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Walters: What the Tuck?

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Old 10-13-2005, 08:24 AM   #1
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Walters: What the Tuck?

What the Tuck?

The Washington Redskins outplayed the Denver Broncos in nearly every aspect of their game this past Sunday, and did so in a consistent driving rain that provided the NFL with its first bad weather game of 2005. That rain, and another clinic in time of possession dominance, neutralized the normally rabid Denver crowd, turning them into a colder, damper version of an Arizona Cardinals gathering. The offense continued its steady improvement, climbing to an astounding eighth in the league, and Clinton Portis rushed for over 100 yards. All of this factors into a greater formula for victory.

But Washington didn’t win.

With parity at an all-time high in the league, most games come down to one or two crucial mistakes or big plays. Twice Washington failed to stop second-year tailback Tatum Bell, initially on fourth and short and later on third down. Both times, Bell, who became a Bronco as a result of the inclusion of the second round draft pick in the titanic Champ Bailey-for-Clinton Portis swap in 2004, ran unmolested into the end zone. Those two runs laid the foundation for a day that made a mockery of the Redskins’ heretofore stingy run defense. This is the same defense who had held opposing running backs under 100 yards for eight straight games coming into Sunday’s tilt with Denver, only to see that streak ripped to shreds by a second-year platoon player on a mere 12 carries.

Already facing its second straight contest without starting cornerback Walt Harris, Washington’s already taxed pass defense suffered a devastating blow when Shawn Springs was forced to leave the game with a leg injury. As if the injury weren’t damaging enough, it proved to be a double-edged sword when reserve corner Ade Jimoh trotted on the field to replace his injured teammate. Replacing Springs, a top-flight corner, with Jimoh, a rag doll, is like replacing a good bourbon with New Coke®. Denver immediately went right at Jimoh, tossing a fade to wideout Ashley Lelie for the second of their three scores. Jimoh would elevate his play somewhat as the game progressed, but the familiar sight of Jimoh getting beat for a touchdown would prove to be the image that remains etched in the minds of Redskins fans.

It’s peculiar that in a game where there were so many glaring positives, the reasons that the game was lost were very nearly as obvious. Penalties and turnovers, as has been the way with this team, cost the Redskins yet again, just as they did so many times in 2004. Passes were dropped, though given the conditions, that is almost to be expected. Clinton Portis inexplicably fumbled on a routine handoff from quarterback Mark Brunell. But easily the most damning facet of the day for the Redskins was the penalties. Washington was whistled for 10 penalties on Sunday, some of which they actually committed. Portis had a long scamper negated by a flag, and David Patten saw his first touchdown as a Redskin snatched out of his hands as a result of a criminally bad call.

The infraction that caused the most harm, though, was Mike Sellars’ false start, which crossed out Nick Novak’s 54-yard field goal near the end of the first half. Had he simply been more attentive to the snap count, Washington wins this game by two (they would have kicked the extra point in the fourth quarter instead of going for two) rather than losing it by that same margin.

Easily the most controversial moment of the evening occurred as a product of the NFL’s infamous “tuck rule”. Standing in his own end zone, Denver quarterback and porn mustache proponent Jake Plummer motioned forward as if to throw the ball, only to be forced to hold on to it by an oncoming pass rush, and bring the ball back toward his other hand. The ball became free when it came in contact with his left hand, and was originally ruled a fumble by the simpletons officiating the game. Ade Jimoh fell on Plummer as he was recovering his own fumble, resulting in a safety.

The replay would show quite clearly that Plummer had no intention of throwing the ball. However, upon review, the officials ruled the play an incomplete pass under the same tuck rule clause that saved Tom Brady and the Patriots a few years back. Trying to determine a player’s intent is a completely impossible endeavor, so the rule itself is deeply flawed from the start. But, and this is hard to say given the sheer lunacy of the rule, it was the correct call as determined by the rules. Just because it is a bad rule, doesn’t mean that it can be ignored. If it is in the rule book, no matter how asinine it may be, you’ve got to call it.

That said, in the true spirit of the game, it was a fumble. Jake Plummer thought so too, or so it would seem as he hurried to recover it with such genuine tenacity. But if the rules literally say that it is an incomplete pass, then that has to be the call. It was a bit like telling a dripping wet Joe Gibbs that it wasn’t raining in Denver. When is a fumble not a fumble? Well, Sunday showed us.

Making a game that Washington should have won even less tolerable to watch were the two buffoons Fox slated to broadcast the entire affair. Sam Rosen looks and acts like a 1970’s game show host, calling the game as if he was in the middle of a frontal lobotomy. He is as out of place talking about football as Brian Billick is talking about humility. It is as if he is received a week of football announcer fantasy camp from his wife for his birthday, with the game being the last big activity before he returns to his middle-management cubicle to complain about who took his stapler.

But Rosen looks like the second coming of Paul Brown and Vince Lombardi wrapped into one compared to his broadcast partner, Bill Maas. Maas somehow manages to reach levels of stupidity even the likes of Brian Baldinger and Tim Green could never achieve. Maas has a respectable football pedigree (he was a two-time Pro-Bowl selection with the Chiefs), but seemingly has only a rudimentary handle on the English language. The football player-turned-announcer notion does work on occasion, with the likes of Trop Aikman and Daryl Johnston providing solid commentary on a weekly basis. But it always seems as if it’s all Maas can do to keep from picking Rosen up over his head and pitching him into the control room while yelling ‘Nerds!’ at the top of his lungs.

The game ball this week goes to H-back Chris Cooley, a forgotten beneficiary of the newfound deep passing attack. Cooley hauled in a team-high eight catches (tied with Moss), and caught the touchdown late in the game that nearly resulted in Washington tying the score. But even more than that, Cooley’s blocking was tremendous. The H-back position, other than quarterback, is the most intellectually challenging on the field. Cooley’s versatility and ability to devour the playbook make him a perplexing challenge for opposing defenses.

The offense has begun to look more and more dangerous with each passing week. Despite a career-high 53 pass attempts, Mark Brunell was not sacked, with the one time Denver did reach him being negated by a penalty. Brunell was over 300 yards for only the second time as a Redskin, and Santana Moss and Cooley each had huge games. Brunell is spreading the ball around to all parts of the field, and the line is protecting. In fact, if they didn’t have to shake the weighty ghosts of last season’s dismal performance, this offense would most likely be viewed as one of the better units in the league.

The recent shortcomings of the defense are no doubt a concern as the Redskins prepare for the potent Chiefs offense. Tony Gonzalez, arguably the top tight end in the NFL, has had an unusually non-descript beginning to his season, so it is safe to say that the Kansas City staff spent a good portion of their bye week devising ways to incorporate Gonzalez into the gameplan. With only average talent at receiver, the main challenge the Redskins will face come Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium will be to stifle the Chiefs’ ground attack. Priest Holmes and understudy Larry Johnson have been chewing up yardage behind Kansas City’s mammoth offensive line, so things aren’t going to get any easier for Washington’s jolted run defense.

Whether or not Washington’s defense will exercise the services of Pro-Bowler-turned-scrub LaVar Arrington remains to be seen. Don’t be confused for a moment; Arrington hasn’t played much to date because he can’t be trusted to play team defense. Gregg Williams’ defense is based on a strict adherence to assignments, which even Arrington’s most rabid proponents would have to concede has never been his greatest asset. While inserting LaVar into the lineup may put more pressure on the passer, at what cost would that pressure come? Perhaps it would be less risky to plug Arrington in at defensive end on pass rushing situations, but would you like his chances if he were to line up opposite Willie Roaf? LaVar is a great talent, but if Williams and Company don’t think he’s the best option, I believe they have earned the benefit of the doubt.

Despite a good showing Sunday, Washington fell to a relieved Denver team. Kansas City should be rested after a bye and ready to erase memories of their own losses. If Washington could continue to improve their offensive output, and revisit the discipline they exhibited in Week 4 against Seattle, then this game is well within the Redskins’ reach. Expect to see Portis break out of his touchdown slump, and the defense to be eager to prove that last week was more aberration to trend.

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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