Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Redskins - Broncos: That one hurt!

I've already apologized to Santana Moss for my lack of faith, now let me do the same for Joe Gibbs. Late last season, the coach said Mark Brunell "was not done." Like everyone else, I thought "sure coach," while thinking about another lost cause -- Steve Spurrier's defense of Danny Wuerffel. Brunell was so rusty during the 2004 campaign that he creaked like the Tin Man.

Going into last year, Brunell competed in one of those ESPN manufactured quarterback competitions against the NFL's young guns. Two seasons of inactivity was apparent as he was slower and more inaccurate than the others. He didn't show any better in the regular season. Fans lost faith in him by the second game. The coach stuck by him until game nine.

Brunell must have been on a steady diet of Levitra in the off season for he is more studly now. That was apparent from the first preseason game. This edition looks like the Jaguar Mark whom Gibbs touted when he signed him. Accurate, mobile, quick, finds the right target and zips the ball to him. This year, Brunell's play elevates the whole offense. Joe knows! I'll never doubt you again, coach.

The loss to Denver was agony to players, coach and fans. With a minute to go, with me and everybody in Washington and Denver on the edge of their seats with every bodily orifice clenched, Denver blocked Brunell's pass attempt to tie the game that might have led to a Redskins win. I had already formed the "whoop" in my throat and was tensed for the celebratory jump. Instead, I felt like I just ran off a cliff. Sooooo close.

The Skins weren't favored to win. The game wasn't expected to be close. There was (and is) no shame in losing to Denver in Denver. But you really felt for this group of 'Skins. They fought back. They came back. They pitched and caught with precision -- in the driving rain. They marched 94 yards -- ninety-four yards -- downfield in the closing minutes to put themselves in a position to win, only to lose because some guy's arm was in the right place at the wrong time. Or was that the wrong place at the right time? That hurt however it's said.

The Redskins beat the Redskins. The defense failed in the first order of business, stopping the run. The Broncs rushed for 165 yards. Sure, two of them came on Tatum Bell's big scoring runs of 34 and 55 yards. Take those two runs away and Bell still averages a respectable 3.8 yards per rush.

Jake Plummer was contained to 92 passing yards, completing just 40 percent of his passes. One of his passes was a scoring strike to Ashley Lelie (what kind of name is that?).

Clinton Portis' fumble in Redskins territory positioned Bell's first TD run. If the Broncos were twenty yards farther downfield, maybe they would have been held to a field goal. If the special teams avoided a block of Nick Novac's field goal attempt, or a penalty that negated another, maybe they win this one. If the 'Skins exploited all their scoring chances, maybe the close offensive interference call on David Patton in the end zone wouldn't have been so impactful. If the 'Skins rushers did once what Tatum Bell did twice, maybe the dynamics of the game changes in our favor. If wishes were dishes, I'd have a closet full of china.

For all that, the offense out performed the Broncos by 190 yards. They controlled the ball seven and a-half minutes longer than the Broncos. Brunell completed 30 of 53 passes to eight different receivers for 322 yards and two touchdowns. They rushed for 125 yards. That's the classic profile of a Joe Gibbs team. The offense did everything needed to win, but the whole team shot themselves in the foot. Still, it's a rare day when the Redskins offense outperforms the defense. Maybe it won't be so rare anymore.

An apparent safety by the 'Skins was reversed under the tuck rule. Most fans dispute that costly call, but there is no assurance it cost Washington the game. Had the play stood and events transpired as they subsequently did, the Redskins would have gone for the tie with a PAT kick rather than a low-odds two point play. Then they would have had a shot to win in overtime, but so would Denver. Who knows how that would have turned out?

It would have been fun to watch.

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