- Well...that sucked.
- I was trying to figure out how best to capture the feeling from yesterday, and pondered spending my entire first shot in this space on a blow-by-blow of the entire day, from the outside of the stadium to the inside of the stadium. I will still do my best to capture it all, but there is no better way to sum it up than the way I did in #1, and I felt like it needed to sit all by itself. It is important to classify and categorize the kind of “suck” we are dealing with these days. This isn’t your Steve Spurrier-era kind of feeling, where you know that your team is woefully unprepared to play in the NFL. This isn’t even a Jim Zorn-era kind of emotion, where the drama off the field bled into Sunday and there seemed to be a battle between the sideline and the owner’s suite playing out between the whistles. This is also not the same kind of feeling I recall when Mike Shanahan roamed the sideline, partially because the stands still seemed to be filled with full-throated fans then—although many of those fans wore the opposing team’s jersey. This was an entirely new feeling, disguised as these other feelings at different times throughout the entire day. Yes, that even includes the second tour of duty we got from Joe Gibbs. After all, we are talking about an offense that marched into field goal range—periodically—and failed to even get the field goal on some trips. Without being overly dramatic, I feel strongly that the Redskins organization and fanbase have firmly entered a new dimension here. If you were at FedEx yesterday, you felt it. From the conversations I had on text during the game to the conversations I had with friends after the game, it seemed like everyone watching at home felt it too. That said, I also think it is true that this doesn’t have to be the start of an even more terrible era of Redskins football than we have seen. It doesn’t, but let’s understand fully why we feel this way today before we dismiss it and (maybe) make bold predictions for the tilt against Green Bay.
- Let’s start with on-the-field stuff. The season-opening win for the Redskins out in Arizona provided a glimpse into “the possible” for the burgundy and gold, but we lacked a significant amount of context due to not knowing just how truly bad the Cardinals could be. Still, domination hasn’t been Washington’s calling card, so a decisive victory over anyone was and is worth celebrating. Nobody has the Indianapolis Colts going to the Super Bowl, so it wasn’t like we were going to get to watch the Redskins square off with a league superpower yesterday. From the Colts’ opening drive—straight down our throat—it was apparent that the Redskins were facing a better team in week two than in week one. Yet, the defense did seem to play well enough for the Redskins to have a chance to win. Every time I looked up, it felt like we had put Indy into a 3rd-and-long situation. The Colts had 177 passing yards and just a hair over 100 total rushing yards. The Redskins again won the time of possession, which didn’t seem possible after the Colts two first half touchdown drives. Washington had more first downs, more total yards and won the turnover margin. Despite the feeling that the game’s outcome felt determined at multiple times during the game, the Redskins were in this game throughout. That was something that ate at me all day, because I have felt that feeling before...a LOT. Those of us who continue to eat, sleep and breathe football on Sunday year after year know that while the Redskins have taken their share of beatings over the last 20 years, so many losses have been of the “the-close-score-doesn’t-properly-convey-the-fact-this-game-was-out-of-reach-from-the-outset” variety. It wasn’t just that the team was playing from behind. It was that once again, I felt as a fan that I was cheering from behind/cheering upstream. That kind of feeling only comes from experience.
- I love our defense, and while there were plays that got left on the field, I am not hanging this loss on them. Josh Norman knows he should have gotten that safety, but running backs break cornerback tackles all the time. There was still a 3rd-and-12 coming up that the Colts converted that broke the defense’s back on that drive. Washington gave up 14 points through three quarters. Jay Gruden absolutely had to be able to come up with something better than he did—I felt like Navin Johnson was calling plays. And I’m talking about pre-rhythm Navin Johnson. It just never felt like Jay got into any kind of consistency with his calls, and there were times where it felt like he should have been able to tap into something...like after the first play from scrimmage for example. It pains me to say this, as I have called this The Year of Jay Gruden, but offensive play-calling was a problem against the Colts. I think the good news here is that this is correctable. I think Jay is a gifted offensive schemer and play-caller. He had a bad day at the office, but it is also true that I watched our guards struggle to get to the second level all day. Darius Leonard, Indy’s second-round rookie linebacker had an All-Pro day with 18 tackles, which will happen when our offensive line is unable to get out and hit linebackers.
- Stepping into the stands for a moment, I have to say that it was a SHOCKING experience at FedEx Field. Of course the on-field product is going to shape the day at the park, but the difference in the crowd was UNMISTAKABLE. This past offseason, if you were listening to The Audible, you heard me say that this home opener was going to wake some folks up to the situation in Redskins Nation. At the time, it all felt and sounded like reaction to the Kirk Cousins saga, but that was only the latest episode of the show we have been watching. No, what happened yesterday in Landover has been coming for a long time, and those of us who have been there for just about every game for the last 15-20 seasons know this. It was essentially a preseason crowd. They announced 57,000 in attendance, and we all know that announced attendance almost never means anything. I know I didn’t see 57,000 people there. The parking lots were empty. Even last season, our tailgate had to wrap up prior to kickoff because the spaces were needed to park late arrivals—not the case at all yesterday. Typically when we close up shop in the lot and head in, we are used to long lines at the gates just ahead of kickoff. Yesterday, we walked up to the gate a mere minutes before the national anthem was to be played, and we were in our seats before it started. The lower bowl of the stands began to fill out finally, but it was obvious to those of us there that this was a function of folks moving down, and not a result of late arrivals. The real gut-punch was that in such an intimate gathering, there was still a very vocal and prominent crew of opposing fans. The blue and white-clad fans were loud and made their presence felt all day...pretty disheartening, even though I have grown accustomed to the phenomenon. Considering the positive momentum I felt this team had after the road win in week one and the prospects for a win over an Indy team that the Redskins absolutely should have believed they could beat, the general malaise at FedEx seems even worse a day later than it felt in the moment. (It is probably a huge blessing that the Skins started the season on the road.) It is worth noting that the efforts made by the Redskins organization to enhance the fan experience inside the stadium were noticeable and in some cases, very appreciated. The “WE HAIL!” thing they tried to jam down our throats got a little old, especially as the game wore on, but the P.A. announcer’s efforts to have the crowd yell, “FIRST DOWN!” after he said, “AND THAT’S GOOD FOR ANOTHER REDSKINS ___________,” kind of worked for me. I appreciate the team changing little things like that up, and football games should be more interactive in general, so I will give the Redskins props for tinkering. Again, fan experience at games is so tied to the game—you can’t trick people who are invested in the game itself into having a fun time. I have been going to Redskins football games for a very, very long time. Yesterday was different in a way that I couldn’t have imagined 15 years ago. It bears monitoring, because I don’t see how or why it would be that much better this coming week against the Packers. I think back to all the years that I have watched stadiums in places like Cleveland and Miami and St. Louis host sparsely-attended affairs. I think back to all the losses I have witnessed at FedEx Field when it felt and sounded like every seat was full. What I saw with my own eyes yesterday was shocking indeed, and something that the Redskins organization is surely recognizing as a HUGE problem going forward. It is easier for people to continue going to games that have been doing so for years, but once people stop going, getting them to come back is a gargantuan task.
- It’s a negative day indeed for Redskins fans and for the team as well. I think I should go out with a measure of the same simplicity with which I began. I don’t think things were ever as spectacularly rosey as some would have had us believe after week one, and I don’t think this football team is as doomed as some would have us think after week two. The Redskins, despite their uninspired performance against the Colts, are tied for the division lead after two weeks of the season. There is not a single team in the NFC East that looks like world-beaters right now, and that is the battleground for this Redskins team going forward. For those of us—like me—who believe there is a core competency present in this team that will serve them well this year, we have an incredibly amazing chance in front of us. We get to see how this current Redskins team responds to adversity. We have gotten to see that a lot over the years, and while emotions and depression stemming from the past are at play for us fans today, this current group of players and coaches deserves the chance to come out fighting without having to wear the failures of all those previous teams.
What a difference a week makes...and sometimes in the very, very wrong direction.