The “which down is it anyway?” ballyhoo at the end of Sunday night’s loss to the Giants will give Washington something about which to natter — like Twitter but with your mouth — for the week. Yes, it was vaguely ridiculous, but it wasn’t season-threatening. No, the threat this season has been the team itself, which has had so many “vaguely ridiculous” experiences that they should be part of a special promotion from Papa John’s: “Wrong down marker leads to incorrect play call? Get a free liter of Coke with any medium pizza!” After all, those “extra toppings for touchdowns” promotions aren’t exactly breaking the bank.
So many things went right for Washington early Sunday night. The no-huddle offense seems to be, to this bunch, what a no-meeting office would be to the rest of us: awesome in its awesomeness. For a few shining moments — okay, one quarter — this was the team we expected to see this season. Robert Griffin III completed 12 of 12 passes, including one to Fred Davis. Hello, Fred! Leading 14-0, Washington had run 27 plays to New York’s six and had picked up 10 first downs before the Giants got their first.
But this was a 3-8 team vs. a 4-7 team, after all. And that 3-8 team was Washington. Which meant a defensive breakdown, a special teams breakdown and some just plain breakdowns were on their way.
Remember the team that used to commit penalties in bundles, like they were part of a cable package? That team came back from the holidays rarin’ to go, with eight for 55 yards. And it wasn’t just quantity but quality: Santana Moss committed a holding penalty followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Long snapper Kyle Nelson capped a bad snap on a punt with a holding penalty, like a rotten cherry on top of a rancid sundae. Pierre Garcon showed his displeasure at a low throw from Griffin — or at Griffin himself — by kicking the ball into the stands for a delay of game. (Meanwhile, Ben Olsen immediately called Garcon’s agent.)
Garcon has had reason to be cranky at times this season, but Sunday wasn’t one of those times. He dropped some very catchable balls, and he drew that stupid penalty, and he had a look of barely contained anger for much of the game, and he was stripped of the ball at the end. Forget coaching — it might be time for some marriage counseling because this team needs both him and Griffin, and while they don’t have to play nice, it is crucial that they play well. Garcon, on Sunday, did not.
Griffin, on Sunday, did. There has been much talk about benching Griffin for the remainder of the season to protect his knee and give Kirk Cousins some playing time. There is a lot of logic to that plan. NBC stirred the pot by giving us a shot of Cousins on the sideline, wearing one of those cold-weather capes. There is no more attractive man in Washington from September to January than the backup quarterback — not even if Daniel Snyder were to invite Ryan Gosling, Denzel Washington and Adam Levine to the owner’s box for a game. (The Squire could have pulled off that trifecta.)
But it’s hard to argue for benching Griffin when, at least Sunday night, he was almost the only player on the field who actually seemed to have his head out of his anatomy and into the ballgame. Special teams? Nope. Defense? Nope. Most of the offense? Nope. Chain gang? Nope. Officiating crew? Nope. Griffin isn’t perfect, but imagine that game without him.
The argument for resting Griffin is one of protection, and that’s a legitimate worry, although the only thing Griffin has to fear is himself, plus stray objects on the sideline, plus the sideline itself. Every time he runs out of bounds he runs into something: a teammate, an opponent, a photographer, a golf cart, a swarm of killer bees, the boulder from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” a gaping iron maiden. The sideline should be Griffin-proofed; FedEx should have a lot of bubble wrap at its disposal. Start taping it to anything that can’t move.
Perhaps Washington continues to play Griffin not to protect him but to protect Cousins. It’s a tough psyche indeed that can bear to watch this 3-9 season. What if you are the quarterback of the S.S. Disaster? But no matter; I still doubt the benching scenario will come to pass.
Speaking of benching, let’s return to Davis, who was one catch short of mortality. Not immortality. Mortality. Because the guy’s been a ghost for much of the season. He has vanished so thoroughly that people can’t seem to agree whether he’s been in the meeting rooms, much less on the roster. He had a chance to redeem his season because if he makes that catch on the third down that some seemed to think was a first down, the folderol about the officials and the chain gang doesn’t matter. Instead, he drops the ball. Goodbye, Fred!
And goodbye, season. Washington is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, although you and I know this team has been eliminated from playoff contention for weeks. This was one of the few winnable games left on the schedule; Atlanta might look promising, but I wouldn’t bet my Christmas turkey shilling on it. If the Falcons win, Washington’s entire roster, coaching staff, fan base and turf should be put on the “physically unable to perform” roster.
At 2 hours 53 minutes, Sunday’s game certainly was a bargain. Perhaps Mike Shanahan will use that extra time to shop on Cyber Monday for better players or coaches. Or perhaps Snyder will. After all, the offseason is coming, and here in Washington, that truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.