By Michael Wilbon
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The Washington Redskins have too many talented players and too many creative coaches to lose to the building-from-scratch Minnesota Vikings. It shouldn't come down to a 48-yard John Hall field goal attempt to tie the game in the final 20 seconds, not at home in the season opener.
Losing down in Jacksonville, as the Dallas Cowboys did, or to Indianapolis, as the New York Giants did, is one thing. The Jaguars and Colts were playoff teams a year ago, proven entities with legitimate championship aspirations.
The Vikings, while 9-7 last year, are trying to figure out where they are as the team nobody anticipates doing much of anything this season. The Vikings, coming into Week 1, were Brad Johnson and some guys, mostly journeymen.
Perhaps we'll look back in eight to 10 weeks and the Vikings will be the story of the first half of the season. But it's unlikely. The Vikings have a rookie head coach and virtually everything about them is new, right down to the uniforms.
But if the Redskins don't get a sense of urgency about them -- and even if they do -- we're likely to look back in a couple of weeks and wonder if the Redskins are on the wrong end of an early-season story line.
Perhaps this is why Joe Gibbs was so high-strung in the days leading up to the game. Big things are expected of the Redskins. Why else would they start the season on "Monday Night Football" in Week 1, then be on "Sunday Night Football" in Week 2? Perhaps Gibbs, maybe even the entire coaching staff, sensed this team isn't close to being all it's hyped to be.
The Redskins ought to score more than 16 points at home against the Vikings and ought not give up as many as 19 to the Vikings.
Yet it was a losing struggle for the Redskins to score (again) and stop the Vikings from scoring. And the whole thing collapsed in the fourth quarter under the weight of critical defensive penalties that assisted in Minnesota's winning drive.
There wasn't a spectacular failure on the part of one unit or any one player, there was just an overall dullness. Nothing about the Redskins in Week 1 hinted at greatness to come, though making any declarations off one week of regular season football should be avoided.
Still, 0-1 with a loss to a team that doesn't figure to be a contender is a bad thing, especially with a desperate Cowboys team on deck Sunday night. Dallas, as Mark Brunell noted afterward, "isn't very happy with their situation."
If any part of the team figured to struggle in the opener one would have thought it would have been the offense. Privately, there were worries that Brunell hadn't gotten the hang of the offense just yet.
And, of course, there was the injury to Clinton Portis, probably the second-most important offensive player.
Portis didn't have big numbers (10 rushes, 39 yards), but he did score the lone touchdown and did exhibit his customary burst a couple of times. At 17 of 28 for 163 yards (no touchdowns, no interceptions) Brunell was okay, but nothing special, about like the rest of the offense. Very candidly, Brunell said the offense was "one throw away, one block away, one run away" from putting it together, which is just the way it appeared. The offense wasn't awful, as was the case in the preseason, just not good. And the Vikings, particularly savvy safety Darren Sharper, sat in a two-deep zone and dared the Redskins to try to go downfield.
There was one possession on which we all could see the reason why Gibbs wanted to collaborate with Al Saunders on a new offense. Brunell hit Ladell Betts with a pass, then Antwaan Randle El, then Chris Cooley, then Betts with a quick screen for 25 yards, then handed off to Portis for a quick dash around the left end for the touchdown that put the Redskins ahead 10-6.
Portis, who is so much more astute about subtleties than those mid-week costume getups would lead you to believe, said it was the spreading of the workload on that one touchdown drive that impressed him, but the everybody-touch-it approach was something either the Redskins got away from or the Vikings took away later, and it hurt. But for the long haul "we caught a glimpse," Brunell said, "of what we can be and what I think we will be."
Even so, if you told me coming into the game that the Redskins were going to score 16 points, I'd have told you they'd win the game. While folks have been stressing over the lack of offense, a couple of big holes were exposed in the Redskins' defense. The combination of no pass rush and shaky coverage ought to be pretty alarming for a proven defense.
If Troy Williamson hadn't dropped two passes, including a perfectly lofted touchdown bomb the Vikings might have had a double-digit lead. Marcus Robinson, recovered from a knee injury a few seasons ago, got open whenever he wanted, including the play on which he beat Carlos Rogers silly.
Then again, Williamson was able to do that, too. We might have learned a lot about Rogers, sadly, when he did a little dance moments after being beaten by Williamson who simply had a touchdown pass bounce off his chest.
Champ Bailey Rogers ain't. Nor is he Shawn Springs, whom the Redskins miss a ton.
Yes, Brad Johnson is a proven quarterback, a Super Bowl winner. And he got such a big kick out of beating his former team that he wore his old Redskins jersey from the Vikings' locker room to the team bus after the game. Johnson, with time, is still one of the most accurate and efficient passers in the NFL. But he'll be 38 tomorrow. One would think a defense with the personnel the Redskins have could pressure him into major mistakes. But the Redskins sacked Johnson only once and hurried him into a bad pass only once.
Blitzes? There seemed to be very, very few, probably because Rogers couldn't cover anybody.
Let's not mistake Chester Taylor, the former Raven who is now the Vikings' top runner, and receiver Travis Taylor, now a Vikings receiver, for Hall of Famers Jim Taylor and Charley Taylor. It was Travis Taylor, who got loose on a third and 10 and got the Vikings to midfield after a Redskins punt had pinned them inside the 5. And it was Chester Taylor (31 carries, 88 yards rushing) who ground out the punishing runs in the fourth quarter to set up Minnesota's decisive score.
Still, it's hard to talk about the Vikings' winning drive without being particularly critical of the Redskins' defense. On third and nine from near midfield, when a stop would have forced a punt, Rogers decided to gamble and go for the interception, which isn't the worst move. But Rogers also failed to tackle Mr. Dropsies, Williamson, who got loose for a gain plus a 15-yard face-mask penalty against Sean Taylor who was hit for his second penalty of the fourth quarter.
From what we saw last night, no way do the Redskins have a championship-caliber secondary without Springs in the lineup. Above all the questions about the downfield passing game and the lack of a pass rush, consider this at the beginning of a short work week:
If the Redskins are going to struggle this desperately with B-list receivers like Williamson and Taylor, how in the world are they going to stay within a mile of T.O. and Terry Glenn next week in Dallas?