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October 1, 2004
Gibbs Keeping Tabs At first, it struck me as "dog bites man" type news. Joe Gibbs reads what's written about the team in the papers. From Nunyo Demasio's article in today's Post:
Three games into what has been called "the second coming," Gibbs's Redskins are 1-2 and criticism has been mounting. There have been costly turnovers, questionable coaching decisions and mistakes. Gibbs, who admits to reading newspapers regularly, says he is taking the media criticism in stride.
This struck me as odd. I've heard countless coaches say that they don't read the papers and, although I had never heard Gibbs address the subject, I just assumed that he wouldn't have the time to read the papers. After all, that would take away time from figuring out how to redesign the Counter Trey so it would work better with his current personnel and against today's defenses.
But in thinking about it and with my occasional "inside" access to the locker room, it makes sense. You have fifty-plus players, most of them with something to say. You can't talk to all of them all the time, so having a bunch of guys roaming around with pads and pencils and voice recorders and then reading what they write is a good way to keep your finger on the pulse of the team.
In addition, you need to know when you need to step up and defend one of your players from criticism. This was the case as Gibbs defended the play of Mark Brunell. While the remarks about the quarterback's play weren't particularly scathing—most were along the lines of the "not terrible, but not terribly effective" assessment written in this space—Gibbs still felt compelled to come to Brunell's defense:
"If you want proof in the pudding you look at his quarterback rating against Dallas [97.5]. And you go and check the quarterback ratings for last year against that team."
That would be a reference to Tim Hasselbeck's 0.0 rating against Dallas in a game late last season.
Do the Browns Have a Chance?
Rarely has a game between two 1-2 teams seemed to be such a mismatch.
The Cleveland Browns are beaten up, in disarray, and they weren't very good when they were healthy and had their act together. The Redskins are relatively healthy, it seems they are improving week to week and have better players man for man than the Browns do.
The Redskins should win this game by three touchdowns.
Of course, it's the NFL and anything can happen. Washington has been prone to making mistakes in the form of turnovers (vs. New York) and penalties (vs. Dallas) and if both of those bugs bite on Sunday the Browns might be able to hang in there and keep it close and anything can happen in the fourth quarter.
The more likely scenario in my mind, though, is the Redskins gradually building a lead with Clinton Portis having a big day against a particularly lame Cleveland rush defense. It should still be a game at halftime, but Washington will pull away in the final 30 minutes with Jeff Garcia throwing a couple of picks in the fourth quarter to seal it.
Washington 31, Cleveland 14.
September 30, 2004
The Cost of Bad Calls
The NFL had apologized to the Redskins for two bad calls made by the officials in Monday night's game. Actually, one was a bad call, a first-quarter pass interference call in the Redskins' end zone on Washington's Walt Harris and one was a non-call, the fact that no flag was thrown when a defender grabbed Rod Gardner's jersey in the Dallas end zone as the receiver was going for a pass in the fourth quarter.
It's easy to do the math and say that each call cost the Redskins seven points, they lost by three, so the calls cost them the game. The flag on Harris came one a third and eight at the Washington 41 and it set up a one-yard touchdown run by Eddie George to make the score 7-0. A 58-yard field goal is clearly out of Billy Cundiff's range so a no-call means that the game remains scoreless and Dallas is punting.
The non-call came after the Cowboys had take a 21-10 lead with 13:00 to go. Washington was responding to the score with a nice drive that had them with a first and ten at the Dallas 33. Instead of first and goal at the one the drive broke down and the Redskins ended up punting from midfield.
The problem with simply adding or subtracting points is that you don't know how getting the call right would have changed the dynamics of the rest of the game. If Dallas punts after the Harris call, what happens from there if the Redskins end up being pinned back deep? How does that affect the play calling and strategy the rest of the way?
And if the Redskins get a TD and the two-point conversion instead of punting with about 9-8 minutes left in the fourth quarter, what does Dallas do? Are they more aggressive with a 3-point lead? When the Redskins get the ball back do they go bombs away as they did in driving 64 yards in two passes, both from Brunell to Gardner?
Then answer to each question is, of course, we just don't know. This wasn't a clear-cut case of a blown call costing the game. In other words, it wasn't the Mel Gray game.
That one was in Busch Stadium in 1975. The Redskins were leading the St. Louis Cardinals 17-10. The Cards had the ball fourth and goal at the Washington six. Jim Hart goes to Mel Gray, who gets his hands one the ball but has it knocked out immediately by Pat Fischer. After a zebra huddle, St. Louis is given—that's the key word here, given—a touchdown.
Even that loss can't be 100% attributed to the bad call since the "TD" just put the game into overtime. It was clear that the Redskins defense didn't do a very good job is shaking off the adversity as St. Louis won the toss and easily drove downfield for Jim Bakken's winning field goal.
Reviewing "Down by Contact"
While we're on the subject, let me explain something to those of you who are constantly asking why "down by contact" calls can't be reviewed by instant replay. This seems to come up at least once a game and there's always a big outcry by someone when an apparent fumble is ruled not to have happened because the player was down by contact.
There's a very good reason why such calls can't be reviewed. When a runner is ruled down by contact the referee blows the whistle. Players are trained to go hard until the whistle blows and then immediately let up lest they draw an unnecessary roughness call.
So let's say that Portis runs into the line and the ball pops out and is rocking on the turf. Coles has a bead on it and an angle on a defender near him, but Coles hears the whistle blow—the referees have called Portis down by contact--and gives up his pursuit of the ball. The defender swoops in and dives on the ball. Replay reveals that Portis' knee was not down before he fumbled.
Is it at all fair, then, to give the defense the ball, to reward them, in essence, for something that was done after the whistle blew? Clearly it is not, even though the whistle should not have been blown. The message to players would be to ignore the whistle, to keep on going for the ball since there is a chance that replay will nullify the whistle.
The whistle can't be conditional, it has to be the final word, saying "nothing that happens past this instant counts, period", even if further review shows that the whistle should not have been blown.
Baseball at RFK
The news that baseball is back in DC and that the Nationals will be playing at RFK Stadium for three years brings up the point that, while most people have fond memories of that building as a gridiron venue, it was a better baseball stadium than it was a football stadium.
For those of you who have never seen it set up for baseball, here's the lay of the land. Home plate is in the near corner of the left end zone from the TV perspective, right around where Minnesota's Darren Nelson dropped the pass to send the Redskins to Super Bowl XXII. Darryl Grant's spike after scoring the clinching TD against Dallas in the '82 NFL title game was in deep right field. The stands behind the visitor's bench, the ones that were bouncing up and down during that Dallas game, roll back underneath the left end zone stands to reveal left field, where Frank Howard used to roam.
It was a pitcher's ballpark in terms of its dimensions, 335' down each line and 410 to center. Since those left-field stands rolled back and the stands in the right "Budweiser" end zone were removable, there were no lower-deck seats in fair territory. I suspect that part of the renovation might be to add some seats in the outfield to shorten up those distances to right and left field and perhaps add an asymmetrical element to park, very much in vogue these days.
Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins
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