|09-23-2005, 10:39 AM||#1|
Join Date: Feb 2004
Walters: Burning Ring of Honor
Burning Ring of HonorSeventy-one seconds. In the time it takes for a normal stoplight to cycle through, the Redskins temporarily transformed their offense from hopeless to dynamic, and transformed the Cowboys from rolling to reeling. It seemed that from the moment that the Parcells graphic was displayed for all the country to see – the one that illustrated his flawless 77-0 record as a coach when his team held a fourth quarter lead of 13 or more points – it was as if nearly eight years of frustration finally reached a boiling point. The resulting, completely unexpected offensive outburst proved to be enough to secure what is easily the best win of Gibbs’ second era.
To watch the game was to feel as if you were being helplessly pulled into an all too familiar plot. So many times in the storied past of this rivalry, Dallas has leapt from the shadows and stolen game after game from Washington, as if they were Albert Connell in an empty locker room. The thought that this time might be different was pushed way back into the subconscious by years of painful disappointments. After all, on the night when the Cowboys would honor three of their heroes with induction into their Ring of Honor, they surely wouldn’t lose that game would they?
But, this time was different.
When the final seconds ticked mercifully away, the euphoria that comes with the removal of a seven and a half year old monkey engulfed all those in Burgundy and Gold. Only his industrial-strength Botox ® injections could keep the mostly synthetic Jerry Jones from displaying his disgust with his team’s collapse. True, it was only Week 2 and one win does not begin to settle the score for the recent history of futility. But to come back and stick it to their chief rival on Monday Night Football was a larger measure of payback than one single victory would imply.
There are so many positives to take away from Monday Night’s triumph. First and foremost, Washington won a division road game, which is a big step towards reestablishing legitimacy in the division, if not a playoff run. They snapped any number of dubious losing streaks and perhaps gained a confidence in themselves that they had been lacking. The Redskins will enter their bye week on a high note, which is especially nice considering the amount of criticism the team and Coach Joe Gibbs were likely to have faced in the wake of what would have been yet another painful loss.
For nearly 18 games, a sound strategy to employ when facing the Redskins was to make the passing game beat you, and to concentrate all efforts on stopping Clinton Portis and the ground game. After all, Washington had done precious little to merit any change in those plans, since the seven yard hitch hardly keeps defensive coordinators up at night. But with two flicks of his possibly resurrected left arm, Brunell not only won the game for Washington, but he may very well have also won a measure of respect for the Redskins’ passing game. Now, two plays do not a potent downfield attack make, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when teams continue to stack the line of scrimmage to thwart the Redskins rushing attack. So even though opposing defenses may not yet have confidence in the Redskins’ passing game or in Gibbs’ use of it, they are certainly are going to have to account for Santana Moss’ speed.
It is quite easy to let the near manic euphoria override the mistakes that the Redskins made Monday night. For the second straight week, Washington managed a victory despite losing the turnover battle, adding up to a net -3 margin for the young season. A propensity for false start penalties was still prevalent, and a regression in pass protection was also seen, with Mark Brunell suffering five sacks and a handful of other hits.
The question on the minds of many people in Redskins Nation is whether this victory will be an epiphany for the offense and the team, or simply just a very high water mark for the season. It is worth mentioning that only when Gibbs theoretically had nothing to lose did he throw caution to the wind and go downfield. This doesn’t mean that he should have been sending four receivers out on every play, or that Gibbs should rip a page from the Mike Martz playbook. It simply refers to letting Moss and Patten stretch their legs every so often on a deep route or maybe boosting the seven yard curl into a 12-15 yard route. Knowing that Gibbs will open it up a little more will at least make opposing defenses have to honor the possibility of the big play.
This week’s Game Ball goes to Santana Moss, whose elite speed proved to be the difference in the game. Moss was routinely running past whichever Dallas corner that drew him as an assignment. Moss humiliated All-Pro safety Roy Williams, whose poor coverage skills are often overlooked due to his pass rushing prowess. Moss also garnered NFC Player of the Week honors, a recognition of which he is most certainly worthy. Currently sitting a mere two yards behind current NFL leader Randy Moss in total yardage, Moss has made the most of his short stay in Washington up to this point.
Honorable mention should be given to quarterback Mark Brunell, whose arm strength, or lack there of, has been the punchline of its fair share of jokes, many of which came from this very space. When it counted at the end, Brunell made two absolutely perfect throws, each time using his remaining mobility to step up in the pocket to buy more time.
But perhaps his biggest play came on a 3rd-and-27, when Brunell scrambled down the middle of the field, side-stepping hopeless Cowboy defender Scott Shanle, to pick up 25 yards. This set up a more manageable fourth down, and kept alive the Redskins’ hope for a miracle comeback. Overall, Brunell’s stat line somewhat belies his performance. He was masterful at times, and inept at others. A certain measure of rust was understandable, though, so the spike in performance at the end of the game is more encouraging than it would be otherwise. Placed in the starting lineup due to his capability of not losing the game, Brunell actually proved to be one of the biggest reasons Washington snapped their decade-long losing streak in Irving.
Sitting at 2-0 is certainly a nice place to be, and there certainly won’t be any water thrown on the optimism fire here. The big thing now is to maintain perspective. It may be a bit on the early side to book your hotel room in Detroit for Super Bowl weekend, but Washington is in first place, and there is never a bad time to be in first place. Neither of the two victories were blow-outs, but both times Washington came from behind to find a way to win. Mark Brunell fell short on a number of passes, but he also made a handful of plays that won the game for the Redskins.
With the bye week ahead, there is plenty of time to prepare for an enigmatic Seattle team that Washington has owned in recent years. Having to travel east and play the early game never seems to sit well with the Seahawks, so continuing the current successes may be well within reach. But for the time being, enjoying the 2-0 beginning to this season will be more than enough to keep a smile on the faces of the residents of Redskins Nation.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org