One key to success: Hope your competition is as bad as the Eagles

Thomas Boswell
Columnist November 18, 2012

In sports, as in business, there are two keys to success. One is obvious, the other often overlooked. First, be excellent yourself. Second, hope your competition stinks. You only control one. But you can wish for the other.

For years, the Redskins have had few lousy NFC East foes, certainly not the mean Eagles of Andy Reid who have dominated Washington, 18-8, for the past 13 years and won 16 of the past 21. In 2010, Mike Shanahan’s first season as coach of the Redskins, Philly smacked 59 points up on the Redskins’ own scoreboard.

Tom Boswell is a Washington Post sports columnist. View Archive

That’s over now, finally. All cycles turn. The Eagles make chaos look organized. The Iggles are toast. Crumble ’em up and use ’em in the stuffing.

Now, after plucking and basting the Eagles, 31-6, gobbling three turnovers and devouring rookie quarterback Nick Foles for dessert, it’s the Redskins who get to play a game on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas that has entertainment value. If anyone says “playoff push” about the 4-6 Redskins, he gets hit with a flying drumstick. Win on Thursday, then talk.

Until such a time, just enjoy what has become an almost extinct species at FedEx — the endangered Eagle. Now lame-duck Reid must drag his leftovers back to Philadelphia. Iggles fans may choke on this dry, crumbling 3-7 mess of a team after six straight losses.

After serving as Philly’s victim for so long, the Redskins have reversed this rivalry’s roles. Fans in green jerseys, many with names from the Eagles’ past, such as “Dawkins” or “Westbrook,” or players soon to be in the rearview mirror, such as “Vick,” began heading to the exits with the entire fourth quarter still to play. No doubt, they said, “Going to get another beer.” Leave them their pride. But that Week 16 trip to Philly now says: “Opportunity.”

Picking a date for Reid’s departure after this sixth straight loss is mostly a formality. “I don’t know if things can get much worse,” Eagles tight end Brent Celek said. “It makes me sick.”

Things are so dismal for Eagles fans that, studying the crowd of 79,327 in the final quarter, not a single brawl was visible. Capitulation, it’s beautiful.

Imagine the desolation that must grip loyal Iggles fans when they watch Robert Griffin III. On Sunday, he earned a perfect quarterback rating, completing 14 of 15 passes for 200 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, plus 84 yards rushing on 12 carries.

“Except for the one incompletion, I thought he did okay,” deadpanned Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan, who actually smiled several times after his first win by more than 14 points in 42 games leading the team.

If Shanahan watches the tape, he’ll see himself say, “We did everything pretty good,” and even praise rookie Alfred Morris (on pace for 1,380 yards rushing) as “a big-time back. I can guarantee you that. If he can stay healthy, he will be a big-time back for a lot of years.”

Does Shanahan have to pay a team fine or wash his mouth out with soap for being so cheerful? Or is this just the 31-6 Shanny we’ve never seen?

Meanwhile, Foles, in his first NFL start, was 21 for 46 with a dismal 40.5 rating.

The Redskins have been on the wrong end of this Franchise Quarterback Arrives experience much too often. They’ve seen the Eagles get Randall Cunningham and then, in 1999, Donovan McNabb. The Cowboys unveiled Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. The Giants came up with Phil Simms and Eli Manning. In the last 40 years, the Redskins have never had a young quarterback who made division rivals think, “He’s a nightmare for a decade.”

It’s cruel but true that one of the best things that can happen to any franchise is for one or two of its division rivals to turn putrid. “Regime change” may be the most ominous phrase in the NFL, a league where stability wins and discontinuity just daydreams.

For 20 years, the Redskins have illustrated this misfortune, never able to settle on one coach, one method or one long-term quarterback. Now, they have Griffin to build around on offense, and perhaps Morris, who wore a T-shirt that read: “Believe None of What You Hear and Half of What You See.” Beyond that, they don’t have much else yet. They can lose at home to the Panthers — or almost anybody else.

But, in the Eagles, they may have a talented-on-paper but disintegrating team on their schedule twice a year. And what about the Cowboys? Dallas is 5-5 but staggering with quarterback Tony Romo. His 13-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio is a tip that he’s probably more part of the problem than the solution. Are the Pokes headed in the Eagles’ direction?

On Thursday, RGIII, with his 12-3 touchdown-pass-to-interception ratio and his 613 yards rushing (a 981-yard pace) returns to his home state of Texas for his first meeting with the Cowboys. Whether it’s opening day in New Orleans or his first trip to the Meadowlands or this introduction to the Eagles, when was the last time that Griffin didn’t rise to the stage that was provided for him?

The Redskins have many miles to go. Just as those jerseys on Eagles fans tell a story, so did those burgundy-and-gold jerseys in the FedEx crowd. There may be more No. 10 Griffin jerseys than all others from the Redskins’ active roster combined.

Many others point backward, to former players or those who are past their primes — No. 28 (Darrell Green), 21 (Sean Taylor), 21 (Deion Sanders), 30 (LaRon Landry), 47 (Chris Cooley) and 26 (Clinton Portis). Even those like No. 89, Santana Moss, who made a gorgeous catch on a 61-yard touchdown pass, and No. 59, London Fletcher, who had 12 tackles, are in their last productive period. And some, like No. 98, Brian Orakpo, who is now missing more games with the same torn pectoral muscle, are worrisome.

But after this game, the Redskins didn’t seem like a lost team, a franchise that doesn’t know what happens next. That team is the Eagles.

In just four days, the Redskins will learn whether the Cowboys are headed in a similar direction.

For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/
boswell
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