tandem made Washington pay. Kerry Collins and Randy Moss foiled the Skins' attempt to win six straight, connecting for two touchdowns and frustrating Shawn Springs. ("I wish my brother Smoot was here..." he opined.) Washington takes a mulligan, 21-7. Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z called the loss "like sniffing 2003 Neudorf pinot noir in a dirty glass."

Week Fourteen
(December 11) It didn't take long for the bloom to fall off the burgundy and gold rose. Three consecutive losses, to the Raiders, Chargers, and Rams, and fans from Anacostia to Cumberland began jumping ship and pointing fingers. "I can't stand how this team just doesn't have heart when it counts. I could get this team back to glory by myself!" exclaimed "RiGGoRoolZ" at ExtremeSkins.com. "...and (Washington Post writer) Nunyo Demasio sucks!" Former Hog Rick "Doc" Walker could bear to see no more: "We are an embarrassment! Man, we will never be what we used to be, back when we had tight jerseys and no free agency. That's when the Redskins I loved played." Though they sat at a reasonably comfortable 7-5, the grumbles resounded through Redskins Park. "Look, I just put the best product I can out there. We have to give the coaches and players a chance, maybe a little slack," stated team owner Daniel Snyder via intercom from his underground bunker.

If there be a cure for the football blues, its name is the Arizona Cardinals. Despite injuries to LaVar Arrington (hamstring), Santana Moss (turf toe), and Mark Brunell (pine splinters in the rear), Washington stymied 'Zona's offense and rolled over their defense. Arizona, who had shocked Jacksonville in overtime one week earlier, was a franchise on the rise. They were, however, no match for a disciplined, ground-control attack and blanket coverage on Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Cardinals coach Dennis Green hoped that Kurt Warner's Year of Rejuvenation would continue but was disappointed to see the veteran sacked three times. Clinton Portis finished with 133 yards on 40 carries and though he needed Gatorade IVs and oxygen on the sidelines, refused to quit. Said Portis: "I wasn't gonna pull no Tyson out there." Washington won, 14-6.

Week Fifteen
(December 18) For fans, it didn't matter much that the visiting Cowchips were 5-8 and the Redskins were 8-5. "There is such a history of bad blood between these two franchises that you can almost sense the spirits of Tom Landry and George Allen patrolling the sidelines," viewed FOX analyst and hair stylist Chris Collinsworth. Indeed, this game was a mirror of their earlier hard-fought meeting, but with a very different result.

Washington is avenged, 34-28 in front of a sold-out FedEx Field. "Hail to the Redskins" rang loudly throughout Prince George's County when Keyshawn Johnson dropped a desperation hail mary pass on the game's final play. Players hugged, fans roared, and up in the media booth, Troy Aikman silently wiped a tear from the corner of his eye.

Even felony-free Sean Taylor couldn't resist the moment, whispering to Pardon the Interruption's Mike Wilbon "Yo, this was awesome...don't tell nobody I said that."

The Redskins now faced two NFC East opponents in the final weeks, but felt a new momentum pressing them toward postseason play. Peter King offered the following high praise in this week's "10 Things I Think I Think": 6. I think Brett Favre still has some touchdowns left in the tank, Bill Belichick has Tom Brady and company ready for another Super Bowl run, and Joe Gibbs ain't so bad after all.

Week Seventeen
(January 1, 2006) It came down to this: one play, one chance and one playoff spot. In the bitter cold of Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field, a weary Patrick Ramsey glanced at the play clock, then the game clock. :08, one play's worth, was all that remained of the Redskins' season unless the offense could find the smallest of seams in a defense which had heretofore been without error.

Washington's home loss to New York's Giants and Philly's win over Arizona in week sixteen set a unique stage for this late day contest: the winner wins the East and a guaranteed playoff spot; the loser must ironically hope that Dallas bests St. Louis in the Sunday night game. Ego coach Andy Reid knew the stakes, saying "We can't let our destiny hinge on somebody else's work. We have to make it happen on our own."

David Akers' four field goals provided a slim, tenuous six point margin for victory. The Redskins, stymied into only earning six points, managed to sneak into Ego territory late in the fourth period. Aided by suspect defensive holding calls on Brian Dawkins and Lito Sheppard, Gibbs' men found themselves in the red zone and 18 yards from a season's validation.

Ramsey stooped down, gathered his linemen, backs and receivers, and called his play. Santana Moss and David Patten split left and right, while Portis remained in the backfield. Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson showed no fear in his defensive alignment, bringing his linebackers up to the line in a blitz package. Washington offensive coordinator Don Breaux saw the arrangement and hoped he'd guessed right. The hometown crowd rose, as Gregg Easterbrook might say, to military afterburner decibels. The ball was snapped.

Philadelphia's three-man rush wasn't intended to sack Ramsey; that was the task for the delayed blitz of middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. Portis met him two yards behind the line of scrimmage, chipping him just enough to delay his attack. David Patten, flanked right, performed a ten yard stop-and-go, gaining a step on cornerback Sheldon Brown. But strong safety Michael Lewis saw it coming, and had already begun drifting Patten's direction.

On the opposite side, Washington's fastest receiver ran a simple go route, testing Lito Sheppard's endurance. Sheppard was more than up to the task, barely losing ground. He wasn't concerned because he knew hard-hitting Brian Dawkins had already planned on sliding out to double-team Moss.

What the Egos had not anticipated, however, was slot receiver Darnerian McCants. He blew past linebacker Dhani Jones and streaked on a post route, cutting once toward center field. Ramsey saw the mismatch, and after pumping once in Moss' direction, launched a spiral up the field. Both safeties could only watch as McCants made the easy grab and dove into the end zone.

Euphoria ensued in Washington, a stark contrast to Philadelphia where fans began looking for flammable materials.
So that's what I saw. Or think I saw. We made the playoffs, probably facing St. Louis or Seattle in the first round. I'd like to say that we won, working deeper into the postseason. But the truth, for a lot of us Skins fans, is that we'd be happy with just a playoff appearance. Just an opportunity to show the great throngs of naysayers that this franchise is more than just a fantasy owner's plaything, that Gibbs really does know what he's doing, and that Laveranues Coles was a traitorous whiner for demanding to leave.

One can dream, can't they?

Don't forget to check out my NFL Police Blotter over at Hog Heaven!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

2005 Season Review

I've been watching the Redskins' offseason closely, and Coach Gibbs has had a pretty rough winter and spring. What with Fred Smoot, Antonio Pierce, Laveranues Coles departing, newly acquired Santana Moss holding out on a contract whose ink wasn't even dry, LaVar Arrington contradicting Coach in the media about his rehabilitation, Sean Taylor refusing Gibbs' calls en route to picking up a criminal charge and every sports writer second-guessing his draft-day decisions, I bet His Joeness sometimes wonders if coming back was such a great idea after all. Certainly Gibbs and Snyders' detractors have had field day predicting doom for the 2005 season.

Coach, fans, cheerleaders, Redskins haters, I've got news for you. I do. The Redskins are going to the playoffs!

I know because the other day I sought wisdom and insight from The Source of Redskins Truth through a time-honored sacrament. In other words, I squeezed my 32 year-old head into my childhood-sized 1978 Rawlings Redskin helmet and let the claustrophobic recession of blood from my brain guide me from the present through the next eight months. (Hey, it worked before and brought Gibbs back to Washington!)

When I came to, disoriented and drooling, I realized I was witness to a revelation:
The 2005 Redskins Season Results.

Preseason Game 4 (because the first three really didn't matter)
(September 1) The Baltimore Ravens welcomed the Redskins to That Stadium Next to Camden Yards, eager to avenge their crushing loss to Washington during a summer scrimmage. The bad blood in this Battle of the Beltway wasn't evident in pre-game warmups, as Deion Sanders and Sean Taylor were seen at midfield laughing and comparing egos. The hard hitting was left primarily to young players eager to make the final cut, but that didn't stop Ravens coach Brian Billick from sending federal prison furlough Jamal Lewis in during the fourth quarter to ensure that he continued his streak of 50 yards per preseason game. The Ravens won, 24-20, and Billick defended his decision, confidently assuring the media that "Lewis will be fine for our opener. He's a tough guy. Remember: I'm an offensive guru!" Gibbs, when asked about his teams' 1-4 preseason, shrugged his shoulders, replying "I'm just glad we have everyone healthy, no players are holding out, and that Chad Morton isn't eating up cap space anymore. Wait, don't print that last part."

Week One
(September 11) It didn't take long for Chicago Bears fans to lament their quarterback situation. Chad Hutchinson tossed two interceptions and fumbled once beneath the smothering Washington defense, orchestrated by coach Gregg Williams. LaVar Arrington played like a man possessed, earning eight tackles. Cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Walt Harris had a field day, smothering Muhsin Muhammad and Bobby "Hot Sauce" Wade; Bears coach Lovie Smith was left to scan the sidelines for a quarterback replacement. Realizing that Jeff George, Jonathan Quinn, and Craig Krenzel were his options, he was overheard asking for "that kid we sent to NFL Europe...Kittner somebody." The Redskins offense strutted its stuff against a wearied Chicago defense: Clinton Portis ran for one score, while Patrick Ramsey tossed one touchdown to speedster Santana Moss and was efficient in dumping passes to Chris Cooley and David Patten. "I felt good today," Ramsey later stated, "though it helped that Urlacher and his guys were on the field for 43 minutes." The Redskins won, 20-3.

Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts squeezed out a win against the Ravens, primarily because of Baltimore's inability to run out the clock in the final minutes. Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt minced no words, saying "Lewis just looked tired out there, it was like he'd just run out of gas. Didn't Billick learn in 2003?"

Week Two
(September 19) Nothing draws ratings like rivalries, and ABC knew what it was doing when it scheduled the Redskins to visit the Dallas Cowchips on Monday Night Football early in the season, before anybody's year was already screwed up. The two proud franchises kept viewers glued to their sets late into the night, with both defenses dictating the game's pace. It wasn't until kicker Billy Cundiff inched a 42-yard attempt inside the left goal post with ten seconds left that viewers could finally catch their breath. Coach Bill Parcell's draft-day focus on defense proved to be money well spent
, and Big D lived up to its nickname. Left guard Derrick Dockery summed up the day: "Our guys shut down (Dallas quarterback) Drew Bledsoe, but on our side of the ball...we just didn't get it done. I hate losing to them." Lose Washington does, 17-14. John Madden astutely noted "When you look at these two teams, you realize that they, historically, have played some good games and bad games. That's what makes them great." Which was followed by Al Michaels in stunned silence.

Week Three
The Redskins spent their bye week licking their collective wounds and strategizing methods to beat Dallas. Suggestions that included spiking their Gatorade, sabotaging the team bus and kidnapping owner Jerry Jones were considered, but ultimately dismissed. "We sure could've used those three practice days the league took from us back in June..." Coach Gibbs wondered, trailing off into thought.

Week Four
(October 2) Fans who got to their FedEx Field seats early for the Seahawks versus Redskins game got a treat, watching Sean Taylor intercept Matt Hasselbeck's second pass, intended for the slippery-handed Darrell Jackson, and skip untouched for a touchdown. The Washington faithful, unsure of whether they approved of the offseason miscreant, sat on their hands in general indifference. The scoring didn't stop there for Washington, as Patrick Ramsey finally showed the naysayers that he could throw well when given a little pass protection. Accordingly, Santana Moss and the receiving corps had a wonderful day. David Patten scored his first touchdown, burning free safety Ken Hamlin for a 76 yard score en route to 112 receiving yards. "We were confused, uncoordinated, just a mess," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren later admitted, "It was like watching Evander Holyfield on 'Dancing With the Stars.'" Many in the media room nodded in agreement. Washington started strong and never looked back, winning 28-14.

Week Five

(October 9) Washington visited Mile High Country, home of the Denver Broncos, and witnessed firsthand why Denver was impressive in their previous three wins. Coach Gibbs reasoned "We knew coming in that we had to focus on avoiding Champ (Bailey), containing Jake Plummer, and keeping an eye on (Jerry) Rice and Rod Smith." Despite the attention to detail, the Broncos were the better team today. Without much pressure on Plummer, he picked apart the Skins' secondary, only errant once, tossing a line drive pass to safety Matt Bowen. Skins linemen Joe Salave'a and Cornelius Griffin offered little resistance to Broncos back Garrisson Hearst, who replaced Mister Irrelevant, Ron Dayne, in the second half. The Broncos walked away smiling, 17-9. With the Skins at .500, Sports Illustrated's Peter King reported that Gibbs is an abject failure as a coach and reiterated his 2004 prediction that he won't see another Super Bowl. When asked to respond, Coach Gibbs said "King? You mean that CNN guy with the suspenders?"

Week Eight
(October 30) New York's Giants, led by Eli Manning, welcomed the challenge of the visiting 4-2 Washington Redskins. The Skins were riding high after dismissing the 49ers and Chiefs in convincing fashion, allowing rookie quarterback Jason Campbell to get some garbage-time snaps. ("He did a great job, when we got him in there, of taking a knee. This kid's got a bright future." reflected Gibbs.) The New York fanatics believed that former Washington linebacker Antonio Pierce would have a strong game against his former team; instead it was revealed that Pierce was great in Gregg Williams' system. Clinton Portis rumbled for more than 120 yards and two touchdowns (one receiving), earning him a game ball in the Redskins' 16-7 win. ESPN's John Clayton proclaims Washington his locked-in pick for the playoffs...if they can beat the high-rolling Philly Egos.

Will Washington finally beat the NFC Champions? Will Sean Taylor avoid his semiannual brushes with the law? Will Peter King finally give Gibbs some love? These questions--and many more--are answered in Part Two of the 2005 Review!