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Walters: Tampa Triumph

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Old 01-13-2006, 03:50 PM   #1
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Walters: Tampa Triumph

Tampa Triumph

Despite a playoff record low of 122 yards for a winning playoff team offense before a pair of meaningless kneel downs dropped that total even further, the Washington Redskins laid to rest any notion that their playoff berth was a fluke. The paltry offensive output was mostly the result a ferocious Tampa Bay defense that was as bent on revenge for the thrashing Clinton Portis and the Redskins offense had given them as the Redskins team was for their earlier loss to the Bucs. But even the top ranked defense in the NFL playing at home wasn’t enough to deter Washington from winning their first post-season game since their victory over the Detroit Lions in the 1999-2000 post-season, thereby laying to rest the curse of Dan Turk, which had been snapping bad luck over the heads of Redskins fans for the entire decade.

Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden now holds the distinction of being the first coach Joe Gibbs defeated in his return to football, and the losing coach in the biggest victory of the second Gibbs era. Truthfully, and for whatever reason, it pleases me to no end that Gruden is the answer to this version of Redskins Trivial Pursuit. All the obnoxious sneers, the gritting of the teeth that seems to conveniently coincide with the camera shots featuring him, and the smarmy visors are enough to make anyone at least roll their eyes at the NFL’s youngest coach. Gruden may not have succeeded in winning the game, but he did manage to loft himself into the Brian Billick ego stratosphere with his me-centric attitudes and pseudo-intense made-for-TV poses.

Beside the obvious advancement in the playoffs, the Redskins also avenged their 36-35 “loss” in Tampa earlier in the season. Defensive stars Cornelius Griffin and Sean Taylor each missed the first contest due to injury, but both were back at full strength when the cards were really on the table. As expected, their return provided a noticeable boost for the defense, which was the unquestioned reason why the Redskins advanced.

For a brief moment, it appeared as if the Redskins would lose the playoff contest with the Bucs in an eerily similar fashion as they did the regular season tilt. Wideout Edell Shepherd had beaten Carlos Rogers and Chris Simms had delivered a pass with pinpoint accuracy. The difference is this time, no matter what you think of the rule, is that Shepherd dropped the ball. Tampa fans and droves of other uneducated onlookers cried foul when the play was called, and subsequently upheld on review, incomplete.

The pass was incomplete as prescribed by the rulebook, no matter what one’s personal view of the rule may be. Recall back to Washington’s match-up with Denver to a game that was essentially decided by a poor rule called correctly. The officiating crew, led by the overwhelmingly astute Mike Carey, made the proper call, so any and all whining should be directly toward the rules committee and not toward the game’s rightful winner.

Of course the biggest ancillary incident of the game alleged that Sean Taylor did his best Bill Cowher impression into the face of Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman. Recent video evidence has emerged that showed that Taylor did in fact moisten Pittman’s face, therefore proving he deserved the punishment handed him. But even if Taylor spit his gum and half his lunch onto Pittman, the Buccaneer back still clearly struck Taylor in the head directly in front of the official, which shouldn’t have been allowed either. At the very least, both combatants should have been ejected, not just Taylor. Players are not allowed to pursue vigilante justice at any other point, so this incident should not have been any different. Taylor’s clear mistake was putting himself in a position to be disqualified, and that is an error that can’t be tolerated.

This week, despite their recent success, has found the Redskins as the butt of more than their fair share of jokes. Clearly, their historically bad offensive output is not going to be a trustworthy foundation for future playoff success, but the Redskins did win the game. On the ESPN program The Sports Reporters, Mike Lupica actually said that he crossed the Redskins off of his list of Super Bowl contenders after witnessing their putrid offensive output the day before. Bad offensive output notwithstanding, the Redskins are literally one of only four NFC Super Bowl contenders remaining, so they have to be included.

Not that being on Lupica’s list is at the epicenter of the Redskins’ goals, but what the hell is Lupica using as criteria for his list if the Redskins aren’t on it? Would he and those like him have been more impressed if the Redskins had gained 10 more yards and gotten shut out at home like Lupica’s beloved Giants? Lupica, who makes up for not being able to physically see over anyone by trying to talk over everyone, perhaps shouldn’t be under my skin to this degree, but I would be doing a grand disservice if I didn’t point out stupidity of this magnitude.

The game ball this week goes to Marcus Washington, whose big plays were the catalyst to yet another stellar defensive effort. It was his forced fumble that ultimately became Sean Taylor’s touchdown, and it was his interception that made it okay for all of Redskins Nation to exhale. Washington has been the best Redskins linebacker since the press conference that announced his signing, and he is quickly establishing himself among the elite linebackers in football, and certainly among the least appreciated.

The Redskins 17-10 victory sets up yet another rematch, this time with the Seattle Seahawks, who fell 20-17 to Washington in overtime on then-Redskins kicker Nick Novak’s field goal. The Seahawks will be the healthier, more rested of the two teams, and they will be playing at home, where they haven’t loss all season. They have the league’s leading rusher and MVP Shaun Alexander and arguably the best offensive line in the NFL.

Despite all of this, the Seahawks aren’t necessarily the elite team that they have been made out to be in the media all week long. Seattle hasn’t won a playoff game since 1984, their head coach Mike Holmgren has never beaten Joe Gibbs, and their 13-3 record is hardly as impressive as it sounds. Only four of their victories came against teams with a winning record, and one of those was against an angst-ridden Colts team that had nothing to play for. Many teams could creep up near 13 wins if they had a pair of games with the Cardinals, Rams, and 49ers, and other match-ups with the Titans, Texans, and Packers (a game they lost) to pad their stats.

Am I trying to say that this isn’t a very good Seattle team? Of course not. But what I am saying is that they have yet to offer sufficient proof that they are a great team. Although the game was played at FedEx and both teams have improved since then, the Redskins have already defeated this team once this season, so it is certainly at least a possibility that Washington could duplicate that feat on Saturday.

If they are to score their second win over Seattle this season, the Redskins must run the ball early and often, and with a high degree of success. No offense, no matter how potent, can score from the sideline. Keeping the score within striking distance will allow the big-play potential of the defense to be a factor. Clinton Portis must have a big day, and the defense must answer the bell like it has in recent weeks.

Underdogs? Maybe, but the Redskins can win this one, friends and neighbors. It is going to take their best effort, but they can win it. Check back in next week for your weekly Redskins football fix. Hail to the Redskins!

Questions and comments can be sent to Trevor Walters at skins.fan@comcast.net

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