Sunday, December 12, 2010

Week Fourteen: Rough Torain

Tampa Bay 17, Washington 16

Mike Shanahan and the 2010 Washington Redskins have been trying to establish some sort of identity, some form of consistency that defines the team. Are they a deep threat, high-powered offense, as shown against the Texans? Is their defense all about giving up yards but forcing turnovers, like the Indianapolis loss? Or are the hard-hitting special teams the x-factor that can snatch victories from defeat?

In Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (dropping the Redskins to 5-8), what became clear to fans is that whatever persona this team is going to establish will require a whole lot of their patience. The kind of patience necessary to sit in more than three hours of cold, rain, and wind, only to see a game lost on the simplest and most fundamental plays in football. Pack a valium lunch, Redskins faithful. It's going to be a long, difficult, rocky road.

The easy person to pin this loss on would be Graham Gano, who missed or nearly missed, every extra point or field goal he attempted. To his credit, he admitted that this was the worst game of his career. The weather should mitigate some of that criticism, but it's hard not to point a finger at any kicker who misses two easy field goals that would have kept the home team comfortably ahead. (Meanwhile the Bucs' kicker, Connor Barth, went 3-for-3, including a 44-yarder.)

The Donovan McNabb offense is more to blame. The stat line for the quarterback wasn't too bad--22 for 35, 228 yards, 2 touchdowns--but it doesn't begin to show how inconsistent he was. He was skipping passes off the ground often, and, ironically, if two of them hadn't been poorly thrown, they would have been easy pick-six interceptions for Tampa Bay. When Ryan Torain and the offensive line got the ball in six-point striking distance, the team consistently ran out of gas. After dominating the first half in production, they had ten points instead of 28. The offense disappeared in the third quarter, and ran the ball for just 12 net yards in the second half.

London Fletcher and the defense did a solid job holding back Tampa Bay from mounting a comeback, but they again neared 400 yards of offense allowed and gave up the winning touchdown with less than four minutes to go.

The good news, from this landfill of a season, is the emergence of running back Ryan Torain. In the Week Six review, Torain was crowned the future franchise rusher, and his return to the lineup certainly confirmed that coronation. From his first carry back from injury, he was in strong form. He patiently picked his holes, he ran through arm tackles, and he had a burst of speed when in the open field. He was positively Maddenesque in his first half production (18 rushes, 158 yards, 8.8 yards per carry) and seemed a lock for 200-225 yards and a touchdown by game's end. What you might notice in his highlight reel, however, is how the score barely changes.

These are the Redskins, so instead of preparing for Tampa Bay's halftime adjustments to the run, the burgundy and gold decided to more than double their first half pass attempts. Torain rushed just six more times for 14 yards. Sure enough, the Bucs won the time of possession battle in the second half and it was Washington scrambling down the field to try to tie the game.

Nonetheless, this may be the game that solidifies Torain as the favorite to run the rock in 2011. He's one of the few bright lights on this dark, frustrating road ahead.

OFFENSE: C. This offseason should be very interesting. Keep McNabb but draft a young QB? Draft only o-linemen? Find compliments for Moss and Armstrong? Jettison Portis? Every area needs help.
DEFENSE: C. Perhaps LaRon Landry's presence is more vital than anyone originally thought. The D allowed young Josh Freeman to continue to look like a future star in the league.
Sp. TEAMS: F. Their only good play of the game--a much-needed return by Brandon Banks, was foiled by a penalty. Otherwise, it was muffed routine plays, missed field goals, and ineffectiveness.
COACHING: D. It's tempting to think back to the Gibbs days, when in cold, rainy weather, the offense would pound the ball and eat up the clock. Kyle Shanahan put the game in the hands of his QB, and the results were unnecessarily dramatic.
OWNERSHIP: C. Would it hurt to have cheap, Redskins-logo'd free ponchos for fans when they've decided to spend their Sunday afternoon in the rain, rooting for your out-of-the-playoffs franchise?

...comes from Facebook. The Redskins, like every other business in America, has their own page on the social networking site. During and after games, they post updates and results. The comments section, particularly after losses, is where fans get to lay bare their frustrations with the team and ownership. After Sunday's loss, this comment surmised the burgundy and gold experience: "T
he biggest problem with being a Redskins fan is that when you run into someone who wants to talk $^%*, there's really nothing you can say back to them."

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