By Thomas Boswell
Monday, October 9, 2006
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. If the Redskins had defeated the Giants on Sunday afternoon, Wall Street might have crashed on Tuesday morning. Across the New York area, all manner of mayhem might have escalated. Martial law might not have been necessary, but you never know.
Hereabouts, the same people tend to love the Giants and the Yankees. The overlap between the fan bases is not just urban legend. Those two teams, not the far newer and less successful Jets and Mets, have the deep roots here, sometimes going back several generations. The big money folks almost always adore them both. They can rule the city's mood.
"If the Giants lose, I'm going to be sick. After the way the Yankees blew it against the Tigers on Saturday, I don't know if I can take both my teams going down the drain back-to-back," said Keith Wohltman of Bayonne, N.J., one of the larger guards at Giants Stadium. "If the Redskins win, they may have to have a suicide watch for the whole metropolitan area."
But the Mets won their series, right? Wohltman's face clouds even further. In the Big Apple, you pick sides early in life. Originality is rare. It's Giants and Yankees or Mets and Jets. And love doesn't overlap.
Luckily for the civil peace here, the Redskins did what they do best in games that they don't absolutely, positively need to win to keep their season breathing. That's to say, they barely showed a pulse, were outgained by a massive 411-164 yards, lost 19-3, and then vowed that, next week, with their backs "against the wall," they'd show what they were really made of.
Last season, the Redskins finished their regular season 5-0 to atone for earlier misdemeanors. This season, they've already repeated that pattern, rebounding from an awful preseason and two dispirited opening losses with a pair of impressive victories. Yet once again here against the Giants, they didn't meet their own expectations in a tough road game where a maximum effort would have been needed for an upset.
"How do you explain the energy we played with last week [in beating Jacksonville 36-30 in overtime], and the energy we played with today?" asked Clinton Portis, who gained 76 yards on 19 carries. "If we'd played with the same emotion, we'd be smiling and jumping around in here right now. Being consistent in your effort every week is not about talent. It's like the coaches say -- it's about having the right mentality. Now, we're two and three and we have to stay desperate for the rest of the season."
"We know how to come back. We're not out of this," said guard Randy Thomas. "But you don't want to come off a good game and then lay an egg. The defense held them to 19 points. We've got too many weapons to score three points."
The Washington Redskins are lucky they aren't the New York Redskins because, if they played in this area, they'd quickly find that they'd get the harsh back-page tongue-lashing that the Yankees received Sunday from the tabloids. After all, the Redskins are the most valuable team in American pro sports, surpassing even the Yankees. And they are the NFL team that most resembles the Yanks, trying to buy titles with huge payroll that no other team can or will match. But where are the titles?
What would be the back-page tabloid headlines on the Redskins' latest free agent acquisitions -- Antwaan Randle El, Brandon Lloyd, Adam Archuleta and Andre Carter, each of whom signed last offseason for $10 million to $11 million?
The folding Yankees were met Sunday morning with a chart of the "Dive Bombers," listing the failures in the clutch of the entire batting order against the Tigers. Yes, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon and Gary Sheffield ended the playoffs going 0 for 25. That's brutal, but it's also accountability. On Sunday, Carter didn't have a tackle, much less a sack, Randle El had two catches for 10 yards and Lloyd, who now has 75 yards receiving in five games, didn't catch a single ball. Archuleta led the team with 10 tackles.
Afterward, Carter said he thought he'd had his "most physical game of the season." Said Lloyd: "I'm just doing what I'm told. You're asking the wrong man [about pass distribution]. All you can do is just run your route and see what happens."
For the last two seasons, the Redskins have had an admirable professional resilience in the face of adversity. But they also have consistently brought that adversity on themselves by losing, either at home or when they were favored or both -- like last season's loss to Norv Turner's lowly Raiders or this year's opener against the Vikings.
"We really never got anything going in any part of the game," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We needed a big play for a spark. Today, it didn't happen for us. When that happens, you gotta say, 'Hey, hats off to New York.' "
Perhaps you also have to ask whether the Gibbs teams of 1981 to 1992 didn't have a bit more edge and spark. None of his players ever seemed comfortable. As last season's late run showed, Gibbs is still inspirational, especially in the faith he shows in his players and his ability to minimize back-biting and infighting during a long, sometimes-dispiriting season.
But his week-to-week motivational skills -- that capacity to instill a consistently violent mentality in almost every player -- is not yet present to the same degree that it was in his first term. Back then, by his third season when he'd had time to pick his kind of "character" players and polish his offensive system, the Redskins were dismantling opponents. Gibbs can't be expected to recreate his past. But the dissimilarities can't be totally ignored.
The current Redskins perplex themselves at times. They aren't quite sure if they're as good as their clippings, statistics and salaries. Yet they also sense that they aren't far from finding a coherent team personality and playing style. "We just haven't started to play Redskin football yet," Portis said. They played with a team identity at the end of last season and, even after a loss in which they were often manhandled along the line, they think they are close to being a first-rate team.
But should a team's confidence be so intact after a game in which it forced no turnovers, got no sacks, allowed Tiki Barber to rush for 123 yards and let Eli Manning complete 23 of 33 passes for 256 yards while barely getting his pants dirty? Should the Redskins' emotions be under control after a game with definite grudge elements with former Redskins LaVar Arrington, Antonio Pierce and Chad Morton leading a constant barrage of insults and challenges?
"There were a lot of trash talkers out there today, especially the guys who used to play for us," tackle Chris Samuels said. "They definitely wanted to pay us back. It was all out, all the time, just a lot of cussin' and words that would make my mama take out a switch."
Too often in recent years, the Redskins have not played their best until after they've been taken to the woodshed. They're lucky they don't have "New York" on their jerseys. If they played here, this 2-3 team with the unlimited supply of skill players and assistant coaches with head-coach salaries would have switch-marks all over them.