As gut-wrenching losses go…. that one belongs in the pantheon, no doubt. It’s pretty hard to ring up a win-probability-index above 99% with so little time left in a game, and still lose. But they did. And so here we are.
There is a lot of wreckage to pick through following the Skins’ 34-31 loss in overtime to the Saints. Emotional wreckage. Psychological. Physical. But before we put on the forensic gloves, let’s remind ourselves of two things: 1) Never confuse results for analysis. 2) What we’ve been, has nothing to do with who we are.
Okay? Got it. Let’s begin.
From our view on the couch, it’s inconceivable how often we as fans watch so many NFL teams blow big leads late. We know they are playing some form of “prevent” defense, but we aren’t smart enough to properly decode it. Even if we just count pass rushers, that doesn’t always do it justice. All I know is this: no fucking way Drew Brees – Hall of Famer to be or not – should go 11-for-11 on his final two drives for 2 TDs, when we basically know he’s throwing every play. Brees went through our defense like a gas station egg salad sandwich goes through your system.
That’s what haunts me so much. Why not just play our “regular” defense (whatever it was that had worked so well all day long) in the final 3 minutes, and just walk out with a win? Maybe the all-22’s will tell more this week. Maybe the coordinators will admit to being insufficiently aggressive. Maybe the players were “tired.” Maybe there were injuries. I’m sure there were more than a couple of “mental mistakes” along the way.
As much as I have loved what Greg Manusky has done with this defense so far, this one he’s going to wear around his neck for a long, long, time. The damn game was won. Now close it out!
Now, on to other issues. Kirk Cousins is not the problem. Neither is Jay Gruden.
Don’t mistake me for saying these guys are currently Brady and Belichick light. They aren’t. They fuck up. Bad. Often at the worst possible time. But Cousins and Gruden are NOT the problem. So anyone who wants to let the former “walk” and then “fire” the latter, you can leave the room. I don’t talk to crazy people. Cousins and Gruden are likely the only thing keeping this team from a ceiling of 4 wins these past few years.
Gruden has shown an ability to deliver a team that is ready to play, week in and week out this year that belies his hokey-dokey demeanor. All of this, despite more than enough opportunities for his team to cloak themselves in a boo-hoo blanket of injury excuses, and just tap out. Not only has Jay’s team shown a professionalism and resilience that is a marvelous thing to see as a fan, but his offensive schemes and playcalling is absolutely first rate. Very few coaches are able whip up a good tasting meal while missing so many needed ingredients. Kirk’s three TD passes Sunday were wide-open walk-ins. Sure, the Saints might have blown a coverage or two. Sure, they missed their stud rookie Marshawn Lattimore once he tweaked his ankle early in the game. But alot of it is playcalling and scheme. And Jay’s got it. Tip your cap. He’s good. Someday, we’ll miss it when he’s gone. Badly.
Kirk is not the problem either. If you think he is, then I can’t help you understand pro football. Consistent production does not lie. Occasionally, you’ll get a one-year-wonder at QB (see: Foles, Nick) but Kirk is en route to delivering a third straight bomb season. And he’s doing it with virtually no wideout production. And just because you change the argument to “well, what’s his record” or “how come he folds under pressure so much” then again, I can’t help you. Kirk Cousins is keeping this team from being a 3 win joke.
And no, he’s not going to ride on the #1 homecoming float with the handful of “prettiest” NFL QBs. He’s somewhere on the second float. And yes he’s going to cost a damn fortune if you want to get off the 1-year rental plan. But so what? He costs a fortune now. If you can’t get out your wallet for a guy who takes a nuclear shot to the head deep in his own territory, then engineers a TD drive off a successful fake punt that ends in a cover-zero swamp-blitz where you get blown up, then you’ll never get out your wallet for anybody.
Now let’s talk about that fateful “Intentional Grounding” call. For starters, it was a borderline interpretation. The rule says you need to be in imminent danger of a sack. Everybody’s idea of “imminent” varies. Jay says the play was coming in from the sideline via hand signal, and that Crowder missed it. Okay. It’s fair to say Kirk should use his eyes and be a football player and not throw it to open acreage. He choked a little. No doubt. Like he choked in Week 17 last year. Like he choked for a moment at the end of the half in Philly two years ago (though it didn’t matter in the end).
But he’s not the problem. There are very few no-choke-ever QB’s in the world. And he also wins a lot of games too. Go ahead and look them up. Pro Football Reference is a wonderful factual resource. Besides, he shouldn’t have to win the fucking game THREE times. He already won it, once! (Shit, I sound like Giselle Bundchen right now, don’t I?)
My biggest gripe on that play was simply this: neither Kirk nor Jay lobbied their case nearly hard enough. If you want a Brady-Belichick comparison, well here it is. Both of those guys would have raised HOLY HELL as soon as the refs started to huddle up. I can’t tell what Jay did because the TV cameras didn’t show him for more than a split second. But they did show Kirk slump his head and put his hands on his helmet. The unmistakeable language of “oh, crap… I fucked up.”
No, Kirk, no! No a million times! Brady would have been right there in Walt Coleman’s face. Brady would know that changing Coleman’s mind as crew chief could be the difference between winning and losing. I’ve seen Brady do it a million times. You? You slumped your head and said… “oh… darn it.”
So from a results standpoint, that game totally sucked. They basically THREW AWAY a win, against all statistical odds of that even being possible. But let’s not confuse results with analysis. When I analyze who and what this team is, I am continually impressed at how hard and how well they play most weeks, despite an injury wave that would have capsized former Redskins teams. This team has something about it, you can really build on. It’s a damn shame that the brutal schedule, and massive injuries, will almost certainly leave us home come January.
Now, here’s my last thought I mentioned before: “What we have been, has nothing to do with who we are.”
I got a lot of feedback along the lines of: “Same old, same old, Redskins. I am sick of this team’s relentless mediocrity. Dan Snyder is the common denominator.” And so on, and so forth.
I get the angst. I’ve lived it, like you. This will now mark the 26th consecutive season in which the Washington Redskins will fail to win 11 games in a regular season. Winning 10 games is not much to brag about. If your team is actually any good, or worth talking about league-wide, you win at least 11. In fact, every single team in the NFL besides the Redskins have won 11 in that span, at least once! Every one! But us.
We’re going on 26 years of that. A full generation…. plus. It’s a damn shame. I know.
But all of that has nothing to do with what is going on right now, with this team, and this coach. Even the owner who must live with all of his past football idiocy, has improved considerably. I believe that this team, this coach, and this QB are on the cusp of being very, very good. Call me crazy, but I do. I believe that if we can get Kirk under wraps this winter, fix the problems at RB and WR, and keep layering in more young talent on defense, then next year could be a BIG year.
I’m not kidding.
The “blow it up” urge is always strong when disasters like Sunday occur. The desire to marry a new, young, and supposedly “hotter” QB girlfriend will never go away. But I pray that we can resist both impulses. I think this team in a “normal” injury year, with a slightly less daunting schedule and a dollop of good luck, could look alot like the team in green to our north does this year.
For now though, it’ll be a painful final month to watch, with a very nervous winter to follow.