Saturday, November 3, 2012

Uncalled Fair Catch Interference Penalties From Three Years Ago That I'm Still Mad About, and Other Existential Horrors

The stuff of nightmares.
Let me start by apologizing for my extended absence. It wasn't for any of the typical Armchair Linebacker reasons--I wasn't rampaging naked, covered in blood and feces, through the back alleys of the worst neighborhoods in the city, knocking over trashcans and gibbering incoherent, anguished rants at the gods while shaking my fists at the sky and being stared at from behind curtains by local residents whispering to each other, "That white dude's gone CRAZY!" I also wasn't wandering along the banks of any local streams or the paths carved through the countryside by railroad tracks, occasionally pausing to throw yarrow sticks and consult the I Ching, surviving only on what I could kill with my trusty hunting knife and refusing to return home until I'd completed my vision quest. No, I was just backed up at work, and couldn't find the time at the end of a succession of 12 hour days to knock out a worthwhile post.

But make no mistake, I am feeling every bit as uncertain and fucked up about the fortunes of my team right now as Neil and Raven are when they disappear to engage in their periodic mystical wanderings/psychotic breaks. The Pittsburgh game was the first true reappearance so far this season of the unending psychological torture that I've often seen from the Redskins over the past decade. I felt like the whole team's spirit was being broken on a Catherine Wheel or something. I mean, we were never once in that game. The Steelers got the ball first, went right down the field, scored a touchdown, and then totally shut down our offense on the following drive. After that, it was over. I could look it up but I don't want to, so right now my best guess is that we were never within 10 points of the lead for the entire rest of the game.

Every time the offense would get the ball, the entire apparatus would sputter and churn, and if any concrete advances were earned, they'd soon be derailed or offset by a succession of pratfalls and bonehead plays. Alfred Morris was trying to do his thing, but the Steelers run defense were solid enough that his ability to break through the line and gain some yardage on the ground was never more than intermittent throughout the day. And when RG3 took to the air, things were even worse. Over and over, I had to deal with the sight of Santana Moss or Leonard Hankerson or Josh Morgan dropping the ball. RG3's completion percentage was under 50% for the first time in his career, but it wasn't his fault--he went 16 for 34 but 10 of the 18 incomplete passes he threw hit his receivers in the hands and they just couldn't pull them in. Josh Morgan had a huge first down taken away by a drop, Leonard Hankerson whiffed on a sure touchdown, Logan Paulsen couldn't bring in a crucial third down pass--and just to prove that things were truly out of whack, Niles Paul actually did manage to hang onto one pass for a first down. It was Redskins receiver opposite day, and we were all suffering. By the end of the game, I felt like I was having a nightmare. And with the Steelers out there in those ridiculous bumblebee-jailbird uniforms, it even had an REM-state quality. You know, like when you see someone you know in a dream, but they don't look like themselves at all? And yet, you know it was them. Then you wake up and you're telling someone about the dream, and you're like, "I mean, they didn't even look right, they were wearing these weird black-and-yellow striped uniforms that made them look like rugby players from the 1920s. But somehow I knew it was the Steelers, you know?" It was like that.

Hold my breath as I wish for death...
The worst moment for me came towards the end of the game, when one of the commentators made some comment about the Redskins jeopardizing their playoff hopes with play like this. I managed to have my very own Jim Mora moment, and leaped off the couch. "Playoffs?" I yelled. "Are you kidding me? Playoffs?" I mean, what a joke, right? I never expected the Redskins to be good enough to make the playoffs this year, and they've certainly proven to me that I was right to have less than stratospheric expectations for the season. But at this point, I really would just like to see them win a damn game. I mean, against the Giants, I didn't feel so bad about losing by less than a touchdown. Even the Bengals, who had the most decisive victory over us this year before the Steelers game, had a significant period during the game where they could not stop our offense, and we were threatening to come back and take the lead. It never quite happened, but we were definitely in both of those games, and we were very close to winning against both the Rams and the Falcons. This really felt like a team on the rise even in defeat, during all of those losses. But the Steelers totally dominated us, and made us look like every single one of the crappy, half-baked teams we've been fielding for most of the past decade-plus.

I'm sure there are excuses that could be made--rain causing receivers to drop balls, or whatever the fuck. But I don't want to hear them. What I really want is to be given reasons to believe that that lackluster, worthless performance in Pittsburgh last week was an aberration, a random glitch on the way to building a truly solid team. I've been hearing people say things this week about how the Redskins have to beat the Panthers tomorrow to save their current season. Frankly, to me, that's a ridiculous concept. I haven't felt like the playoffs were in reach since week 2 or so--as far as I'm concerned, what we're doing this year is being done to lay the groundwork for league dominance circa 2014 or so, and to look at it otherwise is to delude oneself. But other people's delusions actually do serve my purpose here, because victory over the Panthers tomorrow is yet another necessary step in fighting for the immortal soul of this Redskins team. After years and years of mediocrity and delusional garbage from the front office, after a ridiculous succession of short-term quick fixes have all failed and we've started out from square one with every new season for nearly a decade, something has to be done to make a decisive break with the miasmic doldrums of the post-Y2K Redskins. I will grant an exception to this blanket description of the last 12 Redskins seasons to the 2005 Redskins, who had double-digit wins in the regular season and won a playoff game. But Spurrier, Zorn, the Gibbs/Saunders tenure, the early Shanahan years--it all just added up to a lengthy, doomed trudge to late-season irrelevance, despair, and learned helplessness.

"We're better than this. We beat ourselves."
This team needs redemption. This team needs a clean break with its ugly past. And in order to gain such things, this 2012 Redskins squad must win all of the games that it is clearly capable of winning--playoff possibilities be damned. Hell, we shouldn't even be thinking about the playoffs. The focus should be much more immediate than that. Right now, the Redskins have an aching need for a solid, cohesive program in which every player is playing at the height of their abilities, and the coaches are bringing those players together into solid units who execute at the levels to which they're capable. Some of these guys are not world beaters, it's obvious. There will be times where certain less-than-gifted players will be put into situations that we can't rationally expect them to handle. Reed Doughty is a solid backup safety who has been there for the Redskins whenever he could be for most of a decade. He's not Sean Taylor, of course, but nobody's Sean Taylor. And we couldn't have expected Reed to handle Andre Johnson by himself on a post pattern in week two of the 2010 season. But most of the time, the guy's a solid player who makes things happen on the field. Right now we just need him and all the other second-tier starters and situational backups on the team to do what they're capable of doing. If we lose more games this year due to problems equivalent to Andre Johnson/Reed Doughty-type mismatches (or, to use another example from this year, Victor Cruz/Josh Wilson mismatches), then that's a structural problem. We fix that during the offseason by making changes through the draft and free agency, and trying to upgrade the team.

But in midseason, heading into our bye week, we can't do anything about that stuff. What we need to concentrate on, instead, is getting the players we've got to coalesce into the best unit they can be. We need them to beat teams who are hurting just as badly as we are, or worse. We need to win games in which we should obviously be favored. The Steelers game was a total toss-up. I honestly thought we had a better shot against them than we did against the Giants, and that turned out to be very wrong. Maybe that had to do with longstanding NFC East rivalries, or our respective strengths and weaknesses matching up badly with those of the Steelers--I don't know. And it's over now, so really, I don't care. What I do care about is that Carolina has been one of the worst teams in the league this year, on both sides of the ball. They aren't in the kind of widespread organizational freefall that seems to be plaguing Jacksonville (I'll be surprised if that team puts together 3 wins this year), but they aren't far off. Cam Newton's development has sputtered, the running game that helped them put together a solid offense last year seems to have collapsed, their receiving corps and offensive line are ailing, and their defense is every bit as bad as it was last year (and it was TERRIBLE). The Panthers, much like the Rams, have spent several years using the Redskins as one of their consolation prizes, one of the only teams they could still beat even in a series of floundering losing seasons. Last year the Panthers game began the truly ill-fated John Beck starting stint, but the streak goes back further than that--does anyone else remember the horrific situation in which Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn shoved Byron Westbrook into Antwaan Randle El, our punt returner, who was trying to call for a fair catch? That was in 2009. Since Munnerlyn hadn't touched Randle El himself, it wasn't considered fair catch interference, and the Panthers recovered the ball on our 12 yard line. Westbrook was injured on the play, and two plays later, the Panthers scored the touchdown that won them the game--after having been down by 8 points going into the fourth quarter.

Seriously, who the hell names their son "Captain" anyway?
So yeah, I'm still mad about that--what I consider to have been a dirty play that the league conveniently turned a blind eye toward (and I'll bet they still wouldn't do anything about it now, even with all the manufactured hoopla about concern over concussions--the secret where that's concerned is that they don't care as long as they still make money). And I'm mad about Cam Newton running all over us last year. And most importantly, I'm mad at the very idea that the Redskins, who are, despite their many failings (which I've enumerated in depth over the past few weeks), still a significantly better team this year than the Panthers are, might nonetheless lose tomorrow due to sheer insufficency of character. If we lose tomorrow, regardless of how it happens, it will ultimately be the fault of a team that can't seem to pull themselves together and be the best team they can be. Even if that's not the best team taking the field in the NFL in November 2012. The fact is that the Redskins, when they're working together and firing on all cylinders, are a good enough team to solidly and assuredly handle the 2012 Panthers. And if they don't do that, I for one won't even want to talk about the fate of the 2012 Redskins season. I'll just want to know how the hell this team is going to recapture their own soul.

1 comment:

Neil said...

I never knocked over those trashcans, that is a filthy lie. They were mailboxes and I hit them with my car.