Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The End, Sadly, is Here

Washington 3, Philadelphia 27

The fat lady hasn't just sung. By now she's left the studio, dating Kevin Federline, and waiting for royalties from the Diddy remix.

The 2006 Redskins season ended, unofficially, in the third quarter of Sunday's loss to the Eagles when Sheldon Brown returned an interception 70 yards to give Philadelphia a 27-3 lead. One might argue that mathematically, this team could run the proverbial table and slip into a wild card slot. But you, me, and anyone who watched Washington yesterday would agree that this team ain't goin' anywhere. The offense can't score. The defense gets beaten regularly for big plays. The special teams, God bless 'em, shine on coverage and returns. But kicker-of-the-week Novak is, what, 3 for 7 this season? Meanwhile, everyone from the wideouts to the defensive backs to the punter make stupid, momentum-killing penalties. Mix in a challenging division and, well, there's the recipe for a 3-6 record.

I'm not sure which was more sad to see: a battle-weary Mark Brunell getting heated and defensive while answering postgame questions from the Comcast SportsNet team (the essence of which was "do you think it's time to bench yourself?"), or hearing defensive coordinator Gregg Williams inappopritely praise his defense after they did little to improve their 30th-place NFL ranking.
I would submit that this season was bound for a fiery demise, like one of those cartoon trains barrelling toward a broken-track precipice, since the end of last season. It was then, not long after coming a few plays short of the NFC Championship, that this organization (owner Daniel Snyder incorrectly gets all of the blame) made some critical decisions. I can't point to which one was the most deadly, but taken in concert they twisted their mustache, blew out the overpass and sabotaged the locomotive's brakes.

It became apparent as the 2005 season drew to its exciting close that Mark Brunell didn't have much left in the tank. His throws weren't nearly as crisp and accurate as they'd been months earlier. No longer did he seem able to launch a strike 60-yards to an in-stride receiver, as he did in September to help beat the Cowchips. Pass rushes confounded him, and his legs failed to protect him from defensive end rushes. Whether by injury, fatigue, or just plain age, he leaned more heavily on the crutch of dump offs to his backs and tight ends. Yet Coach Gibbs stuck with his hand-picked quarterback. Brunell's 2006 season has been little more than an exaggeration of his depreciation. Sure, his passer rating is in the top ten and he's thrown but four interceptions, but the bottom line--points on the board--don't lie. He isn't getting it done. As nice a guy as he certainly seems to be, it is time to pat him on the back and wish him well.

Ask (or complain enough) and you shall receive: Campbell starts on Sunday!

Let's not put the Redskins' woes completely on Brunell because, frankly, Gregg Williams' stock has dropped in direct proportion to his defense's ranking. Only two teams have worse rankings than Washington. To put in perspective, the Houston Texans, Detroit Lions, and San Francisco 49ers (!) have better overall defenses. By at least two ranking places. Sheesh. Somehow we were fooled, following last season, that Williams possessed the same magic plentifully found in New England, where the scheme is so great that random players can be inserted and removed while the squad maintains a high performance level. This season, we let Ryan Clark walk, replaced by the financially bloated contract of Adam Archuleta, and then relieve him with 50-year old Troy Vincent. And yet the Eagles could still throw deep. Sigh.

So at this point, with only mathmatics telling the Redskins they won't be watching the playoffs from home, isn't it time to see what first round pick, linebacker Rocky McIntosh, can do? Hey, with Clinton Portis out with a broken hand (and, dare we say, only so-so when healthy), can we reveal the value of trading a third round pick to Atlanta for T.J. Duckett? How 'bout we parse down that Al Saunders playbook from 700 to, say, 70 pages and see what happens?

What do we have to lose?

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