Can we talk?
Going into the second half Sunday, how many of you felt as I did: That the Redskins had made the same mistakes they'd made against the Eagles--they had foolishly let the Giants back into the game, and they were going to get beat again?
How many of you felt as I did: That the Redskins should have been ahead 21-0 in the first half. But a terrible combination of events had befallen them--that deflating holding call on Albert Connell that negated a touchdown, that catastrophically botched exchange between Brad Johnson and Stephen Davis (who had an otherwise impeccable game) on the Giants 1-yard line, those two blown gimme field goal attempts by Brett Conway.
And how many of you worried, as I did, that even with the Redskins ahead 20-13 late in the game, the Giants--with a real passer, finally, in Kerry Collins--would march inexorably down the field toward a tie, toward overtime, maybe toward a win?
We're off the record now.
How many of you thought it smelled like Philly?
If you did, you weren't alone.
"Everybody thought we were going to lose. That's why I feel so good about the win," Norv Turner said a few minutes after calling Sunday's victory over the Giants "as good a win as I have ever been involved with," which presumably includes two Super Bowl wins at Dallas.
The recent history of the Redskins is out there for all to see. Those who don't learn from it are bound to repeat it. "As the season goes along, we have been challenged several times," Andy Heck said following Sunday's game. "With Dallas. With Philadelphia. A couple of times we fell short. Today was another time we were directly and personally challenged. Losing two in a row may have caused doubt in some players' minds; maybe there was some eroding confidence. But that made us more determined to buckle down."
People are fond of pointing out all the important games Norv Turner's Redskins haven't won in his six years here. But this was a game against a division rival with first place on the line. And Washington won it by being tougher along both lines when it counted. The Giants had belittled the Redskins all week and taunted them during the game. And the Redskins' lines blew the Giants out of the tub. The defensive line got three of the team's four sacks, and gave up a minimal 72 yards rushing. The offensive line bulldozed space for Davis, and insulated Johnson. Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan, who was especially vocal, had no sacks. Rookie tackle Jon Jansen shut Strahan's fat yap.
I don't want to make too much of this game, because if the Redskins should lose to Philly next Sunday I'll look like an idiot. (That's not new, it's just annoying.) But this was the first division game this year the Redskins had to have. A loss would have meant oblivion.
"I've been here as long as Norv, and I've seen us squander opportunities. I was here when we started 7-1, and finished 2-6," Tre Johnson said, referring to 1996. "The last five years we would have found a way to lose this game. We had to have this one--and we got it. This is a big brick in the house."
Thanks go to Giants free safety Percy Ellsworth for committing a dopey personal foul that permitted Washington to keep the ball and not have to punt with over three minutes remaining, and the Giants down seven points. Brad Johnson had just been tackled well short of the first down marker on third down when Ellsworth piled on Jansen directly in front of an official and drew a flag for unnecessary roughness. The penalty let the Redskins have seven more plays and get a game-clinching field goal.
"I don't know what was going through his head," Jansen said.
It was the gift of gifts.
"And his name is Percy!" Tre Johnson cackled. "I loved it. I was thinking: You were dumb enough to give us another shot, Percy. It's about to be all bad for you now."
Percy's blunder was the stroke of luck the Redskins needed to nail down the victory--and preserve the surprise birthday celebration they had planned for The Danny following the game. Daniel M. Snyder actually turns 35 today (35 and all that money; oy, where did I go wrong?), but the Redskins wheeled in a huge birthday cake with a Redskins helmet and a No. 1 on it for him. (Had they lost, I shudder to think what The Danny would have done with the cake and the helmet!) They even serenaded him with "Happy Birthday."
"They didn't know what to sing when they got to my name," Snyder laughed.
Some said, "owner."
Some said, "Mr. Snyder."
Some simply grunted.
Did anybody have the guts to say "Danny"?
"No," Snyder said, still laughing.
The Redskins will laugh all week. That's what winning on Sunday does for an NFL team. It's not so ebullient across town with the Wizards. They are 2-8 after losing to the L.A. Clippers at home Saturday. "We ran into a hot team," Gar Heard said afterward. Hot? The Clippers couldn't get hot if they practiced in a tanning salon. They were 2-7. How'd they get hot? Did they bring space heaters onto their bench?
The Wizards are drowning. Their back court is gurgling. Mitch Richmond might be playing hurt, but he is playing terribly; he's shooting 31 percent. Give him a few games off to get well. Chris Whitney, a jump shooter, is at 32 percent. Richard Hamilton is at 39 percent; that is probably all you can expect from a rookie guard this early in the season.
More importantly, Rod Strickland doesn't appear to be sharing an International Coffee moment with Heard. Heard publicly called on Strickland to play harder in practice, and Strickland missed a couple of practices last week, saying he was sick. Because of Strickland's long history of frosty relationships with coaches, some folks wonder how sick he was--was he sick in retaliation for Heard's criticism?
Last spring I wrote the Wizards should sign and trade Richmond, for he offered them their best opportunity to get younger players and build something. (The Wizards have no No. 1 draft choice this season; this is the third of three No. 1 picks they traded for Chris Webber, who, ironically, they traded for Richmond!) The Wizards chose to keep the back court of Richmond and Strickland together. Now they might need to move Strickland before his situation with Heard grows impossible. Strickland is still a sweet point guard. A team such as the Knicks should drool at the possibility of landing him. And Strickland would probably drool at the prospect of going.