Indianapolis 27, Washington 24
Mike Shanahan and the coaching staff will meet sometime in the film room after Sunday night's loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The coaches will see the Washington defense allow 469 yards of offense, including 170 rushing. They'll watch their offense drop catches and fail to take advantage of multiple Colts turnovers. And they'll have to accept the embarrassment of a prime-time loss on national television.
When the video stops and the lights come up, if they have any sense, they'll crack a small smile and say, "Hmph, that was pretty good!"
The coaches will say that because they (and their observant fans) know that the 2010 Washington Redskins are of mere moderate talent. While the players have tremendous heart, hit hard, and are good enough to create some fortune, they don't yet belong in the same class as the NFL upper echelon. Indianapolis has lived in that realm for years now, and they proved it on Sunday. The Colts are deep at receiver, devastating at defensive end, and are lead by one of the best field generals ever to play the game.
But Shanahan has to smile because his flawed team showed something too: they can not only play with the best of the league, but take them to the wire. Every game has its positive take-aways, but the coaches can pump their fist about these from Sunday night:
(1) Ryan "Rough" Torain is the future running back for the Redskins. How fitting that Torain wear #46, which looks much like the #48 worn by storied back Stephen Davis. Like Davis, Torain is a large, solid downfield runner who simply can't be taken down by arm tackles. Torain showed patience for blocking, held onto the ball, and, unlike Clinton Portis, didn't need to be helped off the field after every third run. Torain, whose name wasn't on the lips of fans during the preseason, has emerged as a key component in the offense's balance. If he can work on his pass blocking, avoid fumbles and stay healthy, he can become yet another in Mike Shanahan's long list of prosperous runners. Even better, he can become everything this offense needs. His touchdowns from Sunday make the NFL films' highlights, but he had multiple plays where he broke away from tacklers to avoid a loss. The Redskins haven't had that powerful a back since, well, Stephen Davis.
(2) The defense, horrid though it may statistically seem, continues to put the Redskins in a position to win. The box scores don't tell the tale of the loss on Sunday. After all the yardage and points allowed, the fact remains that when London Fletcher and the defense needed to force second-half turnovers for Washington to have any chance of winning, they got two fumbles and a sack. When McNabb and the offense needed to get the ball back late in the fourth quarter, the defense forced Manning into a rare three-and-out. Slice it how you like, but defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's guys are like an old hymn: they may not come when you want them, but they'll be there right on time.
(3) The future is brighter than even the coaches might have thought. The Redskins of previous seasons (seriously, just pick one in recent memory) wouldn't have had much of a chance in keeping Sunday's game close. Tthose teams were, with some exceptions, stocked with high-profile veteran free agents who were either poorly coached, unmotivated, or both. The team that faced down the AFC Champion Colts wasn't expected by many to take out Dallas, Green Bay, and Philadelphia. And they nearly stole another win, even without Albert Haynesworth, Rocky McIntosh, and Portis. Might unsung players like Anthony Armstrong, Brandon Banks, and Torain be honored at Homecoming in 2025?
OFFENSE: C. McNabb can't ask for a better circumstance than three timeouts, two minutes, 57 yards for the win, 30 yards for field goal range. To come up empty is a reminder that the offense still needs work.
DEFENSE: B. During halftime, I tapped a note to myself: "Can we have an error-free 2nd half? No drops? Grab every loose fumble? Can we keep Manning off the field?" Mission, largely, accomplished. Also, I will henceforth refuse to mention Carlos Rogers' name until he gets an interception.
Sp. TEAMS: B-. I love the tone that the Special Teams set, pounding runners and forcing turnovers. I can't remember a year when this squad has had this kind of literal impact.
COACHING: C+. If I were gameplanning against aggressive, sack-happy defensive ends, I would have called draw plays often. It's safer than a play action pass, which may roll into the aggression, and it forces the ends to think about whether to head upfield or hang back. Washington called, by my count, two. One on a throwaway 3rd and long.
OWNERSHIP: B. My Pops and I got to the stadium early, anticipating the Homecoming parade featuring Rick Walker, Darryl Grant, Mark Moseley, and other Redskins greats. I never saw the parade, but I did get ten Hooters wings for $10, the best value of any food at FedExField. Thanks, Danny.
THIS WEEK'S MADDEN MOMENT
This week's moment is a no-brainer, a catch that only happens when you have the Madden receiver skills turned up. In fact, it's superior to Randy Moss' effortless one-handed grab while a Patriot earlier this season. Indianapolis Colts receiver Pierre Garcon got open (as he was most of the night), and with a full extension catches the nose of the football in his right hand and completes the reception. It was like watching magnetism at work in a science museum.
Photos courtesy NFL.com, NBC, and, um, me.