By Michael Wilbon
Monday, November 21, 2005
If it's irony you're looking for, how about Norv Turner softening up the Washington Redskins, setting them up to be knocked out next week by Marty Schottenheimer?
Without question, the Redskins are on one knee, trying to clear their heads and get back up. A tomato can knocked them around yesterday. C'mon, don't try to convince anybody for one second the Raiders are any good. They're a mistake-prone, penalty-plagued outfit with a 3-6 record coming in and the 24th best defense in the league, having traveled with their embattled coach 2,600 miles and three time zones.
A team that fancies itself a contender doesn't lose to these Raiders at home, not coming off a particularly difficult-to-stomach loss last week in Tampa. Playing the Raiders, for a team needing a victory to maintain its playoff positioning, is a gimme. Win late, win ugly, win lucky, just win baby. You find a way.
Okay, if Kerry Collins throws, say, four of those beautiful rainbow touchdown passes to the fabulous Randy Moss, which is possible, then you throw up both hands and you ache over getting sliced and diced by one of the league's great, great players. But that wasn't the case yesterday. The Raiders missed a rather routine field goal attempt, committed those signature stupid penalties, gave the Redskins' defense a touchdown, and averaged 1.7 yards rushing. The Raiders, ladies and gentlemen, picked up twice as many penalty yards (101) as rushing yards.
Still, the Redskins couldn't beat them.
And since the season is now 10 games old, there's only one thing to conclude at this point: The Redskins aren't very good. And they're not a serious contender.
They turn the ball over on offense entirely too much. They don't close the deal (see Kansas City, Tampa Bay and now Oakland) when ahead or in control in the fourth quarter. And as a result they've lost five of their last seven games.
"It's a tough one to figure out," quarterback Mark Brunell said, making sure not to sugar-coat the team's precarious situation. "It's tough to give you guys some answers."
And any answers the Redskins find at the moment would scorch the ears.
Players said they weren't emotionally flat but they certainly did play without any obvious inspiration, despite what was at stake.
Thanks to DirecTV, it's possible to watch the Redskins blow a game they should have won at FedEx Field, while also checking in on all the other NFC teams still fighting for a spot in the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Eagles, playing on the road without the team's two best players -- Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens -- gave a 24-karat effort at Giants Stadium. The Giants responded and fought off the Eagles.
The Cowboys, playing at home, smacked down the Lions.
Tampa Bay went on the road and out-dueled Michael Vick. The Falcons, though they lost at home, played like they knew what was on the line.
The Chicago Bears, heavy underdogs at home, beat the team most people presumed to be the best in the conference, Carolina. Carolina didn't play well but the Panthers can be forgiven since they had won six straight.
The Redskins hadn't won anything straight.
Still, Clinton Portis fumbled twice. The offensive line couldn't protect Brunell long enough to get off a pass on fourth and two in the final seconds to keep hope alive. And the play-callers kept going deep down the field unsuccessfully instead of letting the medium-range passing game control the Raiders. The Redskins looked about equal to, oh, the Vikings, with whom they could be tied in the NFC by late tonight. And that's not good news.
Neither is this: In the race for two wild-card spots, the Redskins trail the Falcons by one game and Carolina and/or Tampa Bay by two games, the Giants and/or Dallas by two games, depending on who wins those divisions. That means they can't afford many more losses. That makes next week's game against San Diego critical, but the Chargers are a whole lot better than the Redskins. And the Chargers (6-4) have the same incentive because their slow start has put them in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Actually, one of the Chargers will have some added incentive.
Turner, one of the nicest men you'll ever meet in any walk of life, was shaking with emotion yesterday after beating the team he used to coach and the owner who fired him. It was a huge win, personally, for Norv. If it wasn't, why would the Raiders' players give him the game ball? Remember, the last time Norv left the building -- five years ago next month -- he pretty much knew he was about to be fired. You think Schottenheimer, fired by Dan Snyder after winning five of his final eight games as coach of the Redskins, won't feel similarly about wanting to beat his old team? Forget all that nice-nice he'll make during the week about his time here; Schottenheimer will burn to beat the Redskins. And from what we've seen of both teams lately, he will.
The Chargers are as hot as any team in the NFL. The Redskins are stone cold, and even worse, lost. Joe Gibbs said of his team, "We've got to find a way to play our way out of this." Brunell said: "Now is the time. All we can control is the next week. That's going to be our attitude; it has to be."
Trying to fix attitude and turnover problems would be precious time better spent than wasting one second listening to more whining from Gibbs about how the referees took the game from the Redskins because LaMont Jordan shouldn't have been ruled down before fumbling the ball at the goal line, blah, blah, blah. That would be an enormous mistake for Gibbs to make, given the officials had a whole lot better game than he and his players. Maybe the NFL director of officials should send Gibbs a tape of how stinky his offense was against the Raiders.
When your offense can't score a touchdown against the 24th-ranked defense in the league, the only people who need to review mistakes on film are your own players and coaches.