This game is a classic gut check for the Washington Redskins. They have nothing tangible to gain from Sunday’s game against the Vikings. Minnesota, on the other hand, is trying to avoid a road loss that would knock the team out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Teams in the Redskins’ situation react differently. In 1979 the Chicago Bears played the St. Louis Cardinals in the season finale. The Bears needed a win and a Redskin loss later in the day to get a playoff spot while the Cards were, as usual, playing out the string. The Cardinals laid down like dogs, putting up no fight in going down to a 42-6 defeat. Chicago got its playoff spot after Dallas rallied to beat the Redskins.
Last year, though, it was an identical situation with the Arizona Cardinals facing the Vikings this time. This time the Cardinals did not quit; the fought to the end and shattered the hearts of those in Viking land with a stunning 18-17 win on the last play of the game.
So which team will the Redskins more closely resemble on Sunday? Will they show up wanting to make their small but indelible mark on this NFL season by knocking the Vikes out of the postseason? Or will they be more worried about tee times for next week?
The best guess is that the former scenario should prevail. Last week’s loss to Dallas was a setback in trying to build some positive momentum going into the 2005 season and they don’t want to go into the offseason with consecutive losses. On top of that, not everyone’s job is safe and anything less than a full effort will not be looked upon well by Gibbs and company.
But even if the spirit is willing, the collective body may not be cooperative. Clinton Portis has been placed on injured reserve with a sternum injury suffered in the Dallas game. Fred Smoot is doubtful and dime corner Ade Jimoh was also placed on IR.
If Smoot can’t play, the Redskins will be extremely shorthanded in the defensive backfield against a team with one of the best receiving corps in the NFL in Randy Moss, Nate Burleson, and Marcus Robinson. Walt Harris will start in Smoot’s position opposite Shawn Springs and undrafted rookies Garnell Wilds and Rufus Brown will come in for passing situations. With Daunte Culpepper, who might be a league MVP candidate if not for a guy named Manning, throwing the ball it could get ugly.
Against such a potential onslaught, Gibbs and company could design their offensive game plan in a couple of different ways. They could play keep away and try to grind it out with Ledell Betts in Portis’ place in the backfield carrying a heavy load and Patrick Ramsey throwing short passes to Chris Cooley and Laveranues Coles. Or he could open it up, let Ramsey go deep to Rod Gardner, Coles, and Taylor Jacobs.
Playing against the 29th-ranked Minnesota defense either could be a good option. I see a lot of the first with a little of the second. Expect 25 or so carries for Betts and several attempts at long passes by Ramsey.
How many points will that add up to? Not enough. The offensive line will need to have a dominant game for this to work. We’ve been waiting for the offensive line to have such a game all year and it’s not likely to happen in the 17th week of the season.
Vikings 24, Redskins 14