By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2010; 12:04 AM
An inquiring mass began to descend on the three-foot workspace of the star-crossed man formerly known as Hunter the Punter, who had somehow morphed into that dastardly Hunter the Holder - because, well, we need a villain today.
The holder immediately said not to blame the kid kicker - even if Graham Gano missed two gimmes in the cold and rain. The same went for the young snapper, Nick Sundberg, who hiked the ball a bit high with nine seconds left Sunday afternoon, before it sailed through Hunter Smith's slippery hands and straight into the ongoing, inglorious lore of the Daniel Snyder era.
They are just 23 years old, Hunter said, mere NFL pups.
"If anybody needs to lose their job it's me," the 12-year veteran said after that point-after attempt went bizarrely awry for these deflated, woebegone Redskins, who continue to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
"I certainly accept blame."
After such a game-ending gaffe mirrored this wasted opportunity of a season, the compassionate part wants to remind Smith of one of the last, emotional scenes in the film "Good Will Hunting." Remember? Robin Williams's character makes Matt Damon's defiant and closed Will break down, repeating over and over, "It's not your fault, son. It's not your fault."
But then I remembered part of the culture in Washington, in politics as well as pro football, is to find a scapegoat for an entire administration's failure.
So, yes, it is your fault, Hunter.
Hey, since No. 92 is not around to pick on anymore, might as well go after the holder.
Hunter has to be the reason a reinvigorated offense and running game did not come away with 28 points by halftime, settling instead for a 10-3 lead that was almost as maddening as that crushing ending for the freezing and soaked loyalists in a little-more-than-half-full FedEx Field.
Surely he's the reason Donovan McNabb kept throwing the football at his receivers' feet and was outperformed by Tampa Bay's second-year find, Josh Freeman. (McNabb does not have a problem in the two-minute offense, gauging by the way he marshaled the Redskins downfield when it mattered in the final seconds; it's his efficiency and effectiveness in the 58- minute offense prior to that.)
Sure, London Fletcher lamented: "That game should have been over early. But, hey, we never put teams away."
And a frustrated Phillip Daniels added: "We left a lot of points out there today. When we don't score [touchdowns] in the red zone, we gotta make field goals, you know?"
But this was all on Hunter. Has to be.
He is on the same special teams unit, after all, that fumbled a squib kick and blocked a guy in the back on yet another foiled, fourth-quarter Brandon Banks return. And it must be his fault that someone could not get his foot on the ball any better than most punt-pass-and-kick finalists en route to two early missed field goals.
He is part of the same team that mowed down the Buccaneers in the first half for 174 yards rushing and forgot to run the ball enough the last two quarters, so much so that Washington gained a measly 12 yards on the ground in the final 30 minutes.
But this isn't Kyle Shanahan's fault. Nope, it's the holder. Gotta be.
While I'm at it, Hunter also gets the blame for Swinging Gate. Yes, Jim Zorn called that wacky joke of a play last year on "Monday Night Football," a fake field goal that involved the center, a one-person backfield and everybody else either spread wide left or wide right.
But wait. Look at the film. Hunter was the quarterback that night, right in the middle, swept up in the Zornado's vortex.
Mr. Fall Guy, two years in a row.
Forget the fact he has now been part of the two most ignominious plays in franchise history the past 12 months. When Hunter keeps saying, "I'm willing to take the blame for this loss," keep listening and go further.
Blame him for nobody in Ashburn recognizing that a Tampa Bay team could be the blueprint in two years, that stockpiling draft picks and finding creative ways to procure young, hungry players might be the right way to go in the NFL, that Over the Hill Gang II might not work.
It's not too much to ask the holder how a 3-13 team a year ago, with a young quarterback like Freeman and a young coach like Raheem Morris, is now on the cusp of being a playoff team - while 4-12 in 2009 with Zorn is on its way to being 5-11 in 2010 with Mike Shanahan.
At an old and rickety 33, Hunter must be the problem.
Otherwise someone else who's also been around the NFL since 1999 would have to shoulder the blame after his ninth non-winning season since purchasing the team was assured.
It's so much easier to look at a specialist who let that high snap slip through his hands, who is left explaining to everyone who sticks around his locker room cubicle that Washington reminds him of Indianapolis before Peyton Manning got there.
That the Colts' losing culture changed when a good quarterback was coupled with a veteran coach - that the culture is changing, just not fast enough for our microwave-ready needs. "The Redskins will win more football games next year than they did this year, whether I'm here or not," Hunter said.
Go ahead, cut him. Make him turn in his playbook.
Send him to Oakland like Jason Campbell. Give more money to a millionaire malcontent before deciding way too late to get rid of him.
Hunter the Holder is just today's alibi. We'll find another martyr, another scapegoat, someone else to deflect blame from another 12-year veteran in that warm luxury suite.