Monday, December 19, 2005

Unfinished Business

One of my sons sprained a knee in wrestling practice and didn’t tell me until Friday night, and both sons got sick, so you can imagine the conflict that I felt when I had to eat my tickets to yesterday’s Redskins game. And, I had no means of getting my tickets to the charity that I normally send them to given the late notice. Right up until the last minute I was rationalizing why it would have been okay to take our sick sons out in thirty-degree weather with one hobbling on a sprained knee. Daddy dearest.

I was looking forward to screaming my lungs out. I was expecting a huge celebration. I watched the game in HD and 5.1 stereo and it was loud, and it was almost like I was there, but not quite. What made it worse was that four of the Redskins scores and many of the defense’s big plays were on my side of the field: two of Cooley’s three TDs; Santana Moss’s unbelievable diving catch, and later his run after a rocket screen; and Mike Sellers’ TD were all on my side. Each time, I turned to my wife and said “that was right in front of our seats.”

I never expected them to win by 28 points, the biggest margin in the history of the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry, but I did expect a decisive victory because Joe Gibbs knows how to win when it counts. As the Colts demonstrated this weekend, no team goes undefeated. It is almost irrational to try to go undefeated and impossible to reach that goal if a team doesn’t try. So, while a coach has to prepare his team to play its best every week, the coach has to prepare especially well to play a team in the division or the conference. Those games simply mean more because of the playoff tie breakers. Also, when the calendar turns to NFL crunch time—December and the playoffs—a coach has to prepare especially well.

Gibbs was hired to get the Redskins especially prepared to play these games just as he did in his first tenure. Joe Gibbs’s is now 3 – 0 in December this year, and 6 – 2 in games played after 11/30 since he returned. His career record in games played after 11/30 is now 50 – 15. That is simply spectacular, especially because he earned it playing in games like yesterday’s when the season was on the line for both teams, when both teams needed a victory. Also, consider this: some of Gibbs’s 15 losses came in the last game of the regular season when his team had already wrapped everything up and he rested players to prepare for the playoffs.

Now, look at Gibb’s record in games in the conference and division. After the Seahawks and Bears, the Redskins own the best record in the NFC, but the Redskins beat the Seahawks and Bears this year. The Seahawks and Bears each have one loss in the conference. It’s not Gibbs’s fault that the rest of the conference can’t beat these guys; he did. Take away the travesty that was the Tampa Bay game and the Redskins would be tied with those two for the fewest losses in the NFC with two NFC games to play.

The Redskins are currently tied with the Giants for fewest losses in the division. The Redskins play two more division games and the Giants play one—against the Skins this week. The Redskins final division game is against the depleted Eagles on January 1. Take away the travesty of the Tampa Bay game and this week’s game against the Giants would be for the division title. Neither the Giants nor the Redskins are likely to lose their last game, so this week’s game would have been huge. It would have been national. Everyone would have watched it. Instead, Fox is broadcasting the Cowboys versus the Panthers; still a good game, but not a game for a division title with an old, historic rivalry. The blown call in the Bucs game is sad for the Redskins, but it’s also sad for the NFL and Fox Sports.

So, the Redskins have beaten every team in the NFC this year except one. They beat the Seahawks who will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They beat the Bears who are likely to get a first-round bye. They beat the Bucs (don’t tell me they didn’t). They beat the NFC-champion Eagles when the Eagles had McNabb, Sheppard, and Westbrook, when the Eagles were still the team that reached the NFC championship game in four straight years. They beat the Cowboys TWICE, and in one win Gibbs put Parcells over his knee and gave him a spanking.

So, the only NFC team that the Redskins have not beaten this year is the Giants. That will be remedied this weekend.

Other than two games, the Redskins and Giants schedules are identical. The Redskins didn’t get to play the pitiful Saints or a 3 – 5 Vikings team at home as the Giants did. Instead, the Redskins had to play two first-place teams: Chicago and Tampa. Also, the Giants never played the NFC Champion Eagles with McNabb, Westbrook, and Sheppard and the Giants almost lost to the depleted Eagles two weeks ago. The Giants couldn’t beat the Cowboys on the road and barely did at home. The Giants couldn’t beat the Seahawks.

The Giants played with a lot of emotion at home after the death of their beloved owner the last time the Redskins faced them. This time, the Redskins will be playing with emotion. The Redskins are the class of the NFC this year, but still don’t get respect. They will knock the Giants off the ball. Tiki? Ta Ta. Osi? See ya. Eli? Ole.

It is an injustice that their pending beat down of the Giants will not result in an NFC East title for the Redskins. If there is any justice, the Giants will lose to the Raiders, too. I hope we see a reprise of Shockey’s Seattle celebration in Oakland. Other than watching Sellers blow people off the line, Moss making diving catches, and Cooley and Portis score touchdowns, that premature celebration quickly followed by a loss was probably the most entertaining moment of the season.


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