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Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins. Get details and order at http://GutCheckBook.com
If you want to focus on the negative, you certainly can find a lot to be disappointed about in regards to Saturday’s win over San Francisco:
- First and foremost, the penalties—Eleven more flags for 93 yards. A third of that total came on back to back plays when the Redskins were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the PAT following the Niners’ last touchdown and then got another 15 for taunting on the ensuing onside kick. Now, to be sure, that was during garbage time and the penalties didn’t really have any effect on the outcome or even the flow of the game. Still, considering that cutting down on penalties was going to be a focus this week after drawing a dozen walk-offs against the Eagles, the fact that they cut just one off of that total is not encouraging.
- The inability to punch it in the end zone—It was a case of bad things coming in threes. Three times the Redskins had first and goal to go situations and all three times they had to settle for three points. During the offseason, Gibbs and company have got to come up with a more imaginative goal line offense. The shovel pass is the first and only wrinkle they’ve come up with and the Niners seemed to have that sniffed out pretty well when Ramsey flipped it to Cooley. Two words of advice for Gibbs—naked bootleg. And, while I’m at it and since you’re not going to listen to me anyway, two more—fade pattern.
- Portis’ fumble—It just punctuated the raggedness of the team’s performance. On top of that, it seems that his fumbles come in bunches. After going a long time without coughing it up, Portis fumbled three times in two games early in the season. He’s been glue-fingered since then, up until the fourth quarter today. It will be a nagging concern in the back of my mind on Sunday.
- The blocked punt and generally mediocre special teams play—Tom Tupa suffered just the second blocked punt of his lengthy career. Like the Portis fumble, it didn’t turn out to be particularly costly, but was a sign of sloppiness. I was thoroughly unimpressed with Antonio Brown returning punts. Run North-South first and then worry about breaking one.
Of course, that’s just focusing on the negative. There were plenty of good things that happened on Saturday:
- Four interceptions, one returned for a touchdown—As it has been all season, the defense was a pleasure to watch. It’s been 30 games since the Redskins’ defense has scored a touchdown. That goes back to when Darrell Green was playing; it was in his last game, in fact, when Lavar Arrington pounced on a fumble in the end zone against the Cowboys. Antonio Pierce’s play was the game-saver for the Redskins. The 49ers had just scored their safety after blocking Tupa’s punt to make it a one-touchdown game at 16-9. They were driving after the free kick when Pierce got his pick for six. Taylor’s interception came at a critical moment, too, as it was just 10-7 and a poor punt to midfield had given the Niners a chance to seize the momentum. (By the way, how can an exchange of the ball be considered to be an illegal forward pass--that’s what the contradictory term “forward lateral” is—if the ball never is airborne? Yes, I know that Jimmy Johnson sort of explained this at halftime, but I can’t find anything in the rules digest that would make Taylor’s handoff to Marshall illegal. If it is, that rule should be changed since it’s a very difficult call to make and handing off to someone who is in front of you gives you no real advantage.)
- Patrick Ramsey’s play—After a half-step back last week against the Eagles, Ramsey took another step towards cementing his status as the Redskins’ quarterback of the present and future. His numbers weren’t quite as impressive as the ones he put up against the Giants, but his QB rating of 103 for the game and an average of just under eight yards per attempt aren’t anything to complain about. He didn’t throw an interception; in fact, he didn’t even come close to throwing one. Since taking over as starter, he’s struggled somewhat against the better teams, but he has feasted on the mediocre ones. Since there are a lot more of the former than of the latter group this bodes well for Ramsey’s future.
- No drops by the receivers—Portis dropped one pass, but the receivers continued their excellent play of late.
An ugly win? Perhaps, but not as unattractive as some earlier W’s such as the one against the Bears. This team is progressing, absolutely no doubt about it.
By the way, the win means that the Redskins are still alive for a Wild Card playoff berth. The could possibly be eliminated this weekend depending on what other teams do, so I’ll spare you the details until Monday.