The NFL’s great, oversaturated Thanksgiving tradition christened FedEx Field on Thursday night. If there is any good left in this greedy world, it will be the last time the Washington Redskins — or any other team — host this event.
The game was so bad the league should consider abolishing its third and unnecessary holiday affair, which has served as nothing more than prime-time filler the past dozen years. Let families go to the movies, or watch Charlie Brown at home, or do something else that doesn’t require actual human interaction. Let college basketball tournaments own the night’s sports programming. Let ailing teams such as Washington and the New York Giants lumber through the season without being the victim of poor television programing foresight.
That won’t happen, though, because the NFL would rather televise road kill than dare to test the theory that less is more. This game was frighteningly close to a roadkill competition, with both teams fielding diminished squads because of injury. If not for Washington asserting itself in a few critical second-half moments and capturing a 20-10 victory, this could have been a fiasco that extended into overtime without resolution. Instead, it was just an eyesore that ended with the better team taking over.
For that, we should be grateful that wide receiver Jamison Crowder continued to emerge from the misfortune he suffered in the first half of the season. In perhaps the finest game of his young career, the third-year receiver caught seven passes for a career-high 141 yards, and he recorded his first touchdown of the season. We should be grateful that Samaje Perine rescued a running game that produced only 12 yards in the first half by rushing for 97 of his 100 yards after halftime and giving the offense some stability. And we should be grateful that Kirk Cousins, once again, defied the game’s ugliness and kept his composure despite six sacks and throwing a pick-six interception. He finished with 242 yards passing and two touchdowns, the last of which was an absolute dime to Josh Doctson that gave Washington a 17-10 lead late in the fourth quarter.
It was a stinker, but for the victors, the outcome was wonderful. Washington played without 10 players who started in Week 1 against Philadelphia. It adjusted without the multifaceted Chris Thompson, who broke his right leg last week in New Orleans. It won despite some comical mistakes by roster fill-ins, like when Pete Robertson fielded Tress Way’s punt early in the game. He corralled the ball at the 7-yard line and should have downed it, but for some reason, he ran into the end zone as Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau pleaded in disbelief. That’s a touchback. And that’s what this team must live with right now.
For a change, Washington encountered a team in worse shape. The Giants (2-9) were missing an enviable collection of talent, including receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard. Their season fell apart so quickly that they’re relegated to a spoiler role every week now. At least Washington (5-6) is still clinging to hope it can get back into the playoff picture. That incentive — and the comfort of playing at home — was enough in this one.
If you were looking for style, then you probably fell asleep before halftime. Maybe it was the turkey. Maybe this game possessed excessive amounts of tryptophan. A human can only take so many Eli Manning dropbacks these days.
Manning finished 13 of 27 for 113 yards, and he threw an interception. He was sacked four times, two of which were by Ryan Kerrigan. New York produced just 170 yards.
The teams combined to punt 16 times, and they were 6 of 29 on third down. The score was 3-3 midway through the third quarter. In a defensive struggle, the Washington defense was the best unit.
The team came back just four days after a heartbreaking loss to New Orleans and earned a victory that sets up what is essentially a playoff contention elimination game with Dallas (5-6) next Thursday. Little else mattered.
“We’re not interested in stats here,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “We’re interested in W’s.”
As they prepared to play with insufficient time to recuperate from the New Orleans loss, the Washington players —- like most teams in the NFL — griped about having to play on Thursday night. It is a problem that the league fails to acknowledge because playing on Thursdays creates revenue opportunities and gives the sport another day in the spotlight. “Thursday Night Football” is so important that Dallas and Detroit have had to make room and share their Thanksgiving tradition.
It’s a little more tolerable when a marquee game is in that third slot. But Giants-Redskins? When it was scheduled, New York was coming off an 11-5 season, and Washington was an 8-7-1 squad last year. It made for a marginally intriguing matchup between two teams in big television markets. And then football happened. With all the injuries and poor play, the teams entered with a combined record of 6-14. And what you saw Thursday night was just that — a bad game featuring losing teams.
“They need to throw the Thursday night games out,” Washington safety D.J. Swearinger said earlier this week. “They’re definitely too hard on our bodies, speaking for us, speaking for any other NFL team. It’s harder when you just get off the field on Sunday, and you’ve got to prepare in two or three days for another physical game. Our bodies are definitely hurting right now. So we’ve just got to do the best we can trying to get healthy and be ready to play Thursday.”
They did okay. They won. They won despite some follies like the fourth-down delay-of-game debacle. They won because of some extraordinary effort, too.
“It’s always really pretty when you win,” Gruden said. “It doesn’t matter statistically or what happened.”
I’m not sure about that, but, hey, why spoil a victory with too much nitpicking?
Washington won as a Thanksgiving host for the first time. It made history. It won’t be worth more than a sentence or two, but it was history.