A New Home-Field Advantage
Sunday, November 20, 2005
With all the frantic finishes the Washington Redskins have endured in this second season of the Joe Gibbs II era, there was at least one confidence-building constant on the players' minds this week as they prepared to face the Oakland Raiders today at FedEx Field.
The Redskins have won six of their last seven games at home, including 4-0 this year. That is the team's best home record this late in the season since the facility opened in 1997 as Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. Some of the team's veterans who have played with Washington for several years now firmly believe their home field finally is providing -- arguably for the first time in the stadium's history -- a decided advantage.
With the next two games being played at the league's largest stadium -- the Raiders today, the San Diego Chargers next Sunday -- they'd like to keep it that way for as long as possible.
"My first two years here, a lot of people weren't coming to the games, and there seemed like there were a lot of empty seats," said defensive end Renaldo Wynn, in his fourth season with Washington. "But now they're all there because it's worth it to them. When you win, it makes a big difference. You give fans hope and belief, and they know they can make a difference."
Statistics bear that out. At home this season, the Redskins hold an advantage in time of possession by almost 32 minutes. On the road, they are ahead by two minutes. At home, they have 27 more first downs as opposed to 17 more on the road. The Redskins have rushed for more yards than each of their four opponents at home. On the road they've been out-rushed twice in four losses. At home, Washington has lost three fumbles and had two passes intercepted. Away, the Redskins have lost nine fumbles, including two last week in Tampa, and had four passes intercepted.
"It's louder now than it's ever been since I've been here," Wynn said, "and I think it can get even louder. It really makes a difference for that 12th man to be making as much noise as they can. Believe me, we've noticed."
So has the opposition. In the Redskins' season-opening 9-7 victory over Chicago, the Bears were penalized for three consecutive false starts in the fourth quarter due in large part to the roar of the crowd. The victory was sealed when Redskins defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin smacked into Bears rookie quarterback Kyle Orton, making his first NFL start. Griffin knocked the ball out of Orton's hands and recovered the fumble as the decibel level soared.
"That was FedEx Field the way I remember it," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said, perhaps actually remembering the sound and fury from his glory days at old RFK Stadium, one of the toughest venues in the league for any visiting team during Gibbs's first dozen years in Washington. "I really appreciate it, and I want to say thanks to the fans. It was a big deal. We needed everything we could get today to win this game."
Their next home victory came against Seattle three weeks later, and again the crowd helped play a role in disrupting the Seahawks' high-powered offense. That game went down to the final play as well, first in regulation when Seattle kicker Josh Brown's 47-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright, and then in overtime, when rookie Nick Novak nailed a 39-yard field goal to win it for the Redskins.
On Oct. 23, the Redskins rewarded their fans with a 52-17 triumph over San Francisco -- the most points scored by the home team at FedEx Field -- in a game that was essentially over by halftime with Washington ahead, 35-7.
Two weeks ago, the Redskins held on, 17-10, against Philadelphia. Safety Ryan Clark's interception in the final minute sealed the win on a night when Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and his teammates had difficulty hearing the signals over the crowd noise as they tried to tie the score late in the fourth quarter. Again, cheers cascaded down as quarterback Mark Brunell knelt at his 12-yard line on the final play of the game.
The road has been far more difficult. With the exception of a 36-0 loss to the New York Giants at the Meadowlands, the Redskins' margin of defeat in three of their four road losses has been by two points at Denver, seven at Kansas City and one point last week against Tampa Bay. Each of those defeats came down to the last play of the game. In those three losses, the Redskins dominated time of possession, first downs and total yardage.