By Mike Wise
Monday, December 7, 2009
When the madness ended, when the cold and crestfallen had shuffled to their cars in Landover, the other bizarre moments became mere footnotes. Pete Kendall's catch and fumble last season; that no-they-didn't crazy 2006 win over the Cowboys; Gus Frerotte's hurtful head-butt; even the two-timeout brain lock against Buffalo two Novembers ago, when Joe Gibbs fell on the sword. All of them, incomparable.
"Never seen nothin' like it here, that's for sure," Sam Huff said as Sonny Jurgensen nodded in the background after the Hall of Famers had completed their radio-announcing duties in the home locker room.
When the most incredible, staggering game in FedEx Field history was over, and the Washington Redskins had inexplicably snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, it had to be asked:
-- What kind of cruel team goes toe-to-toe with perhaps the best team in pro football, only to miss a chip-shot field goal and muck everything up?
-- What kind of star-crossed franchise rolls up a rare 455 yards of total offense, only to pilfer away the one afternoon of this ever-maddening season during which they could have been feted as conquerors?
-- Who tempts, teases and then takes away something like this from their emotionally abused fans?
Who? The same coaches and players who have done it to the owner and general manager the past few weeks, the same team that keeps altering perception of its key personalities and its possible future together.
Yes, that's right, together.
Break up the Redskins? In five weeks, it's supposed to be a done deal. But should it?
Let's be honest: Jim Zorn was Unemployed Coach Walking two months ago, and probably he still is after this collapse. Less than a month ago, Jason Campbell was soon to be some other team's problem, a seven-step-drop quarterback trying to fit in a snap-and-fire scheme.
But after yet another wrenching, last-minute loss, now what?
Had they been blown out the past few weeks, the Redskins could have made this so easy on everyone. But instead, what the past few weeks have shown is that while the Redskins have obvious flaws, they also have redeemable parts, players who could have key roles on teams that won't just play spoiler roles in December. And for that to happen, huge decisions have to be made. Irrespective of how they gave back a 10-point lead in the final minutes, those decisions just got a lot tougher.
Look, very few NFL teams are complete demolition projects. Fewer still are without blemish. Most face the same kinds of decisions every offseason: what to keep and what to replace, with lots of conflicting evidence to sift through.
Is Campbell the guy who finished with a better quarterback rating than Drew Brees on Sunday, who solved a defense that befuddled Tom Brady last Monday night? Or is he merely a shell-shocked warrior, who despite his durability doesn't have the moxie to lead a team to a Super Bowl?
Is the Z-man the golly-gee flake that needed to have his play-calling duties transferred to a jobless Bingo caller in October?
Or is he the coach who cared so much about his kids he purchased Blackalicious on iTunes so he could relate better -- the almost-masochistic coach who kept the team together amid utter chaos, whose promise of his players one day grasping his version of the West Coast offense is coming to amazing fruition?
Remember when Zorn said players begin to grasp this offense at the end of their second year and it becomes second nature by their third season? Can you really jettison him just as it's looking like he might be right?
Is Devin Thomas the league's next great, tippy-toe-along-the-sideline, mug-for-the-cameras wideout? Or is he a showboat with poor work habits?
For that matter, is Shaun Suisham the 13-for-13 kicker who seemed to be the only Pro Bowl-bound player on the roster three weeks ago? Or is he the slumping soul who has now missed three huge kicks in three weeks, including the 23-yarder that should have sealed the Saints' fate?
Who stays? Who goes? Really, how to reconcile the fact that the most dominating offensive performance of the Zorn era was just part of the worst guttural punch in a season of them?
As deflating as Sunday felt for the nearly 85,000 frozen here and the millions watching in the warmth of their homes, it's no longer a no-brainer anymore to merely ship names and contracts out of town and start over.
"We weren't intimidated by that offense, we weren't intimidated by Drew Brees and we weren't intimidated by Gregg Williams," defensive lineman Andre Carter said. "It was about us and it was about finishing. We dug deep, deep enough to make an eight-foot hole. But we needed one more inch. And where we've been this season, that just eats you up. I think we can find that one more inch."
Phillip Daniels, standing beside Carter, echoed the same thought: "Seems to me like the offense is finally jelling. We've got backups on the o-line, but you've seen what Jason can do now when he gets time.
"You want my advice about what I would do in the offseason? Tweak it and fix the little things -- and keep going,"
What a day of crazy plays, some absolutely wild. A punt goes off Kevin Barnes's back. Kareem Moore intercepts a pass and is stripped in one sequence -- by a guy who then runs for a touchdown! Big runs and long bombs. And a field goal miss and a meltdown at the end of regulation, once more crushing the legions who braved the cold.
This is it how it goes with football in Washington, where following the team is like being part of La Cosa Nostra: Just when everyone's ready to start over, the team offers a reason to stay the course. Just when Jason Campbell and his team make you think you're out, they pull you back in.