Sunday, December 05, 2004

No, Joe! Say it ain't so!

Watching the Washington Redskins throttle the hated New York Giants Sunday, I didn’t know whether to cheer or throw up.
Clinton Portis ran alternately like a deer and a bull, Patrick Ramsey made Favre-esque throws, and the defense—as usual—came up big on their way to a 31-7 rout. Too bad it took 12 weeks to find an offense.
As the Redskins improve to a whopping 4-8, I’m left wondering if that record wouldn’t be the exact opposite if Joe Gibbs hadn’t gone to Ramsey about six weeks into the season, instead of waiting until there were only six weeks left. The old cliché says pride comes before a fall, and it was Gibbs’ stubbornness that left the dreadful Mark Brunnel under center for 10 excruciating weeks of ineptitude.
Brunnel single-handedly gave away several games this year. His turnovers against Baltimore and Cleveland alone led directly to points for the other teams, dropping the Redskins further and further out of contention. But the blame ultimately rests with Golden Joe. It was Gibbs who signed Brunnel’s dead arm in the offseason to an unwieldy $40 million contract. It was Gibbs who stuck with the former All-Pro, even when everyone else in the football world—be it fans or opposing teams—failed to see the logic.
All of this was unbelievable to the devoted—like myself—who believed all of our dreams had come true in January when Gibbs announced he was returning to his beloved Redskins. I was one of those delusional morons who thought 13-3 wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Gibbs succeeds at anything he touches, so why wouldn’t he be able to take one of the more talented teams in the league and turn them into instant winners?
Why, it seems, is because it took Gibbs until the first week of December to remember just how great a coach he is—with a little help from his players. In the days leading up to the Giants game, Gibbs had sit-downs with both Portis and Ramsey, who both begged the Hall of Fame coach to work to their strengths. Portis knew he needed Ramsey to at least try and go deep to free up some space to run, and Ramsey knew he needed an established running game to make any headway against a bitter division opponent.
Apparently, Gibbs listened—and the results were stunning.
Except for giving up a kickoff return for a touchdown, the Redskins dominated New York for the entire game—doing whatever they wanted on offense and defense, whenever they wanted. I’ve been screaming at the television all year for Gibbs to use Portis to the best of the fleet-footed runner’s abilities; for the first time this season, the coach finally put Portis in space with pitches, sweeps and screen passes, where he used his speed and shiftiness to rack up more than 150 yards and two touchdowns. With that running attack going through the Giants like a knife through butter, Ramsey was able to drop back in the pocket comfortably, using play-action to freeze the defenders in their tracks and put receivers in positions to make plays.
Though I wish Gibbs had gone to Ramsey earlier in the year, I have to believe all things will work out in the end—they always seem to for ol’ Joe. He had to work through his own challenges this year, and he’ll certainly be a better coach for it in 2005 and beyond. It’s important Washington finishes this season strong, though, so Daniel Snyder won’t be tempted to blow up the team once again before opening day next year. With one of the league’s best defenses and running backs, there’s no reason this group can’t be right in the thick of the playoff hunt next season (actually, in the ridiculously-bad NFC, the ’Skins are still alive for a berth this year).
It’s Redskins legend at this point, but let’s not forget Gibbs was almost fired in his first season as head coach in 1980, going 8-8. He went to back-to-back Super Bowls the next two years.
After the performance Gibbs and his young nucleus of players turned in Sunday, maybe history really will repeat itself.