By Mike Wise
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Sometimes, in really deep rumination, I realize I can't get these three hours back. I can't ever rewind the DVR of my life and say I never sat in a press box on a miserably wet August evening and watched an abysmal NFL game that does not count.
I can't ever pretend I didn't get paid to watch:
Jason Campbell complete 1 of 7 passes and put up a whopping quarterback rating of 39.6 (out of a possible 158.3).
The Washington Redskins be the last National Football League team to score a touchdown in the preseason. (Thank you, Marko Mitchell and Chase Daniel. You deserve more than the practice squad).
Mike Sellers slip and slide like everybody else at FedEx Field, until he hurt his knee and had to leave the game.
Raucous fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who accounted for about half of the announced crowd. They flat-out embarrassed the so-called burgundy and gold legions for the second time in nine months, twirling their yellow-gold towels fervently like they did last Nov. 3, on a night the home team passed out 50,000 rally rags to prevent that very occurrence. (Hey, they kept the seats dry).
And the defending Super Bowl champions go down, 17-13! (In a game that meant nothing.)
I am only proud to say I braved this ignominy along with seven other Washington Post writers, all of whom were in Middle East bureaus last week until the paper's editors finally got their priorities straight and assigned them to this donnybrook. (Eight writers -- at a preseason game. Dead-tree industry, representin'!)
Anyhow, if you came looking for progress in some shape or form from the locals, well, I mean, they got on the scoreboard, and they won. You couldn't say that last week after Baltimore bageled Washington.
And Jim Zorn had a cool call, opting for a fake punt in the first quarter on his side of the field. Coach Careful, who admittedly was scared to death his line couldn't protect Campbell from surgery or traction at the end of last season, became the gambler who faked out the league for almost eight games last season.
Rock Cartwright, the upback, rumbled for 10 yards and a first down, and the stands teemed with excitement for the first time. And, okay, Albert Haynesworth and Brian Orakpo were awesome. This defensive line has the makings of something very good. Not modern-day Steel Curtain good, but a run-stopping, quarterback-crying, Greg Blache-smiling bundle of fierceness and pain that might have to perform the annual Ashburn magic trick required for every defense here:
Be good enough to compensate for an offense that might not score three touchdowns per game.
Oh, I almost forgot, Chase Daniel was better than decent. In his first preseason game, he was Coltesque, running the offense with authority, maneuvering that scatback of a frame (listed at 6 feet, he's barely tall enough for the rides at Six Flags) around mounds of Steel Town muscle and mass, passing for two touchdowns.
One score went to Fred Davis, who caused a fumble on special teams, hauled in a short dart from Daniel in the third quarter and did more in 22 seconds than his evil twin all of last season.
Chase got a dead dog of a game buzzing in the third quarter after taking over for Todd Collins. Leading 17-13, players were almost in disbelief to see the wave making its way around FedEx Field, looking in the stands as if to say: "What? You guys actually care about this game? What are you, Steelers fans?"
The second coming of the Terrible Towels indeed was an indictment of the people said to bleed burgundy and gold, who often bragged about driving across Maryland -- from Hagerstown or Eldersburg -- or starting in Luray and braving monsoon weather through the nooks and crannies of Virginia, just to get to that sweet waft of pulled pork and the chill of Yuengling against their lips in the purple lot.
Which sounds committed, right?
Until you meet the couple from Altoona, Pa., who packed brats and Primanti Brothers. Or the three brothers from Allentown, Pa., in matching Troy Polamalu jerseys, arriving four hours before kickoff. Think about that the next time you want to boast of your Riggo paraphernalia. Pittsburgh traveled well, all right, for a meaningless exhibition.
Even if he couldn't complete more than one pass, Campbell was a little better with his decision-making than against the Ravens in an eyesore. Quick. Assertive. He either rifled it or threw it away, taking no chances of heading to the trainers' room. He had what they would call in Zorn parlance, "tempo."
Other than the waste of 50,000 pieces of fabric, there was but one major drawback. As of this writing, Colt Brennan was leading the Redskins downfield as if his career depended on it, as if a kid from Missouri was trying to take his job as a third-string backup quarterback.
Yes, by starting Campbell, relieving him with Collins and then going straight to Daniel, Zorn seemed to be saying aloha to the greatest player in the history of the University of Hawaii.
After Brennan was intercepted, his second in two preseason games, there is real concern the end is near. Maybe Zorn thinks Brennan is too undisciplined to run his multiple-read, better-pay-attention offense. Maybe Brennan thinks as much of Zorn's playbook as Joe Gibbs thought of Al Saunders's playbook.
Either way, Chase was becoming Colt, circa 2008, as the fourth quarter waned. On a rainy August night, in a game that meant nothing -- well, nothing unless you wanted your employment to continue in the NFL.