New Trevor Walters Column (MAS) - November 11, 2005
A Factor Once Again
By: Trevor Walters
November 11, 2005
Fresh off of a demoralizing pounding at the hands of the division rival Giants, the Redskins went into Sunday Night’s tussle with the team that soup built with a tangible sense of alarm. Lose that game, and the Redskins would fall to 4-4 and into last place in the hotly contested NFC East. More disturbingly, though, they would squander all the momentum and progress that their fast start had afforded them.
Their third division contest of the season would also serve to define them as a team. Were they the up and coming contender that had either won, or had every opportunity to win, their previous seven games? Or, did they more closely resemble the shell-shocked bunch that was annihilated just a week earlier in the Meadowlands? According to the final score, it would appear to be the latter.
Despite earning a victory that kept them squarely in the mix of the NFC, the most important storyline to come out of Sunday Night’s 17-10 defeat of the reigning NFC Champions was that the Redskins are no longer the division’s pushover. As pathetic as it sounds, the Redskins haven’t won more than one division game in a season since 2001, when the division still claimed the lowly Arizona Cardinals as a member. Establishing their legitimacy once again within the division is the most important step that the Redskins must take this season, so to have equaled their division win total from the past two seasons in just the first half of this one is a major accomplishment by itself.
Of course, nothing short of another wardrobe malfunction could have surpassed the Terrell Owens saga as the main theme of Sunday evening. Owens was suspended indefinitely by the Eagles on Saturday, only to have that suspension more clearly defined as the rest of the season once Andy Reid’s Monday press conference rolled around. Make no mistake, Owens is a fine player, but the Redskins would have won the game Sunday even if T.O. had suited up to play. After all, the Eagles didn’t lose the game because of poor play at receiver. As a matter of fact, they didn’t lose the game at all. Washington won it.
In a game largely devoid of the big play, several less dynamic plays stole the evening. The most notable example occurred when much maligned left guard Derrick Dockery hustled down the field to recover a Chris Cooley fumble. The ball seemed to lay unclaimed on the six yard line for a painfully extended amount of time, or roughly about the same length as one of Bill Maas’ patented awkward pauses before blurting, ‘Uh, back to, uh, you, JB.’ It seemed that the next heartbreaking turnover was about to befall the Redskins, but, in a phrase I felt sure I’d never write, Derrick Dockery saved the day.
But Dockery’s key recovery wasn’t the only critical play whose importance is lost the fantasy football crowd. Pierson Prioleau proved to be the right man in the right spot when he managed to emerge from a pile of Eagles with the football that James Thrash had fumbled while trying to field a punt. For a team who has been as hamstrung by turnovers as the Redskins have, such hustle plays are practically a necessity. Had Prioleau, or Dockery before him, not recovered their respective fumbles, the outcome of the game likely wouldn’t have been as favorable for Redskins fans.
Those plays, along with an overall solid defensive performance and another steady day from Mark Brunell served to prove that the Giants game was the aberration, not the six that had come before it. At the midway point of the season, Washington has ensured that actual meaningful football will be played in D.C. in November and December, and not the convoluted sort wherein a half dozen teams need to lose and the Redskins must run the table to sneak into the post-season on a tiebreaker.
Although it had relatively little bearing on the outcome of the game, there was a moment that had to warm the hearts of Redskins fans, or even just Eagle haters, all over. After snagging one of Mark Brunell’s many perfectly placed passes, H-back Mike Sellars lumbered down the field as only a man that’s 6’3” and 280 lbs. can lumber. Shedding a few would-be tacklers was a welcome site, but they were only an appetizer for what lay ahead. Philadelphia safety and over-quoted mouthpiece Brian Dawkins quickly closed in for what he must have thought would be a sure tackle. Unfortunately for Dawkins, as he prepared to lower the boom, Sellars lowered one of his considerable shoulders and plowed through Dawkins, sending the safety literally rolling backwards. He could not have been bowled over any more completely without holding a big plate of spaghetti in the air and ringing a dinner bell within earshot of Len Pasquarelli.
When he’s not playing “Windshield and Bug” with Dawkins, Sellars has emerged as a legitimate offensive threat in this offense. I think that we are seeing him filling the role that Manuel White was drafted to play before the injury that ended his season before it began. Given the success that Sellars has enjoyed, White may find himself battling to sniff the field, which would make him a natural fit with the rest of his draft class. Sorry about that. This isn’t a draft column, but some old wounds heal slowly.
The game ball this week goes to defensive lineman Phillip Daniels, whose team leading six tackles were punctuated by his heady sack at the end of the first half when it seemed as if the Eagles had designs on a Dan Marino-like fake spike. Daniels has yet to really live up to the hopes that he would provide pressure from the outside, but what he has been, when healthy, is a mirror image to Renaldo Wynn on the opposite side. Daniels is stern against the run, and has proven himself a team leader off the field as well. It works against him that many of his contributions, such as his leadership or ability to occupy blockers to allow others to make the play, can easily go unnoticed to the casual observer. The bottom line on Daniels is that Gregg Williams believes that the Redskins defense is better when Daniels is on the field, so he must be doing more things right than not.
Given that the season is now at its midpoint, it begs the question of where exactly does this team fit into the greater scheme of the conference? They are clearly in the top half of the NFC, but are they, and swallow your coffee first, a playoff team? Much has been made of the tough road ahead for the Redskins, with three more division games and other difficult match-ups with the likes of San Diego at home and St. Louis on the road not too far away. But what this fails to acknowledge is that only one of the teams that Washington has played thus far (San Francisco) has a losing record. Four (Giants, Broncos, Seahawks, and Bears) are currently atop their respective divisions, two (Chiefs and Cowboys) are in second place, and the Eagles are the defending NFC Champions. The road ahead may be tough, but the journey thus far hasn’t exactly been Mike Nolan every Sunday afternoon either.
If the second half of the season is to be as successful as the first, the Redskins must first and foremost stop beating themselves. Turnovers directly cost them the Chiefs game, and played a large role in their demise in Denver. Other times, such as the Seattle game, turnovers have made for a much bumpier road that Washington would have otherwise had to traverse. Controlling the football on offense is even more important that forcing turnovers on defense. Regardless of their clear improvement, the Redskins are still not a team that can score consistently, so turnovers, especially when the team nears the red zone, must be minimized if Washington is to cash in on their playoff aspirations.
All of this brings us to what I am deeming Washington’s seventh division game this season. This weekend’s contest with suddenly reeling Tampa Bay is crucial for the Redskins playoff concerns. To secure victory against the Bucs is to hold the tiebreaker over them should the two teams end the season with the same record. Not only that, but it also improves Washington’s already stellar conference record (currently 5-1), which is another determinant in the event of a tie. Dropping to 5-4 would not be the end of the world, or even of the season, but this game has such far reaching consequences that it can only be thought of as a must-win.
Tampa Bay owns the league’s top ranked defense, and it is predicated on their outstanding team speed. With starting quarterback Brian Griese out for the season with an injury, reserve Chris Simms has been at the controls for Tampa’s recent skid from among the conference’s elite. Tampa has been the beneficiary of quite possibly the easiest schedule that the NFL can generate in this time of parity, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that they aren’t a dangerous team.
The Redskins finally punched the bully in the mouth Sunday, ending yet another humiliating losing streak from their horizon. The victory was also important from the perspective of team confidence, which almost certainly was at a season low after such a shellacking as was administered in the Meadowlands on Black Sunday (name courtesy of faithful reader and fan, Redskin Pat). If Washington is truly a playoff team, this game, which figures to be another low scoring affair, is a game that must be won.
Check back in next week for your weekly Redskins football fix. Hail to the Redskins!
Donuts. Is there anything they can't do? - Homer Simpson