Winning the Close Ones

If you're thinking that you've never seen a string of Redskins games like the four straight nail-biters we've had to open the season before, you're nearly right.

Only once before in their history have the Redskins played in four consecutive games decided by three or fewer points. In Weeks 9-12 of the 1975 season, they lost to the Cardinals (the Mel Gray game) 20-17 in overtime and to the Raiders 26-23, also in overtime and then regrouped to beat Minnesota 31-30 and Atlanta 30-27. That team did not make the playoffs, losing those two three-point decisions mentioned above and another one, 13-10 to Houston.

It's said that good teams win the close ones and, to an extent, that's true, if only by definition. A close win adds to a team's victory total and the teams with the better records are considered to be the good teams.

But the great teams, the elite teams, the teams that play to decide the championship, don't necessarily have a good record in tight contests simply because they don't play in many of them. Take last year's two Super Bowl participants, for example. The Oakland Raiders average margin of victory in their 13 wins was about 17 points and they were 0-1 in games decided by three points or less. The champion Buccaneers won by an average of 16.5 points and were 2-1 in close ones.

Looking at the recent history of the Redskins, the pattern holds true. The 1991 Super Bowl champs won by an average of 19 points, and were just 2-2 in close games.

OK, you might say, nobody really thinks that this is a Super Bowl team, at least not yet. How about playoff teams, maybe ones that win a game or two in the postseason?

Now here we're looking at a frequency of close games and a success rate in them that resembles the Redskins' here at the quarter pole. The six teams besides the Super Bowl teams that won at least one playoff game—Tennessee, the Jets, and Pittsburgh in the AFC and San Francisco, Atlanta and the Giants in the NFC—were a combined 14-6-2 in games decided by three or fewer points (Atlanta and Pittsburgh tied in their game, so the season's lone tie counts twice here).

Right now, the Redskins are showing signs of being a good team, maybe a very good one. But before they go from good to great, they're going to have to find a way to put teams away. When they're up 20-3 in the third quarter, they need to pick off a pass, return it for a score, and turn the rest of the game into garbage time. They can't fall behind 17-0 on the road, they have to silence noisy dome crowds with both quick strikes and sustained drives on offense and by forcing three and outs on defense.

Those days may be coming, and sooner rather than later. Until then, though, the Skins are a lot of fun, if nerve-wracking, to watch.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has detailed coverage of every game the Redskins played from 1937 through the 2001 season. For details, go

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