Saturday, January 5, 2013

A fucking emotional rollercoaster.

Stop this fucking ride, I wanna get off.
Jesus Christ, this season. It's been difficult, you guys. Every time I'd start to think I had a handle on what was going on, and what my emotional reaction to it would be, the Redskins would turn around and upend me completely. And not just by being terrible and sucking away my will to live, as has been their M.O. for many years now. No, they do it just as often by imbuing me with hope I am always terrified will be false. It's been going on ever since week 1. I actually came into this year with what I thought was a pretty healthy attitude. "We'll be better with RG3," I said, "but it'd be crazy to expect miracles in his rookie year. I'm guessing we'll go somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7, and miss the playoffs." And I was fine with that.

I was fine with us losing to the Saints in week 1. At that point, nobody realized that they were basically a lumbering headless Frankenstein monster without Sean Payton, and I was still expecting at least the 2010 Saints, if not the 2008 Super Bowl champ Saints, when we went to New Orleans for a road opener. I watched the game purely to see what kind of moves the new quarterback had, not because I expected a win or anything. Then by halftime we were up by multiple touchdowns and I suddenly found myself invested in the game all over again. Remember the fucking madness that broke out over that week 1 win? Remember "Griffin-ing"? That was some ridiculous bullshit. And the whole time I was thinking, "It's just one game guys, let's not get too excited!"

Sure enough, close losses to the Rams in week 2 and the Bengals in week 3 brought us back down to earth in a big way. We looked good out there, but not quite good enough to win those games--and there were some huge weak points on the defense. After week 1's build-me-up-buttercup scenario, I was flailing about for an understanding of who the Redskins were in 2012, and how the hell I felt about them. I thought I'd figured it out by week 5, after a close win over the Bucs and a close loss to the Falcons (that probably only happened because of the loss of RG3 for the last quarter of that game)--the Redskins weren't bad, but they weren't great either. If they could win the games they seemed clearly capable of winning, though, we should finish the year with a fair-to-middling record and something to build on in 2013.

That attitude lasted through the glorious win over the Vikings in week 6 and the close but extremely predictable loss to the Giants in week 7. Then came the two-week nightmare of midseason, in which a game that should have, if anything, been a close loss to the Steelers turned into getting blown the fuck out in disgraceful fashion to a team dressed like the local prison's exhibition team in 1934. Then the game against the Panthers, which we should have won by any reasonable metric, went just as horribly. Going into the bye I thought "Clearly RG3 and Alfred Morris are not enough. Same old Redskins. We need to figure out who else needs to get replaced so we can be an actual decent team next year." When everyone was mad at Mike Shanahan for talking about evaluating talent for the rest of the year in his post-game press conference after the Panthers loss, I just rolled my eyes. It seemed to me like Shanahan was just acknowledging the gruesome reality of the situation.

And I could have been fine with that! Really, I could have. I could have accepted watching the Redskins win 3 or 4 of their last 7 games and limp their way to a 7-9 record with the idea in mind that we were gonna use the draft to try and build a better team and improve in 2013. God knows I've felt that way by midseason many times in the past--there's a comfort in that depressing familiarity. There's a comfort in knowing you no longer have to expect anything awesome out of your favorite team, that you can kind of check out emotionally and not think about it anymore.

But then we came back from the bye week and blew away both the Eagles and the Cowboys within a 6-day timeframe, and suddenly I was having conversations with friends of mine about the Skins playoff chances. That's when I realized they had tiebreakers over some of the wildcard teams and the entire NFC East--so if they could win out, they could win the division, and even if they lost a game, they could still take a wildcard spot as long as they won against the Giants and Cowboys. So I started to care again--a bit. And then after the Giants defeat, I cared a bit more. Once Kirk Cousins came off the bench to force overtime, rookie Richard Crawford nailed a really great punt return in his first game as an active player, and we managed to beat the Ravens, who were almost certainly playoff bound at that point regardless, I started to think we could really do it.

I told myself even then, though, that beyond beating the Cowboys and winning the division, I refused to care. I tried not to even care about the game against the Cowboys, really--after all, even a loss in that game would put the Redskins at the best possible scenario from my pre-season predictions for them. I didn't want to get too worked up about attaining double-digit wins and a playoff berth when that was never even something I saw in the cards until about a month ago. And yet, it's the Cowboys, and they came out looking shitty, with Romo throwing picks, and I thought, "Dude, we could really DO this!" And bam--I was sucked back into caring again.

But listen to me now--I am done with the rollercoaster of the 2012 season! A football columnist I read regularly described the Redskins as "playing with house money" before the Cowboys game, and even if it wasn't true then, it's definitely true now. We won the division. We made the playoffs. Everything from here is gravy. So it comes full circle, really--I'm going into this game thinking that we're probably gonna lose, and pretty much being OK with that, just like I was at the beginning of the year with the Saints game. Now watch the Redskins take a significant early lead and get me wrapped right back up into the drama once again. Hey, there are worse things that could happen.

Noisiest stadium in the NFL, or so I'm told.
What's up with the Seattle Seahawks, though? This is the third post-y2k trip to the playoffs for the Washington Redskins--the other two were under Joe Gibbs. The first time, we played the Seattle Seahawks in the wildcard round, and they beat us. The second time, we played and beat the Tampa Bay Bucs in the wild card round, then played the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round, and they beat us. Now we're stuck playing the Seahawks in the wild card round again. I'd love to say third time's the charm, but honestly, it's hard to feel good about our chances--even if we don't have to play them in Qwest Field (which apparently became CenturyLink Field last year due to some corporate merger or something, like I'm supposed to be able to keep track of that. Sponsored stadium names are an abomination.)

The Seahawks have that rep of being significantly worse on the road, the same rep that's dogged the Ravens for years (and is probably trotted out more often than I'd like as an explanation for our week 14 defeat of said Ravens). It makes sense, considering that their stadium was specially designed to filter the raging howls of the flannel-coated, rained-on denizens of the Pacific Northwest, all hopped up on coffee, lager, and early Melvins albums, down onto the field, to distract opposing quarterbacks just as the constant Seattle drizzle starts to short out their headsets so they can't hear the play calls. That's a pretty serious handicap, and to have to play without it probably does impede their chances to win, at least slightly. We have to also hope that Danny Boy Snyder hasn't put too many of the tickets up on StubHub and/or that the Seahawks fanbase doesn't travel too well, or else we might end up with another nightmare scenario like that 2008 Monday night game where the Steelers came to town and there were terrible towels all over the stadium the second the houselights came up. If I turn on the TV tomorrow and see hundreds of people spinning flannel shirts in the air in the stands, I'm gonna be so pissed.

Besides, even without the fanbase concern, the Seahawks seem to me to represent a legitimate threat to kick our asses. Football Outsiders says that they're playing like the best team in the league right now, and after seeing them put up ungodly numbers not only on two terrible teams (the Cardinals and the Bills) but then beat the fuck out of the 49ers, who are also playoff-bound and who in fact are getting a bye week despite that atrocious loss, I believe it. The Seahawks are stacked in areas (secondary, specifically) that we do not have strength in. They run much the same offense with Russell Wilson that we run with RG3, and they've got Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch as their #1 back. So they're equally matched in areas where we have strengths, and better than us in our weak spots and problem areas. That's scary--or it would be if I really had a lot invested in us winning this game, which I do NOT god damn it--but I do still have hope.

That Russell Wilson kid is a rookie who is shorter than RG3 and is apparently vulnerable to outside blitzes, which Jim Haslett loves. If DeAngelo Hall feels like putting on another performance for the nation's TV cameras, he could do a damn sight worse than to pick up a few sacks on Russell Wilson in this game. Of course, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate are more than capable of burning us deep, so I'm hoping the return of cornerback Cedric Griffin to the squad after a drug suspension helps us shore up the deep cover problems we've had pretty much all year. Anything that gets dumped off to safety help over the top is doomed now that Brandon Merriweather is on IR, so we need the cover corners to stick to their men like glue. Can they do it? Well, I don't know... if you've been watching the games like I have this year, you've seen plenty of incidents in which they could not. But there've been a few clutch plays made by the secondary that turned entire games around. We'll need the defense to play the game of their lives if we want to continue to a second playoff round.

The defense is gonna be harder to deal with, and I will say right now that I think Pierre Garcon and Leonard Hankerson are going to largely be eliminated from the game by Seattle's excellent cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, unless they start lining up in the slot or do something to get away from typical formations that place them man-to-man against Seattle's corners. Across the middle, Seattle has great safeties in Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, who may very well take away slot and crossing-pattern passes as well. I think the main factor to winning on the offensive side of the ball has got to be Alfred Morris and the O-line. They've done a great job blocking for the guy all year, and Morris has shown that he has a lot of strength and aggression that makes him a good back above and beyond the blocking schemes he's behind--his yards-after-contact are at damn near 800 (thanks HogsHaven), which makes them just under 50% of his entire year's production. If he can take the first hit without getting stopped and kick it through to the second level, he'll gash Seattle all day, which will open up the opportunities to run play-action passes and hit slant and crossing patterns across the field.

I dunno though, y'all, it's hard to predict what, if any, of this will come to pass. I've watched the team execute the strategies I'm talking about in the last couple of paragraphs on multiple occasions this year, and they've done it very well and looked like a million bucks sometimes. Fact is, though, the Seahawks are tough as nails. In that game back in week 3 that was erroneously awarded to them by chickenshit replacement refs that didn't understand the rules, there was nonetheless a reason that they were close enough at the end of the game that a completed Hail Mary pass could still win it--the Seahawks defense was fucking up Aaron Rodgers' game all day. They sacked him 8 times in the first half. In the FIRST HALF! If the Redskins go out there and play to the best of their ability, maybe nothing remotely resembling that will happen. But that's a pointed reminder of just how wrong things can go, even for playoff-caliber teams, when you're facing a powerful defense playing lights-out.

So you know what? I'm not gonna worry about it. I will take this game as it comes. I'll enjoy the good moments, try not to let the bad moments get me down too much, and hope that at the end of the day, the number next to the Redskins' name on the scoreboard is higher than the number next to the Seahawks' name. If it's not, though, I won't cry. I'll just get ready for next year. Because regardless of how many emotional mood swings this team put me through in 2012, overall, the Redskins are headed onward and upward.

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