Sunday, December 06, 2009

Week Thirteen: Epic

New Orleans 33, Washington 30

Remember when there was debate about which loss by the 2009 Redskins felt worst? Some said that allowing a 90-yard drive for the tying score, then losing by two to Philadelphia was just awful. Others, of course, pointed to a narrow loss to the hated rivals in Dallas where the Skins missed two field goals and allowed Tony Romo just one good series--the winning drive. I disagreed with them all, noting that the loss to the 0-for-everything Detroit Lions was the most disappointing loss of the year.

And then came Sunday.

The term "epic" gets used far too often, along with "awesome," "hate" and "love," in common language. These are powerful words, ones that signify an experience or moment that isn't just cool, or annoys you or is smile-inspiring. Really, does your new Civic exhaust really inspire awe? Is Sarah Palin's book truly worthy of hate? Did Cesar Millan really deserve your love for his handling of Puddles the angry poodle? Probably not.

But the fashion in which the Redskins lost to the New Orleans Saints ascends into a dimension of disappointment that hurts in the most heartbreaking of ways: epic.

To truly appreciate the epicness (yes, that's made up) of this failure requires actually viewing the entire game; you don't catch the last half hour of Titanic or Lord of the Rings, right? The transcendence of this loss requires total immersion in the ebb and flow, clarity and controversy of professional football. If you're like most fans, the viewing experience will leave you with jaw dropped, incredulous, and mumbling " have GOT to be kidding me."

Witness Jason Campbell with a career performance, throwing for three touchdowns and over 360 yards. (The Redskins had averaged just 207 yards per game before Sunday.) He was, for one day, the quarterback that His Joeness, Coach Gibbs, imagined him to be. Campbell was sharp with his reads, was confident in the pocket, and accurate with his throws. For the first time this season, he kept his jersey clean and was never sacked. He completed critical third down passes, including a 38-yarder to Santana Moss and a 44-yarder to Antwaan Randle-El. Campbell began the game smoking hot, leading the longest scoring drive of the season, 94 yards. He was magical, and every time Campbell got under center, he gave fans a feeling not felt in years: "Wow! The Skins can score at will!"

Witness the Redskins defense, who held a top-five rushing offense to just 55 yards, and harassed the number one-rated quarterback Drew Brees into three and a half quarters of mortality. The defensive line sniffed out the Saints' trademarked screens and batted down Brees' passes. Running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush were non factors for New Orleans. When the Saints were held to a field goal with six minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Redskins up by seven, fans felt: "I can't believe it! We can actually beat a great team."

Witness Shaun Suisham, who easily knocked in 32 and 28-yard field goals earlier, lining up to seal the win for Washington with a virtual chip shot kick from the 23 yard line. The offense wound down four of the last six minutes of the game, marching methodically down the field to set up this moment of victory. Fans could begin to exhale, feeling: "Hail to the Redskins! We've just pulled off the upset of the season!"

In the end, what made this loss so epically disappointing was that for the Redskins to continue their losing ways, they had to concurrently collapse in not one, not two, but all three phases of the game. The unstoppable offense had to lose its traction and turn the ball over. The defense had to go soft and allow the Saints to march without any resistance. The special teams had to pass up even the easiest of opportunities to score. All in around four minutes.

And it happened.

Witness Jason Campbell throwing his worst pass of the day, an interception to the Saints' Jonathan Vilma with 30 seconds left and the Redskins a mere ten yards from a winning field goal. And then there's fullback Mike Sellers, failing to protect the football in overtime, giving the Saints the ball and leading to the eventual winning score.

Witness Laron "Hit Stick" Landry and the defense allowing Drew Brees and the Saints offense to travel, with no timeouts and the game on the line, 80 yards in 33 seconds. The offense didn't even need to spike the ball to stop the clock once, because Brees completed his passes to players going out of bounds--the very area the defense was supposed to protect. And witness Landry getting faked out by the same double move he was faked out on for an earlier 40-yard touchdown, this time for--surprise!--a 53-yard touchdown to tie the game. This was the very area the defense was...oh, never mind.

And if you can stomach it, witness Shaun Suisham completely botching that 23-yard field goal that would have virtually won the game. Wasn't even close.

This was the game to redeem the season. Snydely Whiplash, Zorn, Sherm In the Box, and the organization could have held its head high and said that, despite losing to Dallas, failing in Philly, and being embarrassed in Detroit, they have a team that has learned to win.

Unfortunately, the fans can only conclude that the Redskins have learned better how to lose. Only now they can do so in the biggest, worst way possible.

OFFENSE: B-. Campbell, Devin Thomas, and Fred Davis were cruising toward a perfect score; sadly their overall good performances are footnotes in what New Orleans radio called "one of the greatest wins in Saints history."
DEFENSE: D. Memo to any sports TV commentators covering the Redskins: please stop celebrating the high statistical ranking of the Redskins defense. They're really not that good when it counts.
Sp. TEAMS: D. Currently Coach Zorn explained the missed field goal postgame, saying that the snap from center was high and that Suisham wasn't prepared for the ball to be placed on the ground so hard. What he should have said was "Yeah, he screwed up. He wasn't alone in screwing up today, but make no mistake, Suisham is paid a lot of money to do the one thing that he didn't do today."
COACHING: A. Coaches don't bite double moves, don't miss easy field goals, and don't fumble the ball. The gameplan against New Orleans was perfect, though not perfectly executed.
OWNERSHIP: F. A shocking loss and no candid views of Snydely in his luxury box, FOX?

I have been saying for some time now that the Redskins have mastered the art of playing up or down to the level of their opponents. Weeks ago, the Oakland Raiders looked like the one guaranteed win for Washington. Now, after they have knocked off the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals, and the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles, it's hardly a foregone conclusion. The Raiders, statistically, are horrible. They are 31st in points and total yards. They're dead last in passing yards. Is it possible for Washington to go toe to toe with the best in the NFL, then do the same with the worst? Absolutely. But Campbell continues his improved management of the offense and the Redskins win, 21-13.

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