Albert Haynesworth excels vs. Bears after nearly a season and a half of struggles

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 11:07 PM

CHICAGO We're so sorry, Uncle Albert,

We're so sorry if we caused you any pain

- Paul McCartney's "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey"

If Mike Shanahan or anybody else wants to co-opt those lyrics today, feel free. If anyone wants to take back what was said about Everybody's Favorite Lug to Pick On, now is your chance to issue a mea culpa to No. 92.

Yes, it took being a part of the NFL's Gaffe of the Year, a 60-minute, mistake-laden slop featuring eight total fumbles and six interceptions. But Albert Haynesworth finally arrived as the awesome playmaker he promised Washington in February 2009.

Sixteen games and 18 months into his ridiculed Redskins career, Mr. Maligned earned his keep - and then some.

In the defining moment of this bizarre game of nine turnovers and general offensive ineptitude, Haynesworth hurdled the Bears' offensive line at the exact moment of the snap, devoured Jay Cutler at the 1-yard line and held the scrawny quarterback hostage in his meat-hook arms until the ball could be knocked free and recovered by London Fletcher.

Three minutes into a second half Chicago was about to lead by two scores, Big Al saved a sure touchdown in one of the most unsightly victories in recent Redskins memory.

"Obviously the difference in the game," Shanahan began, "anytime you make a play like that inside the 1-yard line."

Believe this?

Seven weeks into the season, Washington has the same number of wins it took the Redskins 16 games to amass in 2009.

At 4-3 in a maddening, no-one-wants-it NFC, they emerge from Week 7 as more contenders than pretenders. Hurt at some positions, too green at others, old as dirt at a few more, they're still very flawed.

But so is the once-ambivalent Haynesworth, who suddenly mirrors a franchise's change.

Moving aside linemen like gates on a slalom course, making Cutler scurry for his health, he was all fury and force at Soldier Field - the ancestral home of the Monsters of the Midway.

The lone sack he was credited for involved Haynesworth picking up former teammate Edwin Williams and basically using the Bears backup left guard as a battering ram to level Cutler.

And he did it all with a still-heavy heart. Haynesworth played for the first time since his 23-year-old brother was killed in a motorcycle accident Oct. 7.

"Like before, when we were warming up and stuff. . . . I was crying a little bit and stuff and I could hear my little brother like, 'You're crying over me?' " Haynesworth said afterward of Lance McCoy.

He later spoke of beginning to feel comfortable in a defense he never wanted to play in - the 3-4 - and acknowledged that his job is now easier given his reduced responsibilities in the running game.

If Haynesworth gets credit for changing, so should Jim Haslett, the defensive coordinator. Haslett has understood what Gregg Williams did at the outset of 2007 - that it's okay to adapt schemes to players' individual talents sometimes, that systems don't make players; it's the other way around at this level.

The Redskins have essentially taken run responsibilities away from Haynesworth. The things he doesn't like to do in the 3-4, he doesn't have to do. Haslett has given him the green light to do what he does best: blow up the backfield and make plays.

"I'm feeling more productive," he said simply.

His most supportive teammate through more than a season of turmoil, DeAngelo Hall, who tied an NFL record for interceptions in a game with four on Sunday, did not see Haynesworth obliterate the Bears' J'Marcus Webb on one of his returns. But he had it on the money when he added, "You know what, man, he played lights out."

The entire defense was stout. Imagine a team driving to the 13-yard-line once and almost the goal line another time and coming away with a negative-seven points, as the Bears did. This was one of the great eyesores of all time, in which two penalties actually ended up benefiting the Redskins - a delay-of-game penalty near their own goal line that negated McNabb's second interception returned for a touchdown, and Chris Cooley purposefully batting a fumble out of bounds that was about to be recovered.

Nothing was larger, though, than Haynesworth guessing the snap count early in the third quarter, with Chicago threatening to create distance from the Redskins.

"Right before the play, Jay [Cutler] and [offensive lineman Olin] Kreutz and [Chris] Williams were talking, so I figured they were probably going to try and come on my side. . . . They saw me stem over, so they figured that I was going to be outside of the A-gap. So, I kind of used it against them, and I jumped over the offensive lineman. I've done it before when I felt like someone was going to go for my legs."

As one team official concluded, Haynesworth played as possessed as Forest Whitaker's character from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," after learning his car had been wrecked.

Big Al indeed looked Charles Jefferson angry.

He bulldozed large blockers in front of him. He buried Cutler. He bullied that Bears line, which, okay, has more protection problems than Paulie Bleeker, the adolescent father-to-be in "Juno."

Still, he looked - and I can't believe I'm about to type this - worth the money.

Well, not $100 million of it. Maybe not even the $41 million Daniel Snyder has already paid to Haynesworth for playing in 16 of a possible 23 Redskins games the past 18 months. (He missed one to attend his brother's funeral.)

But for one afternoon, he took every negative - every perceived slight, the Fat Albert jokes after the conditioning-drill saga in training camp, the family tragedy two weeks ago - and channeled it toward the other team, releasing all the anger and hurt of the past several months on Cutler and his linemen.

"2010 has been the worst year in my life personally," Haynesworth said when asked to describe his year. "I just want to get over with it and hopefully keep playing."

Here's hoping he keeps playing and finds more professional redemption the next few months. Because as everyone learned Sunday, somewhere beneath Albert Haynesworth's 6-foot-6, 335-pound frame still lie vestiges of the NFL's most dominant defensive player.

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