Monday, December 04, 2006

Redskins 14 Falcons 24

When the Redskins lost to the Eagles, I wrote that it was the right time to make a switch at quarterback to Jason Campbell, but only because the Redskins playoff hopes were virtually, if not mathematically, dead. Mark Brunell was not the problem; the Redskins’ defense was the problem. I wrote that switching to Campbell while their playoff hopes were still alive would be asinine because the long history of the NFL shows it is very rare for a young quarterback, getting his first starts, to lead his team to the playoffs. I wrote that Joe Gibbs played this perfectly, despite the wailing from Skins fans who didn’t get it; despite the Skins fans who said that Gibbs has lost it. Yesterday, we saw why it is rare for young quarterbacks to lead their teams to the playoffs. Young quarterbacks make stupid mistakes.

That interception Campbell threw in the third quarter when he was in the grasp of the defender was “ill advised.” It came on the opening drive of the third quarter with the Redskins leading 14 – 10. The Skins had handed off to Betts three times on that drive and he gained twenty-seven yards. They had already moved to within field goal range at Atlanta’s twenty-one yard line. The interception was returned to the Redskins twenty-five and two plays later, the Falcons had their first lead in the game, which they never relinquished. I’ll bet Campbell eats the ball in that situation in the remaining games this year.

Jason Campbell is very talented and that INT was his first rookie-like play in three games; it had to happen eventually. He looked like a field general when the Skins marched for fourteen points on their first two drives to take a 14 – 0 lead. The second touchdown came on a bomb to Moss. It wasn’t a perfect throw, but it worked because Moss attacked the ball. The call and Campbell’s calmness in executing it were impressive. At worst the ball would have been picked and it would have pinned the Falcons deep like a great punt. Instead it gave them a huge early lead that looked insurmountable until the “young” quarterback showed up.

With a 14 – 0 lead, the offensive line blowing open huge holes, and Betts running through the holes as if the Falcons were playing in slow motion, I thought that there was no way the Redskins would lose that game. Ladell Betts got 155 yards on 28 carries. That’s a great 5.53 yards per carry average and there were few plays that resulted in little or no rushing yards. On that opening drive in the third quarter he averaged nine yards per carry before the INT.

After the loss to the Eagles, it was time to make the investment in Campbell. It was time to take some capital out of this season and allocate it to next year. Based on what I’ve seen, it is an investment that should start to give returns next year, which is a pretty quick payoff by historical standards. He will have had seven starts in the NFL by the end of the season. He will learn from his mistakes pretty quickly given the tremendous coaching talent that the Redskins have around him.

And there is still the ability to have fun this year. Winning the Super Bowl is every fan’s dream, but if that is the only standard by which to judge a season, then there would be millions of unhappy fans each year. There are two games left against hated division rivals. It would be fun to ruin their seasons.

Still, had the Redskins won yesterday I would have written today that they were back in the hunt because of the horrid NFC. Amazingly, every team that was ahead of the Skins that the Skins needed to lose, lost yesterday—the Vikings, Packers, Rams, Lions, 49ers, Giants, and Bucs—that’s a perfect 0 - 7. What are the odds of that? (Update: My thirteen-year old son told me the chances of that happening are 1 in 128, which is exactly right if the teams are evenly matched (i.e. if the point spread is truly even). How the hell did he figure that out at thirteen? I didn't know that stuff until college.)

As I watched Gibbs’ postgame press conference, I got the sense that Gibbs was fuming. I think he said something about getting away from “Redskins” football. Later we learned that Gibbs hurt his hand. Did he hurt it punching something? The Redskins got away from Redskins football and blew a chance to climb back into the hunt. Was Gibbs angry at himself for switching to Campbell too soon? If so he shouldn’t be. You have to play the odds, and the odds dictated that they had to play Campbell after the Eagles loss. Sometimes you play the odds correctly and still lose, but in the long run you have to play the odds if you want to win.

Next Year
Last week the Redskins beat the Carolina Panthers with great defense. They played defense the way I expected a healthy Redskins defense to play all year. All eleven starters played. If they were healthy all year, they would certainly be in the playoff picture today. Yesterday, Shawn Springs missed another game, this time due to a hamstring injury. He had practiced all week, but told the coaches he felt it on Sunday morning. I like Springs, but is he quitting on this team? The defense gives up too many big plays when Springs doesn't play.

Joe Gibbs is sending the right message. He has basically said that the rest of this season is about auditioning for a job next year. He told them he is looking for character guys who don’t quit even when they are out of the playoffs. And he is giving Campbell his chance to get up the learning curve. I hope to see first-round draft pick Rocky McIntosh get some more playing time at Linebacker this year, too.


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