By Michael Wilbon
Monday, October 31, 2005
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. How do you not show up to play when first place is at stake, when the opponent is a division rival of nearly 75 years whose coaches and players figure to approach the day with supernatural emotion two days after burying a boss so beloved he was like a father to them all? How do you drop a stink bomb like the Redskins did here Sunday when your offense is No. 2 in the entire NF of L and their defense is next-to-last at No. 31?
There's no shame in losing to the Giants, especially up here in the Meadowlands with the wind blowing and Eli Manning throwing and Tiki Barber running his best. But how do you drop passes, miss tackles, blow assignments and get out-hustled when at the very least a prideful effort is in order?
Maybe the Redskins arrived at Giants Stadium on Sunday thinking they were 52-17 good, which was the victorious score against the miserable 49ers last week. Perhaps they thought the Giants themselves were going to be in mourning during the game and unable to see how to block, tackle, throw and catch through their tears. Whatever the case, the Redskins stunk the joint out Sunday. They flat-lined their way through a 36-0 loss that ought to leave every coach and player perplexed until full practice resumes Wednesday and angry until Sunday night, which will be their first chance to prove this was a fluke and not the start of a downward spiral that will leave this just another losing season.
The only thing the Redskins did with any grace Sunday was accept the blame afterward like professionals and vow to not let it happen again anytime soon. Coach Joe Gibbs said: "Something like that starts with me. It was my responsibility. We all realized what was at stake. We talked about it all week. We've got to take a long, hard look at ourselves, but it starts with me." Quizzed on specific areas of ineptitude, Gibbs did allow that the stink (my word, not his) was "all the way across the board."
And defensive end Renaldo Wynn added: "I'm very disappointed, upset, sick to my stomach. We're going to get this turned around; I'll guarantee you that."
But before we get to the turning-it-around part, it's still necessary to examine what happened Sunday.
I suppose there will be plenty of folks who'll try to convince you that the death of Giants owner Wellington Mara couldn't possibly have had great influence on the game, that today's players aren't even that close to owners, particularly an 89-year-old man. And those folks would be not just wrong, but stupid wrong, unobservant wrong. The Giants, particularly the team leaders such as Michael Strahan and Barber and Amani Toomer, know that Mara is one of the most important figures in the history of the league.
They know he cared enough to come to practices every week for 50-plus years.
They remember how he treated them from the time they walked through the door as rookies. They saw his children and grandchildren, like young Kate Mara, who sang the national anthem so beautifully it made folks reach for tissues, gathered in the stadium Sunday afternoon.
Only a fool wouldn't know the Giants were going to come out from the opening kickoff and play with incredible precision and great purpose. The Giants were going to play the best possible game they could play Sunday. And since the Redskins live 200 miles down the road, not 2,000, it only made sense that the Redskins should have anticipated an extra nasty battle, the usual plus a little more.
Instead, they apparently thought the 49ers had been penciled in as a replacement opponent.
But from the time Barber ran 57 yards on the first play of the game it was apparent the Giants cared more than the Redskins did and were prepared to do something about it.
How can you conclude anything other than that? Were the Giants, a team with (again) the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL, 36 points better than Washington coming into the game? Of course not. Yes, it hurt the Redskins that their best defensive lineman, Cornelius Griffin, who might just be the best interior lineman in the league against the run, could participate for only a couple of plays because of a flexor injury. And without him, the Giants' offensive line helped Barber to a career-high 206 rushing yards.
But let's not make Griffin into Reggie White, okay? Griffin, by the way, doesn't play along the offensive line, so we can't blame his absence for the gang tackling of Clinton Portis who only had the worst running day of his career!
The Redskins, as compared with the Giants, lacked determination Sunday.
They lacked resolve. "I don't think we matched them in anything," Gibbs said.
Yep, that's about right. The Redskins had one rushing first down for the entire game. The Giants had eight. The Redskins gained 125 yards of total offense (did I mention the Giants were 31st in defense coming into the game?) while the Giants had 386. The Redskins passed for 87 net yards. No doubt, Antonio Pierce helped his new team with as much intel as possible on his old team during the week. The Giants felt from the first defensive series they knew what the Redskins were going to run. In fact, at times they were calling out the plays as the Redskins were about to snap the ball. Good for Pierce. The Redskins ought to be hurt in a tangible way by always adoring somebody else's players and not recognizing when they've got The Man already on their roster. What sweet revenge for him.
But this wasn't exclusively about sound spy work and Giants preparation; I counted eight dropped passes by the Redskins.
Of course, the Redskins have to turn their attention to next week. Mark Brunell, who has had nary a bad quarter this season, much less a bad game, said afterward: "We'll find out what we're made of next week. The character, the work ethic, all that you look for on a good football team, I believe it's here. This, obviously, was a big game. And they were far better than we were today. We all took part in that one. [But] I believe in this team. I believe we've got a group of guys committed to making this a special year."
No doubt Brunell is one of many Redskins who believe that. No doubt the Redskins have precious little time to pull themselves together by Sunday to prove it.