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Walters: A Buccaneer Piracy

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Old 11-16-2005, 03:17 PM   #1
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Walters: A Buccaneer Piracy

A Buccaneer Piracy

So, the scene was set. A suspect offside penalty had just negated a potentially game-saving blocked extra point attempt, and the official’s indication that number 26 was the guilty party certainly did nothing to belie the questionable nature of the call. After all, Clinton Portis may be as versatile a back as you’ll find, but he doesn’t normally get many PAT reps. So with the blocked extra point negated, the result of the penalty placed the ball on the one yard line, and Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden gritted his teeth, tucked in his questionably masculine silk shirt, and sent his offense back onto the field to go for the two point conversion and, essentially, the victory.

There weren’t many people who were surprised when the handoff went to Buccaneer battering ram Mike Alstott, including the Redskins’ goal line defense. LaVar Arrington launched himself toward Alstott to take away the dive option that he’d utilized earlier in the game. Ryan Clark plugged the hole, causing Alstott to spin backwards, and special teams ace Khary Campbell finished the trying task of bringing Alstott down, though initially he landed on the back of another player. Alertly realizing that the ball was still live, Alstott surged forward, only to have his elbow make clear contact with the ground before the ball broke the plane of the endzone, which normally would signal the play dead.

But why, then, did the official emphatically shoot both arms skyward to indicate a successful conversion? Why did the replay official, after presumably seeing the same replay that was available to the television audience, concur with the field official’s call? Why does a clear video picture of the actual truth of the play not qualify as “indisputable evidence”? Was the phrase “down by contact” stuck in the concession line getting an adult beverage? Is the field at Raymond James Stadium 99 ½ yards long?

Clearly, the botched call at the end of the game cost Washington two points, but they should have never been in a position to allow an official’s incompetence cost them the game. The defense had stiffened just minutes earlier, but the offense had not been able to gain one final first down that would have sealed the win. The defense had allowed the Tampa offense to move the ball effortlessly down the field to set up the game tying score. Turnovers, which have been the bane of Washington’s existence this season, continued to be a drain on the offense similar to the way cigarette smoking is on the national health care system.

Despite the turnovers and their failing to achieve a first down with the game on the line, the offense simply cannot shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for the loss. The defense, which had up to this point been the team’s stabilizing factor, let the team down Sunday. Although matched against a suspect Tampa Bay offensive line, the Redskins failed to get any appreciable pressure on Buccaneer quarterback Chris Simms, who, if he were any less mobile would have to move into an assisted living facility. The glaring lack of pressure created by the defensive line has long been grudgingly accepted because of their prowess in the run game. But the stress that this places on the secondary has recently caused the defense to hemorrhage passing yards, leading to career passing days for opposing quarterbacks.

Not helping matters was the absence of safety Sean Taylor and defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin due to injury. The two, along with Shawn Springs and Marcus Washington, comprise the four most critical components of the Redskins defense. The effect that this has on the defense was perhaps most apparent in the superb game that Joey Galloway turned in Sunday. Galloway, usually an injury waiting to happen, was able to have his way with the suddenly inept Walt Harris, who would have normally been supported by the athletic wunderkind, Taylor.

On the bright side, the offense did manage 28 points on the NFL’s top ranked defense, with the other score coming on Ladell Betts’ kickoff return. Chris Cooley continued to have what should be a Pro Bowl season, and Santana Moss was able to find holes in the vaunted Tampa Two defense to grab four passes for nearly 80 yards. Clinton Portis had his best day of the season on the ground, shredding what had been the second best run defense in the league for 144 yards on 23 carries. Mark Brunell was solid yet again, with both of his interceptions coming on passes that either should have either been caught by the receiver, or blown dead on account of pass interference by the officials, who apparently weren’t paying a great deal of attention at times.

The offense also lays claim to the two players with which my patience has been virtually exhausted. The first, left tackle Chris Samuels, was dominated once again, though this time he was at least the whipping boy of someone with an actual pedigree. If it had just been one game, then it could be logically explained away as a bad day. But when the bad days start happening weekly, then it is more of a pattern than an aberration. Again, as I’ve stated before, it is often very difficult to gauge the effectiveness of an offensive linemen. There were a few times that Rice was assigned to Portis or the tight end, but on the whole, Samuels again displayed little to no justification of his “franchise tackle” status.

The second source of frustration is receiver David Patten, whose 22 receptions for 217 yards thus far is hardly the production that Washington expected when it awarded him a lucrative contract in the off-season. Perhaps the fires of my exasperation with Patten were fanned when he publicly lamented his limited role in the offense, or perhaps gasoline was added when he failed repeatedly to make a play when given the opportunity. Among the many things that Brunell has shown this season is the ability to spread the ball to whomever is open, so the onus for Patten’s lackluster season thus far is squarely on Patten himself. After all, Brunell was even able to hit everybody’s fraternity brother look alike Brian Kozlowski for an 18 yard strike, so clearly he’s willing hit the open man, regardless of the number on his chest.

This week’s game ball goes to a frequent object of my scorn in the past, reserve tailback Ladell Betts. Obviously, his kickoff return was his biggest play of game, if not his entire Redskins career. But he also caught three passes, a healthy contribution for a back-up, one of which resulted in a touchdown. Throw in 26 yards rushing and you have easily Betts’ finest game as a pro. As part of the NFL’s reactionary media, it is almost a birth right to dog a player one week, and then offer up your first born to him just a few days later. His versatility is his greatest strength, and Sunday was the best illustration of that and of its value to the team.

Perhaps it is a positive sign of the corner turned by the organization that a road game against a winning team was one that was widely classified as one that should have been won. There was a time, just mere months ago, that Sunday’s result would have almost been considered a moral victory, rather than the empty, missed opportunity that is has been classified as this season. The team has shown an ability to bounce back from near misses and from blowouts, so there is no reason to believe that Washington won’t bounce back this week against a Raiders team that at the very least is very poorly coached.

This is the same coach, after all, that upon getting his new job in Oakland, willingly signed the NFL’s version of the Yugo, former Redskins safety and lifelong enemy of the column, David Terrell. How I wish Terrell were still in Oakland, since time has caused a gradual phasing out of the one-time staple of the column, the weekly David Terrell barb. Above all else, I wish that Terrell were playing for the Silver and Black this weekend because he is, frankly, horrid.

On the surface, an interconference match-up with a losing team doesn’t seem to have much pizzazz to it. But when you factor in that soon-to-be ex-Raiders coach Norville Turner used to be the head coach in Washington, an interesting twist shapes up nicely. Washington has no real tangible rivalry with Oakland, and I can’t imagine anyone is pumped about Zeron Flemister’s return to D.C., but it is still a game that Washington has to have. With the playoff race taking shape, and their backs against the wall after the heartbreak in Tampa, it is crucial that the Redskins snap their humiliating eight game losing streak to AFC opponents.

The loss Sunday didn’t end the Redskins season by any stretch, but it did muddy up what had been a clearer path to the post-season. Washington also missed an opportunity to gain valuable ground within their hotly contested division. The formerly first place Giants surprisingly dropped one of their 14 home games this season to the Vikings, thus briefly opening a window which the Redskins promptly shut on themselves. The test now is to see how the team responds to Sunday’s defeat, as this will likely set the tone for the season’s second half.

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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