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October 4, 2004
Paul Woody said it best in this morning's Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Joe Gibbs has seen the enemy and it is wearing burgundy and gold and leaving the football on the ground in inopportune places and at inopportune times.Just before Portis' fumble the Skins had a 10-3 lead and seemed primed to drive to take control of the game. Instead, it's Cleveland ball on the Washington 31. Bad time, bad place.
And then the Redskins' chance for a last-gasp drive with a reasonable amount of time left died when Coles fumbled that chance away. Worse time, it didn't really matter where it happened.
Throw in the roughing the passer penalties, two of the seven flags thrown against the Skins, the miscommunications between Gibbs and Brunell and Gibbs and Larry Hill, his replay guru in the booth, and you have, well, the Fun and Gun.
Last year, the Redskins survived such performance issues during the first quarter of the season and started 3-1. Ultimately, they collapsed under the weight of all of the mistakes and won just twice the rest of the way.
Call it a losing attitude, call it what you will, but the culture of sloppy football continues even with the exchange of Gibbs for Spurrier. The key word there is culture.
It takes a lot to change a corporate culture, even in a relative small company such as the Washington Redskins. Simply banning cell phones in meetings doesn't get it done, nor does having seven zebras at each practice to flag infractions. Such things are a start, mind you, but changing a culture requires more.
For one thing, it requires a strong leader backed by a strong management team. The Redskins have that in Gibbs in concert with Bugel, Williams, and the rest. It requires persistence on the part of that leadership team. I think it would be foolish to question Gibbs' persistence or that of the assistant coaches.
There are factors beyond the control of the coaches. The individuals involved have to want to change. Or, more precisely, they have to want to do what it takes to change. You'd expect that highly motivated players making seven-figure incomes would certainly want to change and stop coughing up the ball and twitching before the snap and there's no doubt that every Redskin would tell you that he desperately wants to stop playing sloppy football.
That's talking the talk, what about walking that walk? Is that player willing to do what it takes to stop the mistakes? Will he go though the dull, rigorous drills with 100% focus, will he develop the mental toughness necessary to concentrate on execution even when he's dead tired? That's a decision each player will make for himself. It's a choice. It seems that not every player has chosen to do so at this point in time.
And that's the key, the other thing that's beyond the control of the coaches is the most fundamental one—time. It's not like removing a weed from your yard where you can just dig down and get the sucker roots and all. You have to convince that weed that it's a beautiful flower. You can't do that on demand.
Normally in this space I rate any bold predictions I made during the previous week and see if they held water. This week, however, my prognostications regarding the Cleveland game were so off base I'll simply recap them below and say that they didn't hold enough water to drown a housefly, except that I did capture the scenario under which the Redskins could lose to a tee.
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.
October 3, 2004
There aren't many rules around here, but here's one: If you support an opponent of the Redskins, or even if you are a Skins fan and I predict a Redskins win in the blog, please feel absolutely free to blast me for my opinion with both barrels. But if you're going to talk smack, do so before the game, not just afterwards.
After predicting an easy Redskins win—I called it a "mismatch"—I heard from two Browns fans who disagreed with my assessment. One wrote me before the game, giving me some reasons why Cleveland could win. He gets my full respect and will get a nice second reply from me describing the taste of the crow I'm eating.
Another arrived about 20 minutes after the game ended. The subject was "Nice Prediction." The writer called me "pompous" for actually thinking that the Redskins would win easily. I wrote back and called him a "coward" for taking his shots at me after the fact.
Not only is that cowardly, there's no reason to do it. I blast or credit myself on my predictions every Monday in this space, unlike other, more cowardly bloggers out there.
So, you Baltimore Ravens fans out there, listen up. I'm going to make a prediction on the game. As with every blog entry here, my name and email address will be attached. I'm not sure yet, but my instinct at this moment is to predict a Redskins win. If you want to have at the prediction, please feel free to do so. And if you blast me beforehand and I'm wrong, I'll give you your due. If we ever meet in person, I might even buy you a Natty Boh.
If I don't hear from you before and I hear from you afterwards, though, you will be subject to the full wrath of The Blog and no Natty Boh for you.
Before you write, yes I know that National Bohemian is no longer brewed in Charm City, I'm just old school that way
On to the Game
Well, that was a nice 300-word diversion from talking about the game itself.
First of all, Cleveland is not a bad team, better than I thought. Their talent is nearly on a par with Washington's. They're stronger in some areas (D-line in particular) and weaker in others. The return of Lee Suggs from injury made a big difference in their offense. While they gave up three sacks, their offensive line did a decent job. Jeff Garcia came back from being as cold as a pint of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia and gained confidence as the game went on.
Nevertheless, they were underdogs and they followed the classic underdog script. They made very few errors and didn't get in the way as the Redskins self destructed with penalties and critical turnovers. Cleveland hung around and at exactly the right time they came up an excellent touchdown drive to take the lead in the fourth quarter.
After that, two third-down plays decided the game. On the first one, Brunell appeared to have Coles open to convert a third and four, but Kennard Lang batted the pass down at the line. After the punt, Cleveland was facing a quick three and out but Garcia hit Andre Davis for 33 yards and any Washington comeback after that would have been a miracle.
For the second straight week, the Redskins burned a timeout on an unwinnable replay challenge. It's clear that Portis coughed the ball up well before hitting the ground and I'm not sure why Gibbs and/or his replay guru upstairs decided to challenge. Cleveland nearly did the Skins a favor by hustling up to the line, but, unfortunately, the challenge signal reached the referee just prior to the Browns snapping the ball.
Clock management didn't cost the Redskins this one, however. Even if they'd had a timeout in their pocket to challenge the Coles fumble, it wouldn't have done any good. Certainly, there was no conclusive evidence to overturn the call. And even if it had been overturned, there's not much to suggest that they could have punched it into the end zone. In fact, their 1 of 11 third down "efficiency" suggests very strongly to the contrary.
Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins
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