Monday, October 03, 2005

What's Luck Got To Do With It?

My apologies to Tina Turner.

I love it. The Redskins keep winning and the professional critics keep crying that they are lucky; I have a feeling that the Redskins like it that way. You can’t surprise anyone when they’re expecting you to smash them in the mouth. And, it’s hard to have a chip on your shoulder when everyone loves you.

Who are these critic-geniuses? We can start with the prognosticators in the New York area and national publications who unanimously picked the Redskins to finish in last place in the NFC East. Then we can continue with Terry Bradshaw who actually said at halftime of yesterday’s game against the Seahawks that the reason the Redskins were winning was that Seattle’s players had jet lag. Okay, Terry.

Let’s continue with Paul Needell of the Star Ledger, New Jersey’s most widely circulated newspaper. On Friday, Paul said that the Redskins were the most overrated team in the league and he picked the Seahawks as his “upset special” of the week. This is the same Needell that picked the Redskins to finish in last place. Leave it to a New York sports columnist to write that a unanimous last-place pick is overrated. The gamblers at the Bada Bing must be upset with Paulie because today he is trying to justify himself by saying “The 3 – 0 Redskins are more lucky than good.” That’s right Paul, keep repeating that mantra; the Giants players and coaches read your column.

Although I am the “eternal optimist,” I am not getting carried away with the Redskins’ 3 – 0 start. I am not, for instance, going to repeatedly remind everyone that they won the Super Bowl every other time they started 3 – 0 (did I just let that slip?). They won it in 1982, 1987, and 1991 after starting 3 – 0, but this Redskins team is not as good as the 1982 and 1991 teams. It is also not nearly as good as the 1983 team, which did not start 3 – 0 and did lose a Super Bowl to the Raiders. Despite the Super Bowl loss, that 1983 team was one of the best teams in the history of the NFL.

This 2005 Redskins team is, however, better than the 1987 Super Bowl championship team and very similar to a more recent Super Bowl winner: The 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Paul Needell probably remembers what the Ravens did to his beloved Giants in the Super Bowl that year. Before you get your shorts in a knot, I am not predicting that the Redskins will win the Super Bowl this year, but I am on record saying that they will make the playoffs. Once you’re in the playoffs anything can happen, and good things usually do happen in the playoffs to teams with dominating defenses like the Redskins.

Although the Redskins’ critics will not give credit where it is due, I will. Terry Bradshaw apparently had some sort of epiphany between his halftime and post-game analysis and posted the following on the Fox web site today:

But I really liked what I saw Sunday (from the Redskins) against the Seahawks. The Redskins are picking up their blocking schemes. The offensive linemen are picking up the blitzes and that delay blitz I talked about on our postgame show that ended up in the game-deciding 30-yard pass to Santana Moss. That proved the linemen and Brunell are seeing things. Brunell is like these other guys. Give him time, he's a veteran. He's polished. He throws a great deep ball. He really throws a pretty pass and he makes good decisions when he has time.

It's damn impressive what the Redskins have accomplished thus far.

Let's go back to last year. Remember, at the end of last season, Gibbs came out and said, "Let's not be so quick in writing off Brunell." Patrick Ramsey, yes, he's pretty good, but Brunell can still play.

Now, I was one of those guys who openly questioned Gibbs when he said that. Did he really believe that? I was saying, "Hey, get the young kid in there. You can't win with Brunell..."

"...I've learned my lesson. There is no way I know more about what's going on in Washington than Gibbs."
Terry Bradshaw is a big man for admitting this, but for covertness-sake I hope more people are listening to the Paul Needells and Lenny Pasquarellis out there. Remember, Lenny was one of the first to say Gibbs was too old and that the game has passed him by. The funny thing is that Lenny wrote that about ten minutes after Gibbs announced that he was returning to the NFL, which was about eight months before Gibbs coached his first regular-season game. What a prognosticator! What genius!

But, let’s talk a little about the importance of luck in an NFL season. Was it lucky that the Seahawk’s Brown plunked the game-winning field goal off of the left upright yesterday? I don’t know; was it luck that the Redskin’s Novak had a field goal blocked yesterday even though he thought he hit it well? Was it luck that Santana Moss was able to fly by the Cowboys’ secondary TWICE? Was it luck that the Bears only points in week one came off a kick returner’s fumble deep in Redskins territory? When coaches pick their players, draw up plays, and when players make plays on the field, teams make their own luck (That kick returner has been cut, by the way. Gibbs sent a message about holding on to the ball.)

But, I’ll tell you what luck is: Bad officiating. Bad officiating can make a huge difference in a sixteen-game season. One bad call can ruin a game and three bad ones can make the difference between finishing in last place and making the playoffs. The prospect of bad officiating is one reason why the NFL allows replay reviews of calls on the field, but I think the NFL should have unlimited replay reviews.

For example, look at last season, Gibbs’s first year back from retirement. The Redskins had three bad calls that led to losses in three games. In a Monday Night game, the Skins lost to the Cowboys by three points after the Cowboys receiver pushed off of the Skins defender in the end zone and the Skins got called for pass interference. Pass interference is not reviewable. In the game against the Packers, Clinton Portis’s game-winning touchdown in the final minute of play was called back for a motion penalty against the H-back, Cooley. Replays showed that Cooley was as still as a statue on the play, but that call is not reviewable. Against the Eagles, Shawn Springs was inexplicably called for pass interference against Terrell Owens on a third-and-five play when the Eagles were on their own 40-yard line. The Eagles should have punted. Instead, the ball was advanced 35-yards on the penalty, the drive ended with a touchdown, and the Eagles won by three.

Reverse those three bad calls and the Redskins finish 9 - 7 and get at least one home playoff game. Joe Gibbs would have had to sit for dozens of interviews with people like Needell, Pasquarelli, and Bradshaw and answer questions about his coaching prowess and the fast turnaround of the Redskins. And, few of them would have predicted that the Redskins would finish last in the division in 2005.


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