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The Sean Taylor Tragedy, A Decade Later

Ten years after his murder, Sean Taylor still casts a long shadow on NFL players and fans. There had never been a safety quite like him. With the heft of a medium sized dump truck, Taylor was fluid and fast. Natural in every way. He could get sideline-to-sideline to hunt down indifferent passes. He could shoot the gap and erase ball carriers with a massive thud of pads, and a gasp from the fans. You don’t need me to tell you this. Go to YouTube.

Yet 10 years after his murder, the “teachable moment” involving Sean Taylor’s shocking death, is rarely spoken. Not by players, and not by most commenters in the media. It wasn’t Sean Taylor’s “fault” that a pair of soulless young punks broke into his house to steal some money and jewelry from what they thought was an empty house. It’s not his “fault” that Taylor only brought a machete to a gun fight. Nobody is blaming the dead.

But the Sean Taylor tragedy is deepened by the knowledge that so many simple little things could have prevented it. Sean Taylor wasn’t walking down the street when he got hit by a bus. Sean Taylor died because, sadly, his path to full NFL maturity had waited a little too long.

If you read the entire reporting on his death, you’ll see where Taylor would allow his half-sisters and her friends to sometimes use his house for gatherings and parties. Often, when he wasn’t even around. That was Sean Taylor. Generous and chill. No doubt his close friends and family were probably appreciative and respectful. Probably cleaned up on their way out. But all it took was bringing two bad actors through that door with them by accident one time. They ended up casing the joint from the inside. They knew that Taylor kept substantial cash and jewelry inside the house.

Then one night, when Taylor was supposedly gone – he should have been in Tampa with the team that night, despite being inactive with an injury – these punks made their move.

There was no gate to go through. No fence to jump over. No alarm to sound. No dog to bark.

The NFL had already established its “Rookie Symposium” to help young players deal with sudden fame and fortune by the time Taylor was drafted by the Redskins. The league does their best to prepare young men in how to say “no” to relatives, to be on guard for thirsty women, to be careful with their money. Sometimes the advice is… uh… well meant, but off-target. But for the most part, it’s stuff that young players should hear.

Sean Taylor skipped out on that symposium after one day.

Did you hear any of the current and former players talk about how important that rookie symposium is this past weekend, when it pertains to Sean Taylor? Probably not. Nobody wants to sound like they are blaming the dead.

In the immediate aftermath, several high profile media members called the murder “shocking” but not “surprising.” Taylor was known to have been involved in some degree of “trouble” both on and off the field in his young life. Still, he wasn’t out gangbanging when football season stopped. If Aaron Hernandez was an “8” on a scale of 1-10 as a wanna-be NFL gangsta, then Taylor was no more than a “3.”

Taylor was just young, headstrong, and a little bit careless. And obviously, too trusting.

I don’t want to see another Sean Taylor type murder again. I want both current and former NFL players to constantly reinforce the understanding for new NFL stars that you do not have time to “grow-up” at your own pace. When you are an NFL star and a millionaire, you cannot afford to be Mr. Netflix and Chill for the entire neighborhood.

Your home is your castle. Defend it as such.

Your money belongs in the bank. Keep it there.

Your friends can’t be dummies, deadbeats, or sycophants. Choose them carefully.

I don’t know if the story of how Sean Taylor was the victim of a cascading series of bad timing and bad outcomes that night gets told at the Rookie Symposium now. But it should. And doing so, isn’t pointing the finger of blame at anyone. It’s only about preventing the next one.

 

Why Do Announcers Think We’re Stupid?

Generally speaking, I like Cris Collinsworth. Compared to Troy Aikman’s “analysis” of an NFL game, it’s next level stuff. You can learn something while watching one of his games. Collinsworth will actually explain coverages, educate the viewer on technique, and usually has a good grasp on game strategy and play calling.

He’s better than Jon Gruden, who has virtually morphed into the exact spoof character Frank Caliendo does on ESPN. And I’m not yet sure about how I feel about the much-raved-about Tony Romo, who may be brilliant, or he may just be a guy who likes to call out plays before they happen. Romo also needs to let his games with Jim Nantz “breathe” a bit, by not trying to jam every moment between plays with chatter.

But on the whole, Collinsworth is pretty good. Which is why I almost choked on my remote when I heard him say late last night (paraphrasing): “I’m not sure Aaron Rodgers would have done much better tonite than what Brett Hundley did.”

Wait… what?

Sure, Hundley had one of his better (best?) games yet for the Packers, tying his career high with 254 yards passing, and 3 TDs over no INTs. But two of the TD’s were wide-open broken coverage plays to Cobb and Adams. The other was a 2 yard flip to Jamal Williams on a screen play that went 54 yards to the house.

Furthermore, Hundley got the ball 3 times at his own 40 or better, and also presided over 4 three-and-outs, including the final “non-drive” with 1:20 left in regulation.

So why would he say something so insultingly dumb like “I’m not sure Rodgers would have done any better?” It would be like Collinsworth grabbing a fistful of that grass in the picture above saying: “Mmmmmm! Tastes just like… CAKE!”

Is Collinsworth aware of what has happened since #12 went down? The entire team has collapsed like a fake Hollywood movie set in a gust of wind. If Rodgers wouldn’t have done “much better” than Hundley, then why was Twitter all moist between the keyboard when they showed #12 slinging warm-up passes almost 50 yards in sweats before the game?

Giving Aaron Rodgers the ball with 1:20 to play, and a timeout in his pocket, is akin to signing your own death warrant. And while the refs might have missed a flaggable helmet-to-helmet shot on TJ Watt, the point stands: saying Hundley=Rodgers was a ridiculous broadcaster gaffe. What Collinsworth SHOULD have said was: “Man… this is where the Packers would love to throw some pads on Aaron Rodgers and his broken collarbone. No offense to Brett Hundley, but this is what Aaron Rodgers lives to do. Win games in the final minute.”

If it seems like I’m making a big deal of one line, it’s only because I feel like the modern NFL announcer/analyst treats us viewers at home like we’re idiots. We also… listen – and far more carefully than they seem to think we do. If a buddy on the couch said: “I’m not sure Rodgers would have been much better tonite” he would be bombarded with insults and scorn.

Even my “Brother In Law Todd, Who Knows Just Enough Sports to Be Dangerous!” wouldn’t say such a thing.

I guess I just demand a lot from the top level broadcasters on NFL games. I expect an old dinosaur like Dick Stockton to fuck up 5 names per half. I assume an old warhorse like Dan Fouts will reference concepts in the game that went out in 1989. But last I recall: that song which comes on TV before this game every week, sings loud and proud that “Al and Cris are THE BEST ON TV!”

If Hundley played well, explain the precise how and why of it. But also point out where he didn’t play so well. And don’t peddle some nonsense that 245 yards passing was about all anyone could get against that Steeler defense. We’re out here, and we’re listening. Act like we didn’t start watching football last Tuesday.

We’re All Armchair Agronomists

The field at FedEx was ugly on Thanksgiving night. That is not disputable. But was it “bad?” I guess that depends on your definition, expectations, and aesthetic preferences.

The attention the browning, wheezing, less-than-pristine pitch has received from media members however, is a bit much. And everybody is an expert. Including model Chrissy Teigen, who made sure to weigh in via Twitter while cleaning up the gravy bowl at home. I’d be willing to bet she hasn’t operated a push mower in her life. But hey, way to fire that one in there C!

Making matters worse, in my opinion, was the Redskins themselves pulling a “Baghdad Bob” the day after, when the Washington Post made a routine inquiry about the field for a story they planned to run. According to the Redskins, the field was in “good condition” and that any complaints were a “non-issue” and blamed the brown on a recent cold snap. Then the team went “Full Belichick” and said we’re on to Cincinnati.

The Redskins aren’t necessarily wrong. The field could both look like crap AND be a “good” surface for a single game at the same time. Dormant bermuda (brown) can be fine for a game or two, but since it’s no longer growing, it’ll deteriorate pretty quickly with every game as the torn up roots do not regenerate with new growth.

The Redskins are not entirely cheap when it comes to the field, either. The areas between the numbers were certainly re-sodded at some point this season, and the newer sod is more susceptible to frost damage (hence why the outside edges of the field looked pretty good.)

Maintaining a firm, fast, real grass football field in our region is the most challenging trick in pro sports. We are right in the middle of the “transition zone” where “cool season” grasses get hammered in August and “warm season” grasses go dormant in November.

When fans say “how come Philly’s field looks so much better” or “Pittsburgh never looks this bad” they completely underestimate the difference a mere 100 miles of northern latitude can make. Not only can those cities use a blend of turf that’s more cold-weather oriented, but those fans also have bad memories. A punt once stuck like a dart in the field at Heinz after a poor-slap-jab sod-job and a rainstorm. And even 5 years into the Linc’s existence, and with an expensive part-synthetic field base called “DD GrassMaster” complaints were loud and long.

So why not go to “field turf” and call it a day? Because a lot of players still don’t think it’s nearly as good as real grass. Also, soccer. Yes, FedEx Field and the Redskins like having the ability to bid on international “friendlies” from time to time. And once you go full plastic, you are out of the running as clubs won’t play on anything artificial. (Though they will play on the DD GrassMaster hybrid surface).

The Kirk Cousins “stumble step” that led to the pick-6 off the hands of Byron Marshall was just the kind of “how about THAT Mr. Fung!” moment that fans jump on as undeniable proof that the field is junk, may well cause cancer if you step on it, and will surely lose us games if we don’t get it fixed immediately!

Truth is, Kirk can catch his cleats on a perfect field just as easily, if he doesn’t pick them up cleanly enough. Kirk was blunt in his assessment of the field the day after, but committed a logical fallacy in saying that one slip on a shoddy field could cost them the game. “There’s too many times where we have crucial plays where we have to have better footing, because it can be the difference in a win or a loss,” Cousins said. “Or in staying on the field or punting, when a guy slips and we don’t make the play.”

What Cousins forgets, is that a slip by the OTHER team at just the wrong time, could just as easily WIN you the game. Bad fields are like rain, wind, and snow. It’s the same for both teams.

The Seattle playoff game in 2012, featured the slo-mo disintegration of RG3’s knee on a pile of painted sand. Many fans blame the field. That’s fun. But likely a total reach. Griffin’s knee was already hanging by a thread in that game. He had been playing on it for 6 weeks after Haloti Ngada nearly took it clean off on a scramble. And against the Seahawks he admittedly hid a further aggravation of the knee from the coaching staff.

That knee was shot. It was only a matter of snaps.

But back to the current brown field. It looks like shit. We should have better.

But I agree with the Redskins that on Thanksgiving, it was perfectly playable and a total non-factor. I only wish they wouldn’t be so dismissive or secretive about the situation. Just lay it all out honestly: what kind of grass? How often does it get re-sodded. What can go wrong? What are they thinking about for solutions? What are they NOT thinking about? Who is in charge. How long has he been with the team?

By acting like they’ve got something to hide, it only invites the the worst kind of speculation and motives from the fans.

Greasy, Grimey, Glorious…. Win

The first half of Redskins-Giants on Thanksgiving night was the kind of game you would delete on your DVR, then do a complete disk reformat just to make sure none of it survived. The second half wasn’t much better.

But an NFL season isn’t an art gallery, where you hang the prettiest “W’s” on the wall and just gaze at them. All the wins and all the losses count the same. It’s binary. So don’t fight it. We’ve now got 5 wins, 6 losses. 10-6 might get you to January. So … the show goes on!

We recently saw the 30 for 30 of the 1987 replacement Redskins (aka “Scabskins”) from the strike year. This team won’t get any such documentary, but as chicken-wire and duct-tape jobs go, this season is getting closer and closer to that all the time. Tony Bergstrom played all 71 snaps at CENTER – not even his natural position of guard – on 2 days of prep. He’s been cut from 3 different teams in 2017 alone. He’ll be cut by us when the season’s over too.

Zach Vigil started at inside linebacker and played 39 snaps after getting here 8 days ago. Former Terp AJ Francis spends more time on our radio station guest hosting shows between practice squad stints than he does in shoulder pads. He played 14 snaps. Byron Marshall was stolen from the Eagles practice squad 2 weeks ago. 21 snaps. Arie Kuoandjio got dumped by us in August. The Ravens picked him up. We stole him back from their practice squad 3 weeks ago. All 71 snaps at guard.

And to be honest, the Giants aren’t much better when it comes to mass injuries, and key injuries. And from what I saw of Eli Manning, early retirement might not be such a terrible idea. Roger Lewis and Tavarres King at wide receiver are a scrub’s breakfast of targets, but Eli looked truly awful en route to a 13-of-27 for 113 and a pick night.

So here come the Cowboys next Thursday, with a chance to climb back to 6-6, and put a virtual season dagger in our hated rival’s back. Am I excited? Hell yes. (Feel these nipples!) We are still alive and in the mix of an NFL season heading into December. Football itself lasts way too short to begin with. And many teams end up dead by the holidays anyway. Like the team, I’m still grinding as a fan.

It’s tempting to ask the question: “Why do you still care about the playoffs, Czabe? You know this team was never good enough to do anything, and that’s even more true now with all of the injuries.” Fair point, and it’s probably correct. But as I pointed out to begin today’s post: all you have in this league is winning and losing. The more you do of one, begets more of the same, I believe.

I like having a team that grinds. A team that carries on. A team that doesn’t look for excuses on the way to tapping out. That is, after all, the very essence of football, no?

About this time last year the Redskins seemingly put the 2016 Packers to bed with a rollicking win at home, punctuated by a Kirk Cousins “how you like me now!” hair-tussle of Scot McCloughan. Next thing you know, the Packers run the table, and end up in the NFC Championship game. Sure, they have a nijna at QB. But the point is, anything can happen.

The Redskins haven’t had a “walk in” playoff season since 1999. The ’05, ’07, ’12, and ’15 seasons all saw year-end streaks of 5, 4, 7, and 4 games to make it. This is what we do.

As the spine-tingling opening montage of the NFL Films production “Football America” says…. “Theirs is a game that glories in it’s toughness… it’s willingness to endure.. and play on… when other games… would not.”

We’ll see everyone in Dallas next Thursday, and just keeping figuring it out from there.

 

 

Now Would Be A Good Time For Some Deep Redskins Introspection

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.

 

Goodell Today, Goodell Tomorrow, Goodell Forever

Nov 9, 2014; London, UNITED KINGDOM; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (left) and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Something is just not adding up on this Roger Goodell contract extension thing. Either that, or I’m as bad at “big picture math” as I am at.. well… REAL math. (Awful).

Goodell is asking for $50M a year in his extension, along with free airplane rides for life, and doctor visits for himself and Jane for life, as they grow old and gray and saggy together.

Fine.

Any big contract for a coach, or executive, includes “throw ins” that make you look greedy, but really don’t cost the employer much – if anything. Sure, Goodell can afford his own fucking plane, and all the boob jobs and penis enlargements he likes for his family (along with you know, actual health care) on a $50M salary. That’s not the point. Sure, I can afford it, but you can too. So… gimme.

I’m just looking at the outrageous $50M price tag. Why? How? Explain?

Not only is that way out of line with what other sports commissioners make (Adam Silver is reportedly paid between $8 million and $11 million, for example), but very few ACTUAL CEOS make as much as $50M in annual salary.

Now… a caveat: those other CEOs have stock options and such, which push them well into that Goodellian range. But the NFL is not a publicly traded company, so they can’t give Goodell stock options even if they wanted to. (He’d probably eat them anyway, he’s so stupid).

Therein lies my point: why pay Goodell like he’s the head of an actual COMPANY, when he’s not! He’s just AN ADMINISTRATOR! He adds very little value to the league as a whole, and actually serves as a net-minus to the brand’s likability because every fan hates his guts. Every one.

Furthermore, nobody is coming after Goodell in the business world to turn around their company. Have you seen any headlines lately like: “Nokia Eyes Goodell To Boost Sagging Cell Phone Division?”

Fuck… and… no.

So who are the NFL owners bidding AGAINST for this buffoon? And what happened to the stingiest league ever, when it comes to money? Have you ever read one of the league’s proposals to a possible SuperBowl host city? The phrase “at no cost to the league” comes up more often than “amen” at Sunday service.

This is the league where the owner of the Giants mused that cameras placed in the endzone pylons might be too expensive. Yeah, he really said that.

So why throw away $40M annually on a commissioner? You could get a competent CEO – with actual business experience, acumen, and some higher degrees than just Goodell’s econ major from Washington and Jefferson College – to do a better job, for $10M a year.

They could get this guy or gal, tomorrow.

So why? Why, Goodell? Why Goodell today, Goodell tomorrow, Goodell forever?

As Jerry Jones pointed out this week, there’s no RUSH on this contract extension. The old one isn’t up for 18 months!

I don’t buy the argument that Goodell is the perfect human shield, to keep fans’ ire away from the owners. For one, plenty of fans hate their owners anyway. For another, this is not Vince McMahon and pro wrestling.

The NFL doesn’t need a “heel” at the top of the org chart to loathe. Goodell himself, his existence, his incompetence, and surely by now his outrageous salary, serve as a significant drag on The Shield’s brand.

If you don’t think some fans are watching less NFL, or taking an extended break in part because of Goodell, you are wrong. I talk to these fans everyday, I get amazingly detailed emails explaining the how and the why of it all.

But now the NFL’s Compensation Committee presses ahead, even under the threat of Jerry’s never-gonna-happen-lawsuit, to shovel this guy another $200 million mountain….. (“uh… don’t forget the plane!”)

I don’t get it.

My only rational theory, and it’s a far fetched one, but it’s all I got… is that Goodell has something on the NFL owners. Something, really, really bad. Possible collusion. Fraud. Racketeering? I don’t know. It just seems like the owners want Roger Stokoe Goodell INSIDE the tent, pissing out, then suddenly OUTSIDE the tent, pissing in.

 

Redskins Meandering Season of Uncertainty… Meanders On

On the whole, this was hardly a bad loss. To lose to a solid Minnesota Vikings team 38-30, where you once again left points on the board due to “easy 7’s” becoming “stupid 3’s” it’s again more frustrating than depressing.

Not that anyone’s gonna hang a banner… but we did put up more on Minnesota than anybody has so far this year.

Not to make excuses, but Minnesota was coming off a bye, while we were in a stone-cold letdown spot after the stunning win in Seattle.

Not to play the “what-if” game, but can we just have Kirk’s backbreaker INT “taken off our bill” at the end of the first half, and can we just have Josh Doctson not trip over his own shoes at the goal-line?

I know. Excuses, excuses. Win the damn game. I’ll shut up now.

There were plenty of reasons why the Redskins were not good enough on Sunday. The d-line was dominated all day, barely getting a sniff of Case Keenum, while getting gashed repeatedly by the Vikes ground attack.

The secondary was lit afire with Stephon Diggs and Adam Thielen making like Jerry Rice and John Taylor in their prime.

The coach panicked by going for it on 4th and 6 way too early in the game, while calling two dud plays on 3rd and 4th and 1 later on.

We still have zero run game.

And the tough schedule keeps coming, with a date this Sunday against the NFL’s fast strengthening Cat-3 team the Saints. All they did was rush for nearly 300 yards and 4 TDs on the road vs. Buffalo. These dome daisies went outdoors in cold weather, and punished a quality opponent with defense and running.

So here we are Redskins fans, lumped into the “in the mix” category on the network post-game show “Playoff Picture” graphics. By most guesstimates, it’s gonna take 10 wins this year. And that means a 6-1 finish.

I count 5-2 as best-case scenario. Which won’t be good enough. Which will lead to a very unsatisfying and uncomfortable off-season yet again.

We’ll ask ourselves: “What are we doing, and where are we going?” When the answers are: “I’m not sure, and probably nowhere” it can lead to chronic apathy. It was shocking, but yet not surprising, how many Viking fans invaded the lower bowl of FedEx Field on Sunday. This happens alot to us “at home” these days.

It’s easy to dismiss the Cowboys (America’s team, the fact the Skins were the last team to integrate) and the Eagles (it’s a short drive, they love to drink in our parking lot and start fights) the Giants (lot of lawyers and money men who split offices in NYC and DC) or the Steelers (they have a national fan base, you know) or the Packers (same)… and down the list.

At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any fanbase from any far flung NFL city that can’t put a big dent of color into our best seating areas at home games.

Humans crave narratives in life. Larger “story arcs” that give a framework to an unknowable future. The Redskins are not giving the fans a narrative that they can see, or buy into, to gut out these uneven times.

At least when a team starts over and drafts a QB with it’s first overall pick, you have a framework for the future laid out for you. We’re gonna struggle this year, but that’s fine. Let’s see what the new kid can do. Next year we’ll add another high pick, and maybe some free agents. We might be in the mix for the playoffs. And hopefully by year 3, we’ll be a legit contender with all of the pieces in place.

The current Redskins organization – far more competent, and far more professional than previous incarnations under Dan Snyder’s ownership – has everybody stuck in a wait-and-see mode because of the Kirk Cousins drama.

Every loss that’s even close, gets boiled down to the question of: “If we had a slightly better quarterback…. would we have won that game?”

It’s a normal thing for fans and media to do, even though it’s utterly silly. If, if… if…. there’s a million “if’s” that turn the outcome of a typical NFL game each week. By always looking at the QB, it’s akin to the old saying “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Until the Redskins plant their foot firmly in the ground and make their move on Kirk Cousins, we’ll all feel vaguely lost and wandering with this team, unless they are winning big, and winning a lot.

What Jay Bilas Doesn’t Understand About Sports Leagues and Markets

Let me begin by saying that Jay Bilas is one of the best college basketball analysts on television. He understand the game deeply, and has a communicator’s touch when it comes to relaying that understanding to the audience.

Jay Bilas is also smarter than me, on the whole. He attended Duke, and earned his law degree at Duke, while serving as an assistant to Coach K.

However when it comes to the issue of paying players in the two major “revenue sports” in college, Bilas either has a blind spot, or is wracked with a degree of guilt at his own attractive TV compensation.

Here’s what Bilas wrote most recently, in the wake of the shoe-company bribing scandal that has rocked college basketball.

These players are worth a ton of money, to schools, to agents and to shoe companies. And these players are worth far more than a scholarship. In fact, a scholarship is the LEAST they are worth. Schools do not have to offer scholarships, but do. They do not have to offer stipends, but do. If they didn’t, they would be hurt in the marketplace, even though there is a unilaterally imposed wage cap on athletes.

When have you ever heard of a coach being steered to an agent? When have you ever heard of bribes to get a coach to accept a job? When have you ever heard of a bribe to get an athletic director to switch schools? You don’t hear such things because those people are allowed to be paid in a free market. It is an aboveboard business, and it works in an orderly fashion. There are contracts with contract remedies.

That pesky free market works incredibly well and efficiently for everyone else; it is foolish to assert that it would not work just as well for college athletes. After all, these schools know exactly whom to recruit and whom to play the most minutes in the games. They know whom to pay and how much.

But coaches are coaches, and players are players. The former are middle aged professional adults, who, if they are good, can last a school 20 years or more. The players are still adolescents, who have a mandated maximum shelf life of just 5 years.

Bilas wants a “pesky” free market for college athletes, but fails to account for a significant reality of big time sports in America.

Our leagues, are distinctly NOT free markets.

Every pro league we have, is essentially a closed shop for talent. This is not Formula One, or the English Premiere League where the biggest pile of money rules. In the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and MLB…. there are drafts, salary caps, trade deadlines… and on and on. To simply wish that the “pesky” free market should allow collegiate players to be bid upon as precious commodities, is to say that these commodities once purchased, should also be allowed to be owned and controlled by their respective schools.

Surely, Bilas would recoil at that idea, no?

If a left tackle is deemed worthy of a $100,000 annual salary – and not a $45,000 scholarship and room and board – then what are the terms of his contract? How many years must he play in college once signed at that rate? Can he be traded? Can he be cut? Can he be fined for violating team rules? Would he still have to go to class, or maintain a C average?

What would be the entry mechanism for these valuable players into the college sports ecosystem? Even our pro leagues don’t just let teams “buy” the best college talent available. There’s an entry draft for each, designed to create “parity” amongst member teams (although the Browns are certainly putting that theory to the test).

Would players be okay with Division I holding an annual high school “draft.” (I’m sure ESPN, and Bilas’ cadre of well paid pundits would absolutely delight in such a thing! Programming!)

Would the next great high school left tackle be willing to be drafted by say, Tulane, instead of Alabama in order to earn his ‘pro’ salary of $100,000? What if he hates gumbo?

Mr. Bilas, hello? Are you still there?

The fallback position of the “pay-the-players” crowd, is that they should at least be allowed to capitalize on their name and likeness while in college. At quick glance, reasonable. For instance, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey were exciting, nationally known talents at both LSU and Stanford.

So what if they sign with Nike or Pepsi while still in school, right?

Two problems.

One is the fact that yes, both players are famous, but only because of the stage they play on – a stage built by colleges and universities who have been playing football for 100 years or more. A stage that likely has siphoned general tuition funds and student fees to build and expand. These are colleges that maintain a fanbase, a massive stadium, an alumni network, and have negotiated television deals with entities like Mr. Bilas’ ESPN. While wonderful, they are only marketable if anybody has ever heard of them. Neither would be worth much to Pepsi had they chosen to play at Eastern Illinois or Northern Arizona.

The second problem would be the inevitable “astro-turf” endorsement deals for good-but-anonymous players on big programs, who actually have no real marketability. Let’s call this: legalized “under the table” payments to players. You would have programs like Alabama and Ohio State finding their free safeties and centers with local car dealership “endorsements” that pay mid-five-figures. Prominent boosters might find “endorsements” for these kids in their various businesses, acting as a shadow payroll to the program.

Selling your autograph for “what it’s worth” falls under the same problem. It won’t be long until an Alabama left guard is being paid $50,000 to hold an “autograph session” that is really just money funneled through booster clubs or alumni.

So what’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing… in theory.

Only it would split most conferences in half like a piece of aged firewood in no time. Vanderbilt isn’t going to keep letting a professionalized Alabama program beat it senseless every year, with 25 players on local endorsement deals. Neither would Wake Forest to Duke in basketball.

At that point, you would have completely demolished the college sports ecosystem that most people think is still a pretty good thing, despite the absurd buyouts of failed college football coaches.

The strict rules on extra benefits in college athletics, helps ensure the relative parity that makes D1 sports such an attractive thing to televise for millions of dollars. Without it, the excitement of Iowa beating Ohio State would become even more unlikely.

In exchange for not being paid hard money to play their sport, the college athlete is free to choose where he wants to play, and for how long. They aren’t drafted. They can’t be traded. They can quit if they like. And they still get a mountain of benefits (and yes, even up to $5,000 in living expenses) without paying a lick of taxes on it all!

An academic scholarship, dutifully pursued toward a degree, has benefits to the student athlete which extend far into their future. Best of all: it’s a benefit that cannot by its nature, be wasted on frivolous luxuries. A $100,000 a year college sports “salary” showered on 19 year olds, is almost sure to be utterly squandered by many of them on fancy cars, women, and other typical nonsense.

I know damn well, the 20 year old ME couldn’t safely stash that kind of money in the bank and forget about it!

In his piece, Bilas say: “Instead, we should endeavor to change the rules to make them fair, reasonable and moral.”

Sounds nice. But who has the final say on what is “fair?” Or, good grief, “moral?”

The NCAA should only go as far as to make their rules a) Legal and b) Sustainable.

As long as there are legions of high school players eager to get that “full ride” which Bilas finds to be “immoral” then there’s no reason for the NCAA to change. The “pesky” market is sending a clear and un-mistakable signal: “Playing for Alabama for nothing more than room, books, board, and the chance to be on ESPN and CBS…. is a fantastic deal! Sign me up!”

And unless I’m missing something, these colleges are nowhere near running out of takers.

I’ll finish by posting this excellent piece by ESPN’s College GameDay about the power of a scholarship, and what it means to real people, and real families.  Try telling them, that their sons are being exploited. I bet you’d get a real education on the matter.

It’s the Quarterbacks, Stupid

The NFL is currently in a slump. This is not debatable. TV ratings are on a multi-year slide, after enjoying a bull market rise for several years prior. The peak of the NFL’s TV hot-streak came sometime in the early teens.

It coincided with the Golden Age of QBs: Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Big Ben, Brees. Every one of those marquee QB’s punched their ticket as a SuperBowl Champ, certifying them as “must-see” TV going forward. Even Eli Manning got two rings of his own, although he was always considered a lower level “A-List” QB. Being of pedigree (a Manning) and playing in Market #1 (New York) was TV ratings gold.

Super Bowl after Super Bowl featured incredible QB vs. QB showdowns. Brees vs. Manning. Rodgers vs. Big Ben. Brady vs. Eli.

Even the QBs who did not win a ring – or even make it a Super Bowl, were exciting appointment TV. Tony Romo was always worth a watch with Dallas, while Kurt Warner had a spectacular desert resurrection. Brett Favre authored two impossibly great seasons in Minnesota.

Then you layered in exciting young talents like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and RGIII and the NFL could do no wrong. It was hard to even put a bad game on national TV!

The league had become what I’ve said for a while now it is: “A television show, about quarterbacks.”

But then Warner, Favre, Manning and Romo retired. Big Ben is apparently on the doorstep. Eli now stinks. Kaepernick and Griffin are out of the league! Andrew Luck has been ruined. Rodgers is hurt. Cam is increasingly inconsistent and un-likeable. Even the unspectacular but competent QBs like Dalton, Flacco, and Rivers are now zero fun to watch.

My own Kirk Cousins, good as he may be, is nobody who gets you out of your seat on the couch. Ditto Alex Smith.

The league keeps planting the seeds of replacement QB flowers, but too many are just not taking hold. Winston and Mariotta are buried on small market deep south teams, and have not yet made the playoffs. Bortles is a bust. Denver is lost in the weeds of bad QB ideas. Bridgewater got snuffed out by a freak injury. DeShawn Watson is now on indefinite hold with the same.

Thank god for Wentz and Prescott, because otherwise the landscape for QB’s would look even more bleak. Imagine if Brady has something go “snap!” in the next 8 weeks, and Luck never returns to ever being fully healthy. Throw in Big Ben retiring and just one more “name” guy hanging it up in the next 2 years (Eli, Brees) and you’ll have full blown QB market collapse.

I’m old enough to remember when QB’s in the NFL didn’t matter nearly so much. They weren’t so long ago. There were decidedly below-average guys like Trent Dilfer, or mostly-average guys like Brad Johnson winning Super Bowls behind awesome defenses. Go further back, and there were transient QB talents that happened to land in just the right spot at just the right time – as my Redskins found with Doug Williams and Mark Rypien.

Now the NFL has become an unending unicorn search, a frantic quest for a do-it-all QB who is not only good, but has sizzle. And if you think the sizzle doesn’t matter to owners, Kirk Cousins still not being under a long-term contract is my “Exhibit A.”

Given the tightening rules on defensive which has made the game far less punishing, there are fewer aveneues to building a winning team. All roads, now lead through a true “franchise” QB.  I’m not sure the NFL can ever go back to 15 or 20 years ago, and I’m not sure they want to. But they need to start growing some more exciting QB’s for their “TV show” and they need to do it quickly. There’s really nothing the NFL can do to stop the current ratings slide. Yes, the anthem issue has hurt, but I still say it’s all about the quarterbacks.

 

Redskin Pride, Fully Restored

I’m not going to call it the best win since “The Replacements” beat Dallas, in Dallas, during the strike year. But it’s close. What an amazing, chest swelling, season saving victory.

Let’s savor it for a moment, shall we?

The Redskins beat the vaunted Seahawks, in their building, in shit weather, with 4/5th of a makeshift o-line, and a roster that was 3 players shy of the allowable actives. They did it after seemingly collapsing in the final few minutes on defense. They did it with a QB who has been constantly derided as “non-clutch” by his own fanbase’s irrational haters.

They did it with a maligned WR who has done very little since taking up a precious 1st round draft pick a year and a half ago.

They did it with DeAngelo Hall playing every, single, fucking, snap, on defense. He just came back from a year-long ACL injury. He’s 33.

As the Seahawks final Hail Mary fell to the ground – and it was way too close, and way too well set-up for my comfort – I was overcome with the predictable emotions. Ha ha, f you Pete Carroll! Take that Seahawks! And on and on.

But then, a stranger feeling washed over me as the win settled in. A feeling, that has been a LONG time lost, around these parts, in regard to this football team – pride.

The genuine, lasting emotion of “damn, I really feel GOOD about rooting for this team” was something to behold. And to appreciate it, you only have to look backward to the rampant stupidity this franchise has served us, not so long ago.

You only have to look around the rest of the NFL, to think: “Man, I couldn’t root for those shitheads!”

Jay Gruden and Co. delivered us a team that flat out refused to quit. They found a way. They persevered. There is no more admirable quality in the game of football, than that.

See, pretty much all we’ve had around here since Dan Snyder took over, was coaches who quit on us. After Marty was fired, came Spurrier who quit running practices (he let Marvin Lewis do it), and quit from the golf course by cell phone. Joe Gibbs did his best, but left us suddenly after a playoff run, and one year left on his contract. Jim Zorn quit by running swinging gate. Even Shanahan quit when he started leaking bombshells to the pre-game shows every single week in the end.

This is a different group. An amazing group. Still probably not going to the playoffs, but so it goes. This victory is going to sustain me as a fan, for quite some time.

Imagine being a Giants fan, watching that dipwad Ben McAdoo lose total control of his team. Did you see Eli Apple go “full pussy” on a 3rd and 33?

Who could get excited about a still-immature man-child like Jameis Winston? This is your leader? A finger licking, fight starting, idiot?

And then there’s Kirk. There is always Kirk to discuss and dissect after wins, and losses. I’ll admit, he looks like the most “civilian” QB in NFL clothes every single week. He has no real super-power. But he puts us in position to win, almost every single week. And he’s tough as shit.

When the 0-line was running jailbreaks on just about every passing play that wasn’t a quick screen, Kirk stood in there and whistled 10 yard slants through tight windows while getting pancaked.

When the game was there to be LOST by a QB who just felt like “throwing it up” or “taking a shot” Kirk kept us in it by being smart.

Then, when Seattle inexplicably gifted Kirk with man-press coverage late in the game, he pounced. And you gotta love deep-roster-inactives like Brian Quick – in mothballs all season – coming up huge when they finally got a chance to play.

That’s a mark of a professional. On a team of pros. Bred in a culture of competence and pride.

Our players don’t get arrested. Our players don’t piss like dogs in the endzone. Our coaches don’t snort cocaine on Facebook. Our players don’t demand trades. Our players don’t get ejected from games being fake tough guys, and getting into fights. Our players don’t call out other units on the team after losses. Our head coach isn’t a needless dick to the media. Our front office doesn’t fuck up the simple task of emailing trade confirmations to the league office. Our QB doesn’t roll his eyes and mock women in press conferences.

Yet look around. All of this shit is happening, all over the league. Not here. Not anymore. It’s amazing, and it’s beautiful.

Now we’re on to Minnesota.

It’s A Food Fight, That’ll Never End

** COMMERCIAL IMAGE ** In this photograph taken by AP Images for Papa John's International, Inc. - John Schnatter, founder of Papa John's , center, shares a slice of the Official Pizza of Super Bowl XLV with ESPN sports commentators on Radio Row at the Super Bowl XLV Media Center Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011, in Dallas. Papa John's will give away free pizza if the Super Bowl goes into overtime. (Jack Dempsey/ AP Images for Papa John's International, Inc.)

I’ve punched out a long time ago on expressing my personal beliefs on the great NFL “anthem controversy” unless somebody absolutely begs me for them.

(Strangely, my general physician asked me this week about it, and I tip-toed into the whole thing like a ballerina, since I had no idea of her politics, and don’t frankly care. She’s a wonderful doctor!)

I do however, find it immensely entertaining sitting on the porch with my lemonade, just watching the unending layers of this thing continue to unravel. It’s like a game of “mouse-trap fission” or more aptly like Sideshow Bob stepping into rakes.

This week brought pizza sales into the fight, as well as a decorated and disabled Navy veteran refusing to be honored by the Saints at halftime. And of course, we had DeShuan Watson go down with an injury, presenting another perfect-on-paper landing spot for a similar style QB to come save the day. “Kaepernick to the rescue!!!!”

The Texans opted instead, for Matt McGloin and T.J. Yates. So yeah… never mind. Crank up the “see, he’s being blackballed!” columns in 3… 2… 1.

This will never end.

I am now fascinated as to what the league’s endgame strategy will be. I don’t think they have one. Or, there’s not enough consensus, or willpower to see it enacted. I think it’s not debatable that this entire storyline has been a net-negative on the league as a whole.

You can argue pizza sales ’til you face turns into a pepperoni. The bottom line is that the NFL has become “The League That Protests” or perhaps the “League that Divides America” or perhaps “The League That Makes You Choose Sides.”

Not good.

The NFL should be simply: “The League That Plays Football.”

Leagues do this silly sloganeering all the time, even if you, as a committed fan, aren’t even aware of it. I can’t swear that these slogans move needles on eyeballs or make a rats ass of difference in revenue, but I do think they mean something.

The NHL was once “The Coolest Game on Ice.” The NBA went with “NBA Action, It’s Fantastic!” Major League Baseball once used “I Live For This.” The PGA Tour: “These Guys Are Good.” And on and on.

If I recall, the NFL has used “Football Is Family” as a slogan. Well, if so, this is the worst family dinner ever. Plates are flying. Cuss words are being shouted, and family members are heading for the car, swearing to never come back to another one again.

My endgame would be for the NFL to excuse the players from standing for the anthem altogether. To say “the national anthem is an important part of our game presentation, which is overwhelmingly appreciated as a solemn moment of reflection for OUR FANS and CUSTOMERS. Players who do not want to stand respectfully during this part of our game presentation, are free to remain in the tunnel or lockeroom. Any players who DO wish to be a part of it, are welcome to stand on the sidelines. Any player who is on the field during the anthem who does not stand at attention, will be subject to fines and/or suspensions.”

Sure, many SJW’s would decry that the league has now “taken away the players platform.” So what? Let those people bray at the moon. Eventually, they’ll get exhausted and stop. (See: Augusta National, Redskins, etc.)

By positioning the anthem as an amenity for THE FANS, while excusing the players from needing to participate, I believe you snuff out most of the oxygen that has been fueling this inferno. In short, “this is not about you, nor for you, but you are welcome to join in, if you like.”

Finally, I wanted to do a little research on just how David Stern got his arms around this thing back in 1996 when Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf decided he could no longer stand for the anthem. While it’s widely reported that the NBA’s anthem clause is ratified into the CBA with the players (I would guess that was done following the 1999 lockout) I wondered if at the time, the NBA anthem clause was more like the NFL’s currently is: a “game ops guideline” more than a collectively bargained player obligation.

I found this article from Marquette Sports Law Review by Christopher J. McKinney. It’s sorta ancient (2003) but covers a wide range of sports and “First Amendment” issues through the years. And while I disagree with it’s conclusion (that sports league should give athletes MORE 1st amendment room and protection while on the court/field) at least it is very well researched.

The NBA apparently had a “rule” about the anthem dating back to WWII. Was this a CBA “rule” or just a game ops “rule.” That I do not know. What I do know, is that Stern acted decisively to nip it in the bud, and also seemed willing to go to the mat if needed.

In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was arguably having the best year of his career as a shooting guard for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, averaging 19.2 points per game. Five years earlier, Abdul-Rauf, then known as Chris Jackson, had become a follower of the Muslim religion. 
In the years between 1991 and 1996, Abdul-Rauf became increasingly devoted to his faith, while at the same time becoming more and more dissatisfied with United States foreign policy, most notably its involvement in the Gulf War.
According to Abdul-Rauf, who had described himself as “[f]irst, foremost and last… a Muslim,”’ the American flag had become “a symbol of oppression … [and] tyranny.”’  Thus, after coming to the conclusion that he “[could not] be for God and for oppression,” Abdul-Rauf vowed that he would never again stand for the playing of the national anthem that precedes every NBA game.
This controversial decision put Abdul-Rauf in violation of an NBA rule dating back to World War II that required players to stand “respectfully” during the playing of the national anthem. Initially, the Nuggets, with the consent of the NBA, allowed Abdul-Rauf to return to the locker room during the playing of the national anthem so as to be out of the view of the fans in attendance.  As time passed, however, Abdul-Rauf began to display his opposition publicly by remaining on the bench or stretching directly in front of it during the national anthem.
In response, NBA Commissioner David Stem announced that Abdul-Rauf would be suspended without pay until he was willing to comply with the league rule. Stem based his decision to suspend Abdul-Rauf on a provision contained within the NBA’s CBA that allowed the commissioner to “discipline players who are ‘guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental’ to the NBA.’
Both Abdul-Rauf’s action and Commissioner Stem’s reaction generated a swarm of media attention. While many found Abdul-Rauf’s refusal to stand for the national anthem offensive, others believed that Stem’s decision had violated Abdul-Rauf’s First Amendment and Title VII rights.  In fact, the National Basketball Players Association went so far as to offer filing a grievance against the NBA on Abdul-Rauf’s behalf, an offer that AbdulRauf ultimately rejected.
After the initial one-game suspension, Abdul-Rauf decided that he would be willing to stand for the playing of the national anthem, provided that he could “stand… with his eyes closed, his hands cupped close to his face, and praying to Allah.”  Stem found this proposal satisfactory, and agreed to lift Abdul-Rauf’s suspension. Following Stem’s reinstatement of Abdul-Rauf, the matter was settled without lawsuit or arbitration.

Of course, Stern operated in a social-media and SJW free world back then. And Abdul-Rauf’s protest was couched in religious beliefs, not racial ones. Perhaps I’m being unfair to Goodell. Maybe even today’s environment would have overwhelmed Stern. But, I doubt it.

 

 

Week 8 Recap: O-Line Wipeout Leaves Skins Sitting Ducks

Faced with a virtually un-winnable game due to extinction-level injuries on the offensive line, the Washington Redskins did not win against the Dallas Cowboys in the rain on Sunday. It was not unexpected. Dallas 33. Washington 19.

This won’t stop the usual post-loss pie throwing party amongst fans. We always want to offer ingenious fix-it solutions, gloat about certain “told-ya-so’s” and of course, find a few villains. I’m no better than any other fan. But I am trying to get better. So when a game like happens, it’s almost best to just “burn the game film” as the coaching cliche goes, and forget about it.

Thanks to the Monday Night game at Philly, the team was working on a short week to begin with, then so banged up come Wednesday that they cancelled practice due to a lack of healthy bodies. The worst case scenarios of Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff, and Spencer Long not being able to play, ALL came true. Then Mason Foster and Bashaud Breeland were added to the pile of not availables.

Once the game began, Niles Paul got knocked into next Tuesday with a concussion. Matt Ioannidis broke his hand. And Jordan Reed – having battled all year to get right – wanked a hammy and had to exit. To make the O-line injuries go from horror show to pure comedy, our last healthy starter Shawn Lauvao exited with with a shoulder stinger.

The line at the end of the game was as follows: Guy Off The Street, Undrafted Rookie, 6th Round Rookie, and two guys we stole from the practice squad of the next NFL team geographically closest to us, so we could get them here in time to fit them for a red helmet.

This is not a game you win. Period.

But while we have a moment, let’s go ahead and bemoan the coulda-shoulda-woulda’s from the game as it unfolded, shall we?

At 13-7, lining up for a short field goal to make it 16-7 in the first half, I think all of us Redskin fans were dreaming the big dream of this game being “our finest hour” as they said in Apollo 13. Instead, the most Redskin-ey thing possible happened, with the blocked FG being returned (from BEHIND the line of scrimmage, mind you, which almost never happens) down to 1st and goal.

Of course.

It’s hard to tell where the blame for that kick goes. It sure looked low. But Dallas did get a big push with hands in the air. The snap might have been tight to Tress Way’s chest. The bobble might have been all on him. The ball got down seemingly in time. But the tilt might have been angled improperly because they rushed. And yeah, Nick Rose might have had his timing messed up and skulled it. Or the timing and the hold were still perfect at the moment of truth, and the undrafted rookie who just got here, might have gakked it all on his own.

I’ve talked to Skins kickers before about this kind of thing, and believe it or not, there’s no definitive “black box” that shows the exact data of a FG disaster.

So whatever.

Chris Thompson’s KRumble was inexcusable. It’s the worst play in football. Period. The Kick Return (f)umble! KRumble. Cooley was bitching on the radio about how come we NEVER run any kick returns wide. He’s got a point. I’d be mad at Thompson but he’s like my favorite player on the team.

Kirk’s sack-strip fumble was inexcusable. Not only was there a hot route available and wide open, but in jailbreak mode protecting the ball is job one. Fail.

Now, let’s talk about the wide receivers. It’s tragic. And that includes Jamison Crowder having a big “wake up” game himself today. The fact that going into today, no Redskins WR’s ranked above #90 in the league in “Yards Receiving” is beyond belief. And the drops are enough to give Skins fans anyuerisms. I excused the Doctson drop in KC. Not that one today. Brutal. Right through your arms. On a soft throw. And even with his TD catch late, it doesn’t mask the fact that the cement of opinion is hardening fast on him. He has 8 catches in 7 games. Three are TD’s. So… yeah. Whatever.

Ryan Grant had two bad drops himself. The second one ended up as a non-factor, since Docton drew the PI that led to a late TD.

The Dallas d-line is pretty sick right now, and their investment in that side of the ball is starting to payoff big time, even with Taco Charlton as a (so-far) 1st round miss. Sure the game could have been “different” if a few of the bad things that happened to us, did not. And a few of the good things that happened to Dallas, didn’t either.

But the Cowboys played the game that presented itself to them. A game where they knew they had control of the trenches on both sides, and could afford to play it safe. Remember: your opponents effort and strategy are always variable, not static.

Of course at the end of the day, Kirk got the ball back with no timeouts and about a minute to play. In a pouring rain, with some guy named “Bergstrom” in on the o-line (he got here on Friday) and a long field to go, Kirk threw a WR screen for 3 yards, and then a no-hope check-down that was tipped for a pick-6.  Kirk haters could rejoice. They had their narrative! It was like finding an unguarded plastic pumpkin of candy on a neighborhood doorstep as Halloween night wound to a close.

It’s true. Kirk threw two soft-toss INTs that were dropped. He was far from great. But then again, he was 66% with 3 drops, and having lost his #1 TE mid-game. With no line. If Colt McCoy can do the same, I’ll eat my hat. I guess we might find out soon enough.

So at 3-4 it’s an uphill war to somehow find 10 wins. It doesn’t look likely. But like most years recently with this team, I’m not getting out the black suit until they lose 7.

Oh What A Night…..

Baseball is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you are going to get. In the case of Game One, you got a 2:28 express, with approximately two total sorta-cool things that happened.

In the case of Game 2, you got everything and nothing you’ve ever seen in a baseball game. It was bonkers. And we’re headed back to Houston tied 1-1. If you only watch baseball as a casual fan, please increase your dosage. Last night was another prime example why you can’t kill a sport that was born 178 years ago.

Here’s a summary list of things that happened last night.

Now some of the visuals.

The Chris Taylor bounce is one of the most cray-cray-WHAAAAA? anyone has ever seen. The kind of karmic perfection needed to have the thin bill of your cap deflect a ball that would otherwise go to the wall for additional runs, and to re-direct it to a teammate? Cray-cray.

Then you had umpire Laz Diaz returning the karmic favor, when he found himself impossibly in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There was an idiot Dodger fan who thought jumping into the Astros bullpen was going to be a good idea. Hint: It wasn’t.

There was a bat-flip-palooza between Yasiel Puig and Carlos Correa, and nobody got their pants in a wad. “If they hit a homer, they’re going to flip over there, too,” Correa said. “So we’re going to go out there and play the way we play the game. We’ll play with a lot of swagger, and let them know we’re here.”

Puig had no problem with it: “I loved it,” Puig said. “It was a little bit higher than the bat flips I normally do; he was happy and that’s the way you should play in the World Series.”

The game ended up running 4:19, and finished well past 12:30 in the east last night. But if you want to see a more amazeballs baseball game on a huge stage than that, good luck. And I’m not even including the universally loved Vin Scully first pitch “skit/ceremony.”

Oh what a night, right Frankie Valli?

Redskins Recap: Game 6: Wentz Goes “Ghost Mode”

The loss to the Eagles took a lot of wind out of me, fanwise. It’s one thing when your team blows an entirely winnable game by either a) coaching malfeasance b) an unlucky bounce c) replay fucking you d) all or some of the above.

But when your team just gets beat – flat beat – and you know the other team is just better, you’re sorta left with nothing. And worse yet, when you realize they might have an even better quarterback than yours? Oooooh. That stings. Not gonna lie.

Mix in a growing pile of injuries and you have a kind of football depression that isn’t going to be as easily managed by some shots of Tin Cup Whiskey.

I guess what I’m dancing around here, is, this season looks like it’s just not going to happy. Pity. I thought something interesting might actually develop.

The Redskins had a weird off-season. They did a lot of seemingly contradictory things. They pulled a suprise coup against their GM. They kicked the can down the road on their expensive franchise-tagged QB for one more year. They let two highly productive WR’s leave. They bet short term on two guys Terrell Pryor and Zach Brown. They didn’t draft a RB in the first 4 rounds. And they changed both coordinators. But gave Gruden an extension, the first coach under Dan Snyder to get one.

I tried to read the tea leaves on what the brass thought about the team and where it was going, what it was doing. And I gave up. If there was a master plan, I couldn’t see it, and my eyes started to get sore staring.

Not that I’m ripping them for being clueless. Nothing they did was indefensible. Even the McCloughan firing. It was tacky, sure. Wrong? I think time will vindicate them. So I went into this year, cautiously optimistic. My saying all summer to fans I met out and about was simple: “I don’t know why they would be any WORSE than last year.”

And I think they were trending that way, until the O-line started to crumble in Philly. Trent is about to give out, any week now. Moses is going to be gimpy the rest of the way, if he himself doesn’t fall. And the knee injury to Scherff is a dagger. Nseke’s ongoing back issues took away our secret weapon from last year.

Worse yet, it looks like several “bets” this team placed in key spots, are going to be losers. The team began by “betting” that Kirk would take a smoke-and-mirrors non-deal. He didn’t. They bet that Pryor could port over his fantasy football numbers from Cleveland. He hasn’t, and almost certainly won’t. They bet that Doctson would come on like gangbusters in year 2. Still waiting. They bet that Rob Kelly would be good enough at RB1. He’s not.

Which is a shame, because the defense is demonstrably better. Even with the loss of Jonathan Allen who was producing right away. Even with Norman on the shelf for a few. So many good “right” moves on D! Manusky! Drafting Nicholson late. Paying for Swearinger and Brown. Coaching up Dunbar. Turning Ioannidis into a monster. Love it all!

Right now the Redskins don’t have a WR in the top-90 in yards. That’s absurd. And Kirk’s still on pace for 4300 yards on 68% completions. This offense is increasingly one-dimensional, and horizontal in nature. Overly reliant on TE looks, and screen passes. It’s gonna be a long hard uphill slug to either win the division or snag a wildcard. Gonna need 10 wins I think, and we’ll lose any/all tiebreakers to Philly thanks to getting swept.

Lastly, a thought about Carson Wentz. What a stud. And I foolishly thought it was a massive reach to take a guy from a 2nd-tier program that high, much less trade up so aggressively to get him. But here he is. A more nimble version of Big Ben, who unlike Roethlisberger, won’t spend the first 5 years of his career as an arrogant drunk.

Wonderful that he and Dak are in our neighborhood, and figure to be a problem for the next decade. Just… wonderful.

Fly-Cam To The Rescue

A subtle, but rather amazing thing happened last night during the Patriots beatdown of the Falcons last night. Because of a thick Boston fog that had settled in over Gillette Stadium, NBC was forced to abandon their usual mid-sideline high angle cameras that are the meat-and-potatoes of football on TV for over 50 years.

Pressed into duty, was a full time live feed of the so-called “SkyCam.” As fans, we take SkyCam for granted. But we shouldn’t. It’s an invention of audacious physical and technical engineering. A full weight robotic camera that can “fly” around the stadium anywhere it wants, while safely secured by four long cables attached the stadium’s upper rim.

As soon as NBC switched their main live feed to SkyCam, I quickly found myself hypnotized. Wow. LOOK at this game! WATCH how the plays develop! You can basically see what the quarterback sees! It was like playing Madden, only you are watching Madden!

Making things even better, was the fact that NBC started following up every low-angle live play, with a HIGH angle “All-22” type replay. It. Was. Glorious.

So, tell me now, what button on my remote do I push that will allow me to watch EVERY NFL game this way? Oh, that will “cost extra” you say? Okay, I already pay $350 a year for the NFL product via DirecTV’s “Sunday Ticket.” Surely I can access this feature through that, no?

Right.

Why do TV networks keep showing us the same-old-same-old TV angles they always have? Tradition, I suppose. Fear of losing a few ratings points, after some old coots and grandmothers get confused and say “How come the football game isn’t on TV right now? What is this? Is this practice?”

While I really don’t want to pay any more money to watch these games at home, I have to admit that IF you could pay a small fee to change to this camera angle full-time, all-the-time… well… go ahead NFL, show me the brochure and how much is it gonna cost?