By Thomas Boswell
Monday, November 16, 2009
For one Indian summer afternoon at FedEx Field on Sunday, the Redskins let Washington put on rose-colored NFL glasses that, for now, alter the hue of a dismal season. With a 27-17 win over Denver, full of battering runs by Ladell Betts and a trick-field-goal touchdown bomb by a punter named Hunter, the maroon and black suddenly looked a bit like the burgundy and gold once again.
Don't blink. It may not last. If you can't prevail at home over a team on a two-game losing streak that loses its quarterback before halftime and
never scores again, you won't win many.
But don't cheat yourself of pleasure, either. The Redskins certainly aren't. Their locker room was like a room full of kids who had finally passed a test in school and been given their TV and Internet privileges back. They know how bizarre and deeply needed this victory was.
"We've had a desert experience . . . very arid, if you will, the last few weeks," Coach Jim Zorn said. "So to be able come off with a win, you almost don't know how to feel. Yet we remember very quickly. We sure like winning."
This isn't how you usually win, even if you're a 3-6 team. They did it with subs, with mirrors, with tricks and with more heart than they're usually given credit for.
A running back amassed 114 yards and a score, only it was not injured Clinton Portis but Betts, seldom used for three years. "I didn't remember how to get to this [interview] room," Betts said.
A tight end caught a touchdown pass. But it was Todd Yoder, not injured Pro Bowler Chris Cooley.
The Redskins even connected on a 35-yard touchdown pass that traveled about 50 yards in the air. It didn't fly from Jason Campbell to Santana Moss but, instead, from fake-field-goal-holder Hunter Smith to 275-pound fullback Mike Sellers on a fourth-and-20 gamble. With shifts, men in motion and a Smith rollout to the right, the Broncos never noticed the enormous Sellers going from the right of the formation to the deep left.
"It was a touchdown or nothing" play, said Smith, who is now the only Redskin to both run and pass for a score this year.
Typical of a day when most things broke their way, the Redskins tipped off their trick play -- lining up for a 53-yard field goal, then breaking into their shifts, before realizing they only had 10 men on the field. So they called a timeout.
Paging Fred Davis, please, report to the Crazy Danny Smith trick-play unit. Then, with Davis on board, they called it again. And it worked. "Must be a pretty good play, huh?" Smith said.
Perhaps only one more unexpected development could have occurred -- kudos for a Redskins offensive line. But it happened, though not for injured Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas. Instead, it was for position-a-week Stephon Heyer, signed-off-the-street Levi Jones and out-of-the-doghouse Chad Rinehart.
The Redskins' patchwork linemen have one thing in common. They are big. The seven largest Redskins on running plays average exactly 300 pounds. The Broncos, who play a mile high at home and always favor fitness over bulk, play a 3-4 defensive front that averages 273 pounds. Most offenses have a size edge. But not like that. And the Redskins knew it.
"We slammed the ball on them," Betts said. "Our line put their weight on 'em and we made yards. I think we wore 'em out. I told 'em, 'You just get on a man and I'll make it right.' "
Unflattering as it is to those who have built the current Redskins, this team plays best when it goes back to doing what Joe Gibbs built it to do for four years -- play like a smash-mouth team. And the Redskins are at their worst when they play like a cute, quick West Coast offense, the scheme Zorn knows and got hired to implement, but simply does not have the personnel to execute.
"That was old-school Redskin football. That was right out of Joe Gibbs's time," middle linebacker London Fletcher said. "That's the football I remember."
"This is what I saw when I first came here [in '05] under Coach Gibbs. This is how it was early last year" when the Redskins started 6-2, center Casey Rabach said. "I hope we stick to it."
Right now, they don't have much choice. Betts has never broken a play for more than 27 yards in his career. He plows. On most plays, he actually totals more yardage than Portis. It's a career-long stat fact. The Redskins may actually be a more consistent efficient offense if built around Betts rather than Portis. But you give away any chance of a home run.
While Betts has never run for more than 27 yards on a play, Portis has ripped off 23 runs of 27 yards or longer -- worth 1,029 yards, an average of 44.7 yards per explosion. This season, he seems to have lost some of his burst, yet has a 78-yard run.
When Portis returns, the Redskins should consider balancing the carries between the backs to keep both healthier, take advantage of Betts's better consistency from run to run while keeping at least some semblance of a breakaway threat in Portis. Also, the less dominant an offensive line -- with less ability to maintain their blocks while a cutback runner like Portis looks for daylight -- the more effective a quick-hitter like Betts can be.
Nothing about this game seemed to bear any relationship to the rest of this season. The Redskins' defense, which usually holds the team together, was so putrid that cornerback Carlos Rogers was benched in mid-game. Famous wide receiver Brandon Marshall got so far behind the defense for touchdown passes of 40 and 75 yards that he, in effect, made "fair catches" of both the under-thrown Kyle Orton passes and still reached the end zone with ease.
Other deep plays were open for Denver but were botched. In the first half, Denver gained 269 yards. Would they get 500? Films are no doubt being decoded in Dallas at this very moment. But the Redskins were saved because Orton's ankle was hurt on the last Broncos snap of the half. Thereafter, they gained only 36 yards.
Backup Chris Simms (3 for 13), whose father caused the Redskins much misery, looked unfamiliar with the sport and never got the Broncos inside the Redskins 46-yard line. The Broncos, leading 17-14 at half, were so helpless on offense that, in effect, they waited to be beaten and, eventually, were.
"We've been through a lot. The fans, they could easily have gotten down, just like us. But they didn't," Betts said. "When you don't play for a long time, you start to feel like people don't believe in you. You want to prove people wrong."
When an entire team doesn't play well for eight straight games, doubt surrounds them. "There is reason for that criticism," said Rabach, speaking of the offense, though he might as well have been talking about the whole team. "This is the first of many steps to put this back where it needs to be."
Book trip to Dallas. Hold onto rose-colored glasses very tight.