Sunday, bloody Sunday saw all four Washington teams go splat. The Capitals, who promised us "speed, skill and scoring" three seasons ago under Coach Ron Wilson and GM George McPhee, lost at Carolina--and their offense is extinct. They're 4-7-2 and headed for the Scandinavian League. All this "log on to our Web site" jazz isn't working. Somebody needs to tell the Capitals the game isn't played on cyber-ice.
The Wizards lost by 25 in New Jersey to the Nets, who hadn't won this season. The Wizards are like a homecoming game. It was the Wizards' third straight loss, and Coach Gar Heard is already threatening to bench people. Ike Austin has yet to score more than 10 points in a game, and 34-year-old Mitch Richmond, whose career scoring average is 22.9, has reached double figures only once. "We're going to be the laughingstock of the season," Austin moaned. So what else is new? Even D.C. United, the city's shining light, got blasted, 5-1, in Columbus, Ohio. It was the worst playoff loss United has ever had.
But the worst, of course, was the Redskins, who were undressed by one of the cast members of "The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns." I don't want to say Doug Flutie is small, but he gets his uniform at Gap For Kids. He sure can make big linemen look silly, though. He spins them around like dreidels.
Oh, Dana, you can stop lunging now--he's gone back to Buffalo.
(The Danny personally asked me to ignore the Redskins' loss for as long as I could. He suggested an alternate scenario in which I write about how good the parking was and how smoothly traffic flowed--and I then write that I went home after the Redskins' opening drive. I feel I have gone out of my way to accommodate The Danny by mentioning all the other horrid Washington performances first. But now it's either write about the Redskins, or about how Gus Frerotte salvaged a win for Detroit and celebrated by not smashing his head into the side of the Silverdome. And frankly, I can't bear that.)
Here's the first rule: You can't score if you don't have the ball. The football game lasts 60 minutes, and Buffalo kept the ball for 41 of them. I've had car leases that didn't last so long. Buffalo had five sustained scoring drives, encompassing 52 plays and 28 minutes. That's not simply holding on to the ball--in some jurisdictions that's considered squatting.
The Redskins' defense could do nothing to pry the ball loose from Flutie. If Flutie needed to pass, he passed with accuracy. If he needed to run, he ran with a flourish. It's not that the Bills were unpredictable: They had 28 first-and-10 plays, and ran between the tackles on 25 of them. Buffalo's big guys were better than Washington's big guys, and Buffalo's little guy was better than everybody else. Through the first three quarters of the game--after which the game was over--Flutie was successful on nine of 12 third-down plays, and his only fourth-down play. "We were unable to stop him," Coach Norv Turner said.
Washington's only chance was to outscore him, and the Redskins opened well, going 66 yards in eight plays, making it look easy. Brad Johnson completed his first eight passes, and 10 of his first 12. But the Bills kept scoring. "So we hit them first," Tre Johnson said, "there's more than one punch in the fight." As the Redskins fell farther behind, Johnson had to throw on almost every down, and he missed seven of his first eight passes in the second half--his first real fizzle of the season. "We weren't throwing on our own terms," said Andy Heck.
There were diversionary moments: There was the usual speculation in the press box as to whose head The Danny was going to lop off and put up on a stake. Mike Nolan is always on the bubble. And then there was Matt Turk making himself a prime candidate through his poor punting. Turk had a three-club wind behind him in the third period, and still had ridiculously small punts. The first went 32 yards with the roll! The next went 29. Turk was hooted. As he stomped to the sideline after the second punt, Turk flung his helmet almost as far as he had kicked the ball. Turk appears to be in the endgame here. The fans have turned on him. More important, so has management.
Nothing was as disappointing, though, as the defense. The front four couldn't stop anybody in blue. Buffalo ran for 204 yards--mostly straight ahead. The Redskins thought they had solved this problem when they spent $57 million on Dana Stubblefield and Big Daddy Wilkinson to fill the middle of the defensive line. But are these false hopes?
We've had glimpses of a payoff; everybody was exhilarated by Big Daddy's 88-yard touchdown run against Chicago last week. But more often than not the combination of Stubblefield and Big Daddy has that same fateful echo of the combination of Chris Webber and Juwan Howard--who promised so much and delivered so little.
On Sunday, Stubblefield acknowledged that the analogy to Webber and Howard was reasonable. And he acknowledged there were targets on their backs: "That's part of the business. I knew that. The coaches knew that. But me and Big Daddy, we're going to get it done. Everybody here knows it." Stubblefield smiled gently and said, "We're still around. Nobody has snuck in and taken our names off our lockers yet."
"The owner could do that to anybody," I offered.
"In the drop of a dime, and we all know it," Stubblefield said. "He could do it on Monday, on the day off. He could do it Tuesday. He could do it at the end of the year."
I asked if Stubblefield worried that he could be made a scapegoat.
He brushed it off: "If I am, I am. If the blame's going to be put on me, I can handle it."
Stubblefield has a refined, smooth manner. He makes it appear that criticism rolls off his back. But he was brought here in 1998 after being voted NFC defensive player of the year, and the Redskins' defense is still the worst in the league. I asked him if late at night he ever thinks it's his fault.
"Yeah, I've thought that a lot. The hardest thing was last year. We go 0-7, and I get hurt and I'm done for the year. You don't think I was contemplating things? But I know we have the talent to do it here. We're having some breakdowns that have been killing us. If we can't stop the run, we're not going to win ballgames. All of us in the front seven have to be together. We have to be like running water out of a glass."
Ah, but is that glass half-empty or half-full?