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Walters: Silencing the Rams

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Old 12-07-2005, 02:02 PM   #1
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Walters: Silencing the Rams

Silencing the Rams

Don’t tell me you hadn’t started forecasting doom late Sunday afternoon after a mishandled snap lead to a Rams safety and what looked like the beginnings of yet another Redskins late-game collapse. Scenarios that have played out repeatedly over the last three games once again sprung abruptly into the minds of the Washington faithful like Kramer into Jerry’s apartment. Visions of holiday sugarplums suddenly stopped dancing and were replaced by a cynical curiosity that speculated as to how this game might also be lost down the stretch. Washington fans had seen this before, and until Mark Brunell took a knee and flipped the ball triumphantly toward the official, most thought they were about to see it again.

In truth, this victory says less about the current course of Redskins football, and more about the team and season as a whole. Good teams find ways to win games like the ones the Redskins have lost in recent weeks, but bad teams find ways to lose games like the Washington won Sunday in St. Louis. The often boring 24-9 win against a Rams team adrift in a sea of turmoil at least displayed that these Redskins are no longer among the NFL’s bottom feeders. They’re not quite yet your father’s Redskins, but there are signs that they are also not Steve Spurrier’s Redskins, either.

In their closed-door meeting with Coach Joe Gibbs, select Redskins team leaders expressed a desire to feature the running game more prominently in the offensive gameplan, particularly on third and short. The 257 yard effort the offense produced Sunday showed that the veterans were right and that their coach listened. Both Clinton Portis (136 yards) and reserve tailback Rock Cartwright (118 yards) eclipsed the 100 yard barrier, with Cartwright doing so for the first time in his career. Portis scored two of the Redskins’ three touchdowns, the first of which coming on his longest run since his maiden Redskins carry last season against Tampa Bay.

Though the running game is receiving the majority of the credit – and deservedly so – the steady play Washington is getting from Mark Brunell should not be overlooked. Brunell completed 14 of 21 attempts which included a touchdown strike to H-back Chris Cooley and a key 30 yard connection with Santana Moss on third down to keep a drive alive. Brunell has 16 touchdown passes on the year against only five interceptions, and has kept his 2004 critics feasting on a steady crow diet all season long. If Brunell can muster five more touchdown passes in his remaining four games, he will eclipse his previous season high for touchdown passes in a season. Regardless of the team’s ultimate fate, this season has been personally gratifying for the quarterback whose stat lines belonged in the obituaries just one year earlier.

Sunday’s game in St. Louis also proved to be a banner day for both the offensive and defensive lines. Offensively, the “Dirtbags” have reason to puff their chests out, having just cleared the way for two 100 yard rushers while simultaneously not allowing their quarterback to be sacked. On the other side of the ball, the defensive line – led by the return of Cornelius Griffin – held Rams running back Steven Jackson to a meager 24 yards on the ground. Despite playing without the emotional and physical lift that injured started Joe Salave’a provides, the line held firm, allowing the linebackers and secondary to make the big plays.

The game ball this week goes to rookie cornerback Carlos Rogers, who followed his first career interception a week earlier in the San Diego game with another Sunday against the Rams. Although Rogers registered his second career pick and tied for the team lead in tackles with six stops, perhaps the most impressive aspect of his day was the way he consistently blanketed Rams star wideout Isaac Bruce. Bruce, seven times a 1000 yard receiver, is still one of the elite wideouts in the NFL, and plays in an offense that primarily features the pass. Bruce is the type of savvy veteran that always seems to feast on green rookies, yet Rogers held the four time All-Pro to non-descript 33 yards on four catches.

Many, myself included, complained that the ninth pick in the 2005 Draft should have been spent on a position of greater need, but few that disagreed with the selection did so out of any concerns over Rogers’ ability. The selection has already stared to pay dividends, and with Rogers being one of the three starting members of the secondary that are under age 27, those returns should be seen for years to come.

This game was the first of a five game stretch that will likely determine Washington’s post-season fate. In a much improved NFC, playoff spots are once again difficult to come by, which is in sharp contrast to years past when the playoffs were easier to get into than the University of Tennessee. Despite this, I am ready to assert that if Washington wins their final four games – and this is a rather large if – they will make the playoffs this season.

Considering the Redskins haven’t had any barriers to a mid-January vacation since 1999, that statement merits some justification. Currently, the Redskins sit a game behind Atlanta, Minnesota, and Dallas for the final playoff spot, assuming that 8-4 Tampa Bay gets the fifth NFC berth. Of course, the way things have gone for Tampa Bay this season, all they really need to do is get close to getting in, and the league will go ahead and give it to them. After all, the Bucs shouldn’t be bothered with technicalities such as actually qualifying for the playoffs, or crossing the goal line, whichever the case may be.

But, I digress. Having beaten Dallas in dramatic fashion in Week 2, the Redskins hold the tiebreaker over the Cowboys, and would sweep the season series against Bill Parcells’ team with a victory at FedEx Field on December 18. In doing so, the Redskins would gain the advantage on Dallas no matter how the Cowboys fare in their other three games. With that in mind, Dallas can be marked off of the list of teams Washington needs to surpass.

The Falcons, who have lost three of their last four, face arguably the toughest four-game stretch to close the season in the NFL. Minnesota faces difficult home games with division rival Chicago as well as a now desperate Pittsburgh Steelers team. Should both Atlanta and the Vikings lose one of their final four games, and Washington wins each of their final four games, the Redskins would get the final playoff spot by virtue of their superior record against NFC opponents. Give the Redskins credit; when they’ve been bad, they’ve been bad against the right teams.

But how likely is it that the Redskins can get hot at the right time and run the table? On their immediate horizon loom the Arizona Cardinals and their league worst rushing offense. Washington then faces a three game stretch against divisional foes, two of whom they have already registered a victory against, and the other – the New York Giants – that has been simply awful on the road this season. So, is it likely to happen? No, it probably isn’t, but it is feasible at the very least.

But before playoff hopes can be met, Washington must focus their attention on an Arizona team who has long since began their annual December practice of determining where in the top 10 they will select in April’s draft. The Cardinals boast one of the finest young receiving corps in the league, and Brenda Warner’s husband has enjoyed a semi-resurgence in his own career this season despite missing time earlier with an injury. Arizona is a one-dimensional team, though, and Gregg Williams has proven to be quite effective at crafting gameplans to combat a one-pronged attack.

Having played in such hostile environments as Denver and Kansas City already this season, the docile Arizona crowd will seem about as loud as a room full of librarians with laryngitis to the Redskins. Having said that, road games in the NFL are never an easy proposition. You’ll remember that the Arizona desert served as the backdrop for Aeneas Williams’ 100-plus yard return that contributed to the demise of the Redskins playoff hopes that season. Overlooking the Cardinals would cause a similar fate to befall the Redskins this season.

Keep checking back in 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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