1. While I did consider a side-by-side stat comparison of this year's team and last year's team, I decided to slam a window closed on my junk instead. Yeah, both teams had bright spots, but let's not smear lipstick on these pigs (hogs?) today. We'll spend plenty of time in the weeks ahead highlighting where improvements were made as well as what areas continue to demand attention. There is only one way to settle the issue of whether or not progress was made: on the field. What follows is my annual clash of Redskins teams: this year's version (the "11Skins") versus last year's version (the "Tenskins"). Cue the "Looney Tunes" theme music. This will not be a play-by-play account of the game. We have edited the content down to the highlights. I have tried to minimize the confusion that is inherent in such a matchup, but one can only do so much.
2. Prior to the game, we were treated to a real juxtaposition of Kyle Shanahans. The timid 2010 Kyle looked a little bit upset as Donovan McNabb took his warmups in preparation for the start. You could just tell how jealous he was of his 2011 self since the older Kyle got to start Rex Grossman. On the 2011 sidelines, a very feisty, downright spunky Kyle Shanahan was caught on microphone telling his players, "Gentlemen, today we have a date with destiny...and it looks like she ordered the lobster."
3. The 11Skins won the toss and chose to receive. After all, the Tenskins had to kick the ball off from the 30-yard line, giving Brandon Banks his first opportunity for a decent return in 2011. He made the most of it, taking it out to midfield. As Rex Grossman trotted out onto the field, the crowd let out a roar. It was only a coincidence though, as the Pittsburgh Steelers were in the playoffs and had just scored--even in a game where the Redskins played the Redskins, 40% of the stands were filled with Steelers fans. Weird.
4. At the end of the first quarter, the 11Skins had racked up 158 yards of total offense. The Tenskins had managed nine first downs and 137 yards of total offense of their own. The score, however, was zero to zero, thanks to a Clinton Portis fumble in the red zone and a Carlos Rogers interception of Rex Grossman. The highlight of the first frame was when the Tenskins' LaRon Landry made a tackle on Roy Helu. Helu had just gained 23 yards on a run, but LaRon got up and did the craziest celebration dance I have ever seen that resulted in a completely severed hamstring. He had to be carted off the field.
5. Things started to get pretty interesting in the second quarter. With 11 minutes to go in the first half, Tenskins coach Mike Shanahan sent in his own Rex Grossman, who promptly began running the two-minute drill. One minute and fifty seconds later, Rex completed a pass to the defense. DeJon Gomes, who had been substituted in for the 2011 LaRon Landry for the series as a preventative measure (they wanted to save him for the second half), pulled down a high floater out of the air. Nobody else was near him. You know when you play backyard football, and one team throws the ball off instead of kicking it off? That's what it looked like Rex was doing on this play. Donovan McNabb stood with his arms crossed at the 30-yard line in a Bears cap just shaking his head. The turnover resulted in a field goal for the 11Skins.
6. One of the plays that will be talked about for years is difficult to describe, so I will transcribe Larry Michael's radio playcall of it, with Sonny and Sam's added commentary.
Larry Michael: "It's 3rd down and a long four to go for the 11Skins. Grossman takes the snap, turns to his left and hands it off to Roy Helu. Helu runs right into the back of his own offensive lineman and cuts back to the right...where he has all kinds of room! This could be huuuuu...wait, he was tripped up just beyond the line of scrimmage by Albert Haynesworth! What a play by the mercurial defensive tackle!"
Sonny: "He was just laying there Larry. He was just laying there in the middle of the field. Helu tripped over him."
Larry: "The replay shows that Haynesworth actually started the play on his back. Unbelievable. Does he get credit for the tackle?"
Sam: "That should be a penalty. Roy Helu can't just run into a man laying there on the ground. That's a penalty, isn't it Sonny? That's 15 yards right there...that is just a dumb, dumb play by the rookie out of Utah. I mean, what are these coaches teaching these players?"
7. The Tenskins managed a field goal of their own to take this tilt into halftime with a 3-3 score. Unbeknownst to anyone on either sideline, DeAngelo Hall switched places with himself, ostensibly to try and give his teammates some inside skinny. We later found out that the 2011 Deangelo Hall thought he could sabotage the Tenskins with poor tackling and loose coverage. SPOILER ALERT: Nobody noticed anything.
8. The second half turned into a bit of a track meet--if you consider 5 field goals in just under 15 minutes a track meet. By the time the fourth quarter began, the 11Skins had built a commanding 15-6 advantage. Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo were shining for the Tenskins defense, but Reed Doughty was getting exposed in coverage. One time, Fred Davis was so open, he couldn't stop laughing. I mean, he was on the ground giggling like a high school girl. At one point, he reached into the hand warmer he was wearing around his waist and pulled out a tube of chocolate chip cookie dough. He made the catch with one hand, while stuffing the raw cookie dough into his mouth with the other, laughing hysterically the entire time. I think it was because he was so open. I can't be sure, but I also think Trent Williams had a Grateful Dead helmet on for the entire second half.
9. I am tempted to claim that both teams fought valiantly to the end. Very tempted. Let's just say the outcome was in question until the very end. Donovan McNabb was reinserted into the game to provide what the Tenskins could only hope would be veteran poise and he came through in a big way. When he connected with Logan Paulsen for a late touchdown, the score was 15-13 in favor of the 11Skins. Since FOX was kind enough to provide a couple of interns for announcers (actually a step up from their usual regular season offering of two guys in suits who have never seen a football game before), we were treated to this gem as they went to commercial: "One thing is for certain: the winners today are these fans." (The ensuing crowd shot is a sea of yellow Terrible Towels waving.)
10. We all knew it would come to down to Graham Gano, and we were all right. On the kickoff following the Logan Paulsen score, the Tenskins Gano shanked the kickoff out of bounds. The 11Skins had the lead, and the ball at the 40-yard line, with just under four minutes to go in the game. What happened next was simply ridiculous. Somehow, Rex Grossman and Kyle Shanahan of the 11Skins managed to take just 14 seconds off the clock in the fastest three-and-out in the history of the NFL. If it wasn't for Sav Rocca's booming punt that pinned the Tenskins inside their own ten, the 11Skins would have been screwed. As it was, Donovan McNabb rallied his troops for a march up the field that gave Graham Gano a chance to win the game at the buzzer for the Tenskins. With just five seconds on the clock, Gano stepped up to attempt a 46-yarder for the win. As the ball was snapped, the entire right side of the Tenskins offensive line caved in, and Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield got their hands in the air for the most predictable block of the century.
11Skins 15, Tenskins 13
Congratulations to Mike Shanahan, Bruce Allen and Dan Snyder. I have officially recognized progress made from 2010 to 2011...Amen.