Sunday, October 10, 2010

Week Five: Grand Theft Gano

Green Bay 13, Washington 16 (OT)

At some point in the 2010 season, the Redskins will win a game as underdogs over a high-quality opponent. They will do so by coming from behind and, through sheer willpower, create their own lucky bounces. When that happens, it will be celebrated as a team rising to the occasion and
demonstrating its inner strength and character.

For now, a win like the one on Sunday is pure thievery.

The Green Bay Packers had, for much of the game, the dominant defense and the more talented offense. The Redskins looked like their consistently inconsistent selves, unable to run, protect the passer, or slow down their opponent. After the first quarter, the Redskins had a tenth of the Packers' yardage, hadn't completed a third down, and was getting beaten by
backup tight ends and wide receivers. They had no answer for the Packers' blitz. By halftime, Washington was down 13-3, but Donovan McNabb was running or his life from an unrelenting and undeterred Green Bay defense. McNabb's best completion of the half (in which he was again scrambling) was for 52 yards, nearly half of his thirty-minute total. It was a wonder that the game's outcome was still in question.

But in all of this, something odd was slowly occurring: the Redskins' much-maligned defense, one of the worst in the league, bent badly but refused to break. It stood its ground at the goal line, pressured the great Aaron Rodgers into poor throws and influenced receivers into dropped passes. The Washington offense, whose production seemed to be limited to three-and-outs and third-and-longs, found a way to sneak in critical completions of more than 20 yards. A rookie wide
receiver, third on the depth chart, played like a veteran in the fourth quarter with game-saving catches.

And behind the clutch kicking of Graham Gano, the Redskins yanked an improbable, thrilling victory out from under a projected
NFC champion.

Washington had a lot of help from Green Bay: there were stretches where even their veteran receivers couldn't hold onto easy catches; the coaching staff didn't choose to control the clock with the run, and kicker Mason Crosby missed two field goals, one to win the game.

In postgame interviews, the Packers had the dazed look of a man who has an alarm on his Porsche but still woke up to find it sitting on cement blocks. Green Bay just knew they should have won.
“We just let an opportunity slip away,” receiver James Jones said. “There is no explanation for the way we lost this game. We lost it ourselves."

But might it be that the Redskins aren't great, but good enough to pickpocket a win from even the best?

OFFENSE: C+. DJ McNabb is an exciting quarterback. But he's also capable of "spotty brilliance," as my Pops puts it. With the empty running game, offensive production is squarely on his shoulders. He's got to complete more of the easy throws. Anthony Armstrong is a work in progress but he could be the one-on-one jump ball threat that Devin Thomas hadn't become.

DEFENSE: A. Another near-300 yard day by an opposing quarterback? 157 rushing yards allowed? And they get an "A?" Yep. LaRon "Hit Stick" Landry and Brian Orakpo held a strong offense to 13 points and got stops when they needed. A consistent offense would help the defense's rating tremendously.

Sp. TEAMS: B. Punter Hunter Smith and returner Brandon Banks can join Gano in taking a bow.

COACHING: B. The point was made in the radio postgame discussion that Mike Shanahan and the coaching staff are using essentially the same tools Jim Zorn had last season. (McNabb being the notable exception, of course.) But they're getting better results. I agree. In previous seasons, this game's a loss, with Washington allowing catches on tipped balls and giving up critical sacks. Or missing field goals. Or having pass interference penalties. Or dropping interceptions. Or...

OWNERSHIP: A. Wins like these further cement the brilliant idea by Daniel Snyder to let other people run the team while he signs the checks.

I'll suspend my Madden moment this week in favor of the pure hilarity of a postgame moment in the FOX Sports studio. You know who works there: Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Michael Strahan, Jimmy "Extenze" Johnson, and the guy in James Brown's seat. In their round-robin about the game, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy all went on about Green Bay's loss due to injuries, penalties, third down conversions, and solar flares. No mention of the Redskins, you know, playing well enough to take advantage of all those mistakes.

When they finished lamenting Green Bay's loss, the guy in James Brown's spot said, in effect, "Guys, last week we said the Eagles lost because of no Michael Vick. This week we're saying that Green Bay lost to the Redskins because of no Clay Matthews. When are we going to start taking Washington seriously?"

What erupted was a cacophonous five seconds of blubbering, side-stepping, faint praise, and empty sports cliches from all four commentators. "Oh yeah, well coached...lot of heart...McNabb...stepping up...I've always thought...a Shanahan team always...great victory..." I haven't seen this much shufflin' since the '85 Bears.

Photo courtesy Getty Images

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