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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
Redskins 24, Eagles 21
I just wanted to get that out of the way so that you know the direction that my ensuing ramblings are headed in.
In the kitchen, my wife is wrapping Christmas gifts while playing seasonal tunes on the CD player. The holiday hustle and bustle is on the verge of turning into the mad last-minute rush. Speaking of that, I haven’t yet picked out, much less bought, any of the half dozen presents I have to buy. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
There’s even more reason to think it’s wonderful if you’re a Redskins fan. It’s December and Joe Gibbs is coaching the Washington Redskins. Gibbs’ teams, with the exception of the ’91 unit that started 11-1, were never fast starters. They won a “mere” 60% of games played in September.
Once the leaves had turned and fallen and the frost on the pumpkin had turned into a hard freeze, however, Gibbs’ teams get on a roll. After last Sunday’s game, Gibbs’ December regular-season record moved up to 33-11, an even 75%. Some of those teams were on a run to the playoffs, other were building momentum for the next year.
It’s safe to say, however, that Gibbs’ Redskins never faced a team that it was trailing by seven games in the standings. And, without looking it up, I’ll say that they were never a nine-point underdog at home.
So, as Gibbs himself likes to say, the past gets you nothing. They’re facing a very good team that’s on a roll. What logical reasons are there to think that the Redskins could beat the Eagles?
- Patrick Ramsey is playing better and better in Gibbs’ offense every week. His stats won’t be as good as they were last Sunday, but he’ll complete at least half of his passes for better than 7.5 yards per attempt. He might throw an interception, but he’ll throw for a pair of TD’s.
- Gibbs will open up the offense more. Last time, in Ramsey’s first start, the game plan was so tight, if you’d stuck a lump of coal in it during the week, you would have had a diamond by game time. (If Ramsey had thrown one more of those quick outs or wide receiver screens or whatever those were, the only reason that it wouldn’t have been intercepted would have been that all 11 Eagle defenders were fighting over the ball.) Gibbs won’t be doing any flea-flickers or triple reverses or anything; look for something like what was run against the Giants with perhaps a couple of longer passes thrown in there.
- Portis will run the ball until his tongue hangs out. Ramsey will hand him the ball thirty times, give or take. How many yards he gets will go a long way towards determining the result of the game. If he gets closer to 60 or 75 yards, that means a lot of three and outs and lots of chances for the Philly offense to do its thing, which is to put points on the board. Production in the 125-yard range will mean that there were some time-consuming drives for the home team. His production will be somewhere in the middle of those two; put him down for a buck or so.
- The Redskins defense is one of the top half dozen in the league. Cornelius Griffin, who missed the game in Philadelphia with a hip injury, is back and that should make it even more difficult for Brian Westbrook to find running room. And, certainly, they’ll be keying on what really killed them last time, Westbrook catching passes out of the backfield. The Eagle running back could get right around the 105 combined yards he got last time, but he won’t score two TD’s.
The problem is that all of this might not do any good. The Redskins could get a highly efficient performance by Ramsey in the course of executing an aggressive, highly imaginative game plan created by Gibbs and Company, an explosive performance by Portis, and a solid effort defensively and still lose. Just like the last time they played, you think you’re hanging in the game and, boom, a McNabb to Owens quick strike, a three and out, a McNabb scramble for a long completion, another one for a touchdown and, all of a sudden, it’s over.
A lot of the Redskins’ hopes are pinned on the momentum they started to build last week. Yes, there’s some momentum there, but it’s like a bicycle that just started moving forward when compared to the Big Mo the Eagles have. With four straight wins by three touchdowns or more, they’re the proverbial freight train steaming downhill towards Jacksonville, the site it the Super Bowl.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling that the Eagles are due for a flat performance and that opens the door a crack for the home team. Philly hasn’t played in a close game this year and if the Redskins can hang close in this one they can win it. Yeah, I know, that’s not necessarily very logical, but sometimes you’ve just got to go with your gut feeling (and perhaps just a small dose of wishful thinking).
Redskins 24, Eagles 21