Redskins Go A Little Too Quietly

By Michael Wilbon
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

College teams can object to the playground bully running it up. Little Murray State can be legitimately annoyed when nationally ranked Louisville guns it to 73-10. But no pro team, certainly no NFL team, can ever whine about an opponent zooming up and down the field at will. There's no difference in admissions policies in professional sports. Nobody has an advantage in walk-ons or scholarships. With salary cap restrictions and the yield from the college draft, NFL teams compete on the most level playing field imaginable. So the notion that another team should voluntarily stop beating another team's brains out is, well, dumb.

You want the other team to stop running it up?

Stop 'em yourself.

Hit somebody in the mouth.

Fortunately, most of the Washington Redskins realized it's not the Patriots' job to stop scoring; it's their job to stop the Patriots. Most of the Redskins interviewed after the 52-7 beat down seemed to get that point Sunday, no matter how humiliated they were. The Redskins have one of the highest payrolls in the league and one of the best defenses in the league (No. 5 entering the game). So those of you asking why the Patriots kept throwing and marching to the end zone even in the fourth quarter when most teams have throttled it back need to stop asking. The coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, is still openly seething that the NFL caught him cheating like a dog and his primary goal is to humiliate every single opponent he comes across between now and the end of the season.

The Washington Redskins had to know this going in. They gather intelligence. It's all over the league that the Patriots are on what some are calling "The Vengeance Tour." They watched videotape of the Patriots all week, of Brady throwing to Randy Moss and Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth.

They saw the Patriots putting linebackers Mike Vrabel and Junior Seau in the game on goal line offense. The Redskins watched how the Patriots ran it up on the Dolphins the previous week, how Belichick put Tom Brady back in the game up 21 points in the fourth quarter. The Redskins watched the Patriots put 48 on the Cowboys in Dallas the week before that. So, more than anybody, Joe Gibbs and his team knew exactly what the Patriots were capable of doing and how merciless they've become.

It wasn't particularly shocking that the Redskins were blown out; the stunner was that they just sat there and took it, that the Redskins were content to be bullied and humiliated. Those of us who've been waiting through the Gibbs II era for the Redskins to develop an identity didn't see them moving in any definitive direction Sunday in Foxborough.

Patriots-Redskins was a bigger league-wide topic Monday than you might think. The general consensus is that getting blown out is something that happens to everybody. But the Redskins seemed to want no part of a brawl when they should have been starting one.

With all due respect to professional hockey, pro football is the most violent team sport in this culture. It's based on mayhem and retribution, an eye for an eye, on sheer pride, even if that pride is occasionally misplaced. If Belichick is so bold as to have Brady in the game, sneaking on fourth down and throwing from spread formations when leading 38-0, he also runs the risk of getting his golden boy quarterback mangled. If Belichick has so little regard for the opponent, why should the Redskins have any regard for him and his?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting for one moment that the Redskins should have taken a shot at Brady's knees or gone headhunting. But in the football I grew up with, back in the infinitely more brutal 1960s and '70s, Belichick wouldn't dare have kept Brady in so long or had his second-string quarterback throwing the ball late in the fourth quarter.

The Redskins' coaches shouldn't have to say a word. The players, sensing what was going on, should have done whatever necessary to drill Brady right in his strike zone. If Brady walked off the field without help, it would have meant the Redskins didn't hit him hard enough. If it brought a penalty or two, so what? The score was meaningless at that moment. Establishing the team's willingness to make the Patriots pay for their boldness is all that should have mattered.

But the Redskins didn't take that approach. Okay, the offense went down and scored and showed some resolve. But we're not talking about resolve, we're talking about having the kind of team-wide nastiness it takes to win in the NFL.

Sorry, but I can't imagine Sam Huff not tattooing Brady before he finally left the field. Football isn't golf. Maybe I'm longing too much for the good old days of Butkus and Nitschke, Night Train Lane, the Raiders of Lyle Alzado, the Steelers of any era, even now, players who snorted and pointed at the quarterback and made him fear for his own safety. Let's see if Belichick takes the same risks with Brady against the Steelers (Dec. 9) and Ravens (Dec. 3). Neither of those teams is half as good as New England right now, but there's a personality about both, an identity, that suggests there's a line in the turf where football ends and team pride begins.

If the Golden Boy stays in the game when the competition is long over, fair enough. But at that point he forfeits any professional benefit of the doubt, and is fair game for whatever comes. This is one place where the NHL gets it right. Half the players in the league would like to hit Belichick right now, but can't.

Even if it brought 15-yard flags, a couple of Redskins ought to have converged on Brady and hit the Golden Boy so hard he'd need Bridget Moynahan and Gisele Bundchen to help him to the sideline. Then Belichick wouldn't leave him in sneaking on fourth down and throwing from spread formations so late in the fourth quarter with an insurmountable lead. That, too, is football, but maybe at a violent level we don't find tolerable anymore.

And maybe it's not the way the Redskins want to play. Maybe they're above that sort of brawling. Perhaps Gibbs wants no part of that philosophy and it's his bust, not mine, that sits in Canton in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But what was highlighted in Foxborough on Sunday is that the Redskins, still a pretty good team with a chance to make the playoffs, don't seem to have the charismatic leaders who can push the team beyond this pedestrian 4-3 start with narrow home field victories over the Dolphins and Cardinals.

Next week the Patriots move on to Indianapolis to pick on somebody their own size, while the Redskins draw the Jets, the 98-pound weakling, perhaps just the opponent for a team needing to flex a little muscle itself.

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