For those of you waiting for The Bandwagon to come out of hibernation, just relax, take a few deep breaths. We're going to be here a while.
You don't bring The Bandwagon out after a last-second, two-point squeak victory over a 1-3 team at home.
You don't prance. You don't gloat.
You leave as quickly and quietly as possible. And you hope nobody is following you.
Let me put it another way: If George Seifert hadn't suffered a brain spasm and inexplicably yanked Tshimanga "I'd Like To Buy An 'A,' Please" Biakabutuka at the end of the first quarter--after Biakabutuka already had 123 YARDS AND THREE TOUCHDOWNS!!!--the Redskins might have lost the game by 500 points. I've got no idea why Seifert sat down Biakabutuka in favor of Fred Lane. The difference was so marked, Seifert might as well have sat down Biakabutuka for Fred Sanford. All I could think of was that Biakabutuka had become exhausted after running around all those Redskins. That guy was in the end zone so much, I thought he was Jimmy Hoffa.
"When it got to 21-0, we woke up," Norv Turner said afterward.
Huh? Is that what you told the hotel operator on Saturday night: Wake us when we're so far behind we've lost contact with the other team?
At that point, in their last two quarters at home the Redskins had been outscored 42-0. When the TV camera cuts to the owner's box, usually we see Vinny Cerrato slumped in his seat next to Dan Snyder, like: "Honey, I Shrunk The Director For Player Personnel." But this time the camera would have caught Cerrato out on the ledge.
Lately, when the defensive team shifts its personnel close to the line of scrimmage to try to terrorize the offense, TV heads like to say, "They're walking up eight men into the box!" Well, the Redskins could walk up 15 men and the cast of "Law and Order" into the box, and it wouldn't matter. Nothing's working. If Mike Nolan were a magician, by now he'd have actually sawed his assistant in half.
As we know, though, the Redskins came back--mainly on the talents of Brad Johnson, who now has nine touchdown passes and no interceptions. (Wilbon continues to insist the Johnson trade won't be a success unless Johnson plays 12 games and the Redskins make the playoffs. Who am I to argue with a man whose giant photo was moved this week to a position of prominence in the center of the wall of the press room? "I think it was Wilbon who moved it," one team official told me.) In their ensuing six possessions, not counting a one-play kneel-down, the Redskins scored five touchdowns to lead 35-24. Late in the fourth quarter, after falling behind again, they rallied for the winning field goal.
The Redskins owe the comeback to Instant Replay. Without it Brian Mitchell's knee wouldn't have been ruled down. His fumble would have stood, and Carolina would have had possession on the Redskins' 19-yard line with four minutes to play. This is two games in a row--first with Keyshawn Johnson's touchdown reversal, and now with Mitchell's fumble reversal--that Instant Replay has bailed out the Redskins. Norv Turner keeps his hand on the Replay button like he's playing "Jeopardy." And in some ways, of course, he is.
So here we are after four games saying all we know about the Redskins:
1. They score like crazy.
2. So does the team they're playing.
In 1983, the Redskins became the highest-scoring team ever in the NFL. In their first four games, they scored 107 points. In 1991, The Year of the Bandwagon (and remember The Bandwagon is copyrighted, and available for nostalgia cruises up the Potomac), the Redskins scored 146 points in their first four games. This team has scored 150.
Sadly, this team has already given up 118 points. In 1983, they had given up 73 points at a comparable point; in 1991, 58. The Redskins are allowing teams to gain 433 yards per game. The way the defenders are waving at people, it's like they think it's a parade.
We've all heard of "bend-but-don't-break" defenses. But this defense bends and breaks. If not for Brad Johnson, the Redskins would be 1-3 at best. (And please don't tell me that part of the problem is that the offense scores touchdowns too quickly, and the defense has to get back out there in a hurry. There's no such thing as scoring touchdowns too quickly. If it's a problem for these defenders to go back on the field after touchdowns, get new defenders.)
Johnson is clearly just what the doctor ordered. He gives Norv Turner more raw material at quarterback than Turner had ever had here. "You can call things that are a little dicier from a percentage standpoint," Turner said appreciatively. "He allows you to take a chance to make a great play, because you know he won't make the bad play."
Tre Johnson (no relation to Brad, or Howard Johnson, for that matter) has been here for six years, and he says "unequivocally" Brad Johnson is the best quarterback he's played with. "I can't even describe his presence in the huddle," Tre Johnson said. "He comes in, and he says, 'We'll get six right here if you give me time.' And everybody feels he will."
I asked Tre if he felt that Brad's presence has made the offensive line better. "We don't need him to make us better, we need him to do what he does," Tre said. "We'll take care of the riffraff up front." (Taking care of the riffraff. I love it! I'm penciling Tre in as the perfect bouncer if The Bandwagon gets out of the garage.)
Admittedly, the Redskins' last two opponents are each 1-3. But we have all seen a difference between this team and Turner's previous teams: It's the consistency with which this team has made offensive plays in the last five minutes.
"There's no question it starts with number 14," Turner said an hour after the Carolina game.
That was the second week in a row he had referred to Johnson as "number 14," as if the number was enough. In the sports world that is high tribute. If I say "number 23," everybody knows I'm talking about Michael Jordan. If I say "number 99," it's Wayne Gretzky. Brad Johnson is nowhere near that level. But in six years here Norv Turner hasn't had anybody on offense important enough to be identified with just his number. A journey of 1,000 miles starts with one step. At the moment, keeping number 14 healthy is what this season is all about.