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Walters: Charged With Late Game Failures

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Old 12-02-2005, 09:19 AM   #1
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Walters: Charged With Late Game Failures

Charged With Late Game Failures

Usually, when a team registers three fourth quarter interceptions and maintains a 10 point lead with less than half of the game’s final stanza yet to play, it’s a fairly safe bet that a victory is in the works. Unfortunately, this virtual certainty was anything but for the suddenly slump-ridden Redskins, who snatched another defeat from the jaws of victory Sunday afternoon with a 23-17 overtime loss to San Diego. With their playoff hopes quickly fading, Washington is now faced with the daunting task of most likely having to run the table if their early season triumphs are to manifest into any late-season success.

Before kickoff, Sunday’s match-up with the Chargers was sure to be an uphill battle from the very beginning. After all, San Diego boasts the game’s premiere talent in halfback Ladainian Tomlinson, perhaps its finest young tight end, Antonio Gates, and a suddenly proficient passer, Drew Brees. To lose to a team that is arguably one of the top five teams in the NFL is certainly not a shameful defeat. But when that team, talent notwithstanding, turns the ball over three times while forcing none, drops nearly as many passes as it catches, and misses two field goals from a completely reasonable distance, that team becomes vulnerable to say the least. For 50-plus minutes, the Redskins cashed in on that vulnerability, but for the third week in a row, Washington painfully failed to seal the deal and found themselves with yet another crippling defeat.

Throughout most of the game, the most encouraging aspect was not that Washington generally maintained a lead, but that they seemed to be playing reasonably well on both sides of the ball. There was, brace yourselves, actual pressure on the passer, most notably from linebacker Marcus Washington, who recorded a sack and a half in a single Chargers series. The Redskins displayed a commitment to the running game that was desperately missed just one week earlier, and wideout Taylor Jacobs showed some signs of life by catching a handful of Mark Brunell’s passes. Santana Moss broke his personal touchdown drought, and Brunell was again a steady presence in the pocket. Not only that, but the offense went without a single turnover, while the defense claimed three takeaways from the Chargers offense.

But don’t be too encouraged Redskins fans, because there is much about this team that stands in need of repair. Resurgent linebacker LaVar Arrington, praised recently by coaches for his improved work ethic, once again showed signs that his stripes haven’t changed completely. Arrington’s lack of lane discipline added yardage to Tomlinson’s total on a couple of occasions, and the urgency with which he leaps from any play he’s remotely close to in order to initiate his overly exuberant celebrations makes one wonder if his focus is on the play itself, or on the subsequent acknowledgement of it.

A caveat of that last little rant is the weekly dress-up show that halfback Clinton Portis puts on for the local media. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with Portis’ act, though its comedic value diminished after the first couple of times. The issue is that, if one were to objectively look at his Redskins career, his antics are perhaps the aspect with which his Redskins tenure is most clearly identified. The Redskins paid a princely sum both to acquire Portis and to subsequently compensate him, and they’ve received a few laughs in return, but not a whole lot more.

Portis still sports an impressive career resume, but most of the notable accomplishments came as a member of the Denver Broncos. It’s not as if he’s been Trung Canidate since he first donned the Burgundy and Gold, though. His 2004 season was solid despite playing in an otherwise completely innocuous offense. Since arriving, he’s been good, but not great. While better than most, but has not yet lived up to the franchise status that the checks he cashes would lead one to believe. At the very least, it would be nice if his endzone appearances were as regular as his weekly foray into the outlandish.

The thing that really stings about Sunday’s loss is that an easily recognized weakness played a large role in the Redskins’ demise. Tight end Robert Royal, a player to whom the coaching staff has been unjustifiably loyal, dropped three passes while catching only one. The resulting one out of every four ration of passes caught is a proportion that surpasses even Gardnerian ineptitude. Even in Joe Gibbs’ glory days, he never had a dominant tight end, but those that were on the roster were at the very least competent. Don Warren could block out the sun, and Clint Didier burned many a team that took him too lightly. Terry Orr and Rick Walker each contributed far more to Super Bowl teams than simple statistics could gauge.

Robert Royal is on this team because he has been the least of all the available evils that have attempted to usurp him from his post. While he may be better than the Zeron Flemisters or Walter Rasbys of the NFL world, Royal is still a weak link on an offense that walks a fine line between solid and benign. The position, like a few others who are in need, has not been addressed in the past two drafts either. While a potent offensive threat may not be as high of a priority given the presence of Chris Cooley, a bruiser that can be counted on to catch the occasional football would be a peach to have at this point.

Even though Washington was well on their way to giving away their third game in a row, cornerback Shawn Springs momentarily appeared to rescue the team with his interception of a Drew Brees pass that Marcus Washington had deflected. With the ball in field goal range and slightly over a minute remaining, three simple kneel downs and a good kick were all that stood in between Washington and a much needed victory.

But in a prudent attempt to move the ball closer for Pulled-Quad-Waiting-to-Happen Hall, center Casey Rabach was whistled, correctly I might add, for holding on Chargers star defensive tackle Jamal Williams. The resulting loss in yardage shot Washington well out of field goal range, but still left the offense with two plays in which the lost yardage could have been regained. However one ineffective Portis run and one hurried Mark Brunell pass later, and Washington was faced with a 52 yard field goal attempt to win the game in regulation. The odds of the fragile Hall making such a lengthy kick were about the same as finding suspicious looking paraphernalia in Michael Irvin’s car that doesn’t belong to him, but the Redskins attempted the kick anyway. Then, as if to comfort fellow kicker Jay Feely, Hall left the kick short and right, and the overtime loss was but two plays and a coin flip away.

Overall, though, Rabach played the imposing Williams well. The mistake was very ill-timed and equally as costly, but that can’t be nail on which this loss is to be hung. Cornerback Walt Harris, who has precipitously fallen from solid second corner to Ade Jimoh, was the obvious target of the San Diego attack from the first snap. Harris was abused by Chargers receiver Eric Parker, who’s barely a household name in his own household. The repeated attacks lead to what was most likely a changing of the guard, with rookie Carlos Rogers taking Harris’ place opposite Springs. Rogers played solidly, and wound up registering his first career interception in the fourth quarter. The secondary will take a few lumps with a rookie lining up at corner, but it shouldn’t be anything like the bumpy road that Harris has experienced over the last five games.

The game ball this week goes to Marcus Washington, who was a disruptive force on defense all day long. In what will most likely prove to be the most successful defensive series of the season, Washington recorded a sack on first down and split another on third down with safety Ryan Clark, leading to a total net of minus 18 yards on that particular Chargers possession. Washington also chipped in six tackles, and had a key deflection in the fourth quarter that led to Shawn Springs’ apparent game winning interception. Washington is the most productive player on the defense, and continues to be the very player that LaVar Arrington is reputed to be.

I suppose that if one were to look at the past three games, all defeats by a combined 10 points, then it would be quite easy to wonder ‘what if’. But that’s the way that things go when things aren’t going well. Early in the season, when the Redskins won their first three games by a total of six points, no one in Redskins Nation pondered alternate scenarios. Truth be told, those games could have gone either way, just like the last three could have. As damning as such streaks of futility can be, it is essential that the Redskins put the failings of recent weeks behind them and move forward.

Washington now travels to St. Louis, to play a Rams team that is in disarray. Although it was against a hapless Texans team, the Rams did mount an impressive late-game comeback to secure the win, which can only increase the feelings of uneasiness around Redskins Park. The St. Louis offense is still explosive, and the Edward Jones Dome is never an easy place to play.

With five games to play, all of which need to be won, the Redskins must concentrate not on all the games that lay ahead, but on the one that stands directly in their path. After all, winning the final four likely won’t amount to much without a win Sunday. The Redskins still have an opportunity to salvage a successful season, but that all starts with beating the Rams.

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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