As a Redskins fan, last night was a long, long, long time comin’.
I was 16 the last time Washington beat the Cowboys in Dallas. That’s literally a lifetime ago. Since 1995, I’ve gotten a driver’s license, graduated from high school, graduated from college, got married, and worked for three different publications in three different states.
That’s a long time to wait for one victory.
Last night’s 14-13 Redskin win over the hated, despicable, filthy, no good stinkin’ Cowgirls was nothing short of a miracle. I’m not deluded into believing it was anything other than divine intervention. And I’m OK with that, because miracles have been in short supply around here for, oh, the past decade.
For those who either couldn’t stay up late enough (or early enough, in most cases), or simply gave up hope, let me recap the game: The Redskins’ offense, led by 35-year-old Mark Brunell, was inept for the first 55 minutes of the game. The aforementioned No. 8 spent almost as much time on the ground under a pile of Cowboys as he did throwing the ball, and when he managed to get a pass off, it was most likely a five-yarder or an incompletion followed by a punt. Until late in the fourth quarter, Washington averaged less than four yards per play; that, ladies in gentlemen, is pathetic. Thankfully, the Redskins feature one of the best defenses in the league, which managed to give up a measly 13 points on the road in an overheated stadium full of revved-up rednecks in silver and blue (Cowboy legends Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin were added to the “ring of fame” last night at Texas Stadium, making the night’s outcome all that much sweeter).
So when the Skins got the ball back (again) with about five minutes to play and down two scores, I said, “If they don’t score a touchdown on this drive, I’m turning it off and going to bed.” You have to understand I’m the type of ascetic fan that typically watches every last second of every last game, just in case.
Well, last night was one of those cases.
The drive started out in typical Redskin style, i.e. backward instead of forward. After he was thrown to the ground like a bag of dirt, Brunell faced third-and-27 from deep in his own territory, surely an untenable situation and prelude to a loss. As Brunell dropped back to pass, the receivers were covered (again), so he stepped through the pocket and began running—shuffling, really—down the field; he gave a limp-leg move and all of the sudden, the Redskins had fourth-and-short instead of fourth-and-a-mile. A quick pass in the flat to James Thrash and they’re back in business.
Or so I thought. Ineptitude tried to rear its ugly head once again, as penalties and busted plays led to another fourth down, this time from the Dallas 39 and 15 yards needed for a new set of downs. This is it, I said, game over. And yet, I was wrong yet again, as Brunell floated a rainbow pass over the outstretched arms of Dallas safety Roy Williams—a Redskin nemesis if there ever was one—and into the waiting arms of new wideout Santana Moss, who fell down in the end zone for Washington’s first touchdown of the 2005 season.
Suddenly, it’s a ballgame, and I’m trying not to wake the neighbors in celebration.
So the Skins defense holds again—aided by more intervention from above in the form of a holding penalty that reversed a clock-killing Cowboy first down—giving Brunell and the boys have the ball back with a full three minutes on the clock, an eternity in the National Football League, even for the Redskins.
Turns out Brunell only needed about 30 seconds. In what is certainly the best ball I’ve ever seen No. 8 throw, he fires—yes, fires—a gorgeous strike to Moss, who is again streaking past Cowboy defenders, this time for a 70-yard touchdown that left me screaming (neighbors be damned) at 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2005, a time and date that will surely go down in both Redskin and Cowboy lore. Because the Skins’ defense held yet again and Washington players doused Joe Gibbs with water like he had just won the Super Bowl.
This game may not have meant as much to Gibbs as his three previous championships, but he said afterward, and I would agree, it was one of the top regular season games of his career, pre- or post-9/11. It was his first victory over Dallas coach Bill Parcells in nine tries, the Redskins’ first win in Dallas in 10 tries, and the first time Parcells has ever blown a fourth-quarter 13-point lead in 78 tries (yes, 78, that’s not a typo).
Yeah, it’s just two games, but better to be 2-0 than 0-2 (which they could and maybe should be).
Yeah, they shouldn’t have won this one, but the Cowboys have stolen so many games during the past decade, the Redskins were due.
And, yeah, the offense has only scored 23 points in two games, but I believe when this season is over, we’re going to look back at these last 14 as the turning point of the year. You could tell after the game that the players—especially the offense—had a big weight taken off their shoulders.
It was interesting to hear Clinton Portis say after the game that Moss had to convince Gibbs to let the speedy receiver go deep. I think Gibbs has been in shell shock and suffering from self doubt since returning to this franchise, and maybe it takes something like this for him to finally stop coaching scared and start coaching to win some games.
I’m not about to lose my head and say Washington can win the NFC East, because it won’t. I’m not going to say this group is going to win 11 or 12 games, because they can’t.
But with two down already, nine victories now looks like a genuine possibility, whereas one quarter of football ago it was more like a Dexter Manley pipe dream.
When the 2005 schedule was released, everybody in Washington (including me) griped about getting a Week 3 bye; now, I think nothing could have worked out better, because the players can carry this momentum with them into practice for the next two weeks as they prepare to host a playoff contender in the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 2. Brunell needs all the time he can get to acclimate himself to this new group of receivers, receivers who now trust him to get the job done in crunch time, and, more importantly, deliver the ball with touch and speed. (And not to break my own arm patting myself on the back, but if you look at the post directly below this one, I can say I believe I had this one.)
Sports are such a crazy business. Just look how the fates and hopes of so many people can change, almost instantaneously, in the span of two nice-looking throws from a quarterback in the twilight of his career. The next 15 weeks certainly will be filled with anguish and anxiety, but for the first time since Coach Joe announced in January 2004 that he was returning to the city that loves him, the people of this city have hope that the team we love has a chance to do something special.