No one has been more pleasantly surprised with the State of the Redskins the past two weeks than I. Be it the consistently dangerous flow of the offense, the smoothness with which Jim Zorn has settled into his first head coaching job, or just the overall sense of camaraderie and potential pervading all things Redskin, everything has pretty much come up aces.
Thing is, we’ve been playing with house money. And that’s about to change.
The Hall of Fame game against Indianapolis was a setup. There wasn’t a football team in the universe that would have beaten the Redskins that night—not in that atmosphere, not on that field. Peyton Manning could have played the entire game and it wouldn’t have mattered. The universe owed a debt of recognition to the Glory Years Redskins and simply chose, finally, to make good on it, aligning the stars with two moving and magical days of burgundy and gold celebration.
Many have said playing the Colts in Canton felt “like a home game” for the Redskins. It was more than that. It was a Homecoming.
And last week, beating the Buffalo Bills in Zorn’s FedExField debut, while perhaps not as cosmically scripted, was still largely a no-brainer. It’s a game they should have owned. 90,000 (or reasonable percentage thereof) screaming partisans, aglow and agrog from celebrating the end of another interminable offseason with their first tailgate of the new season … watching an exciting and surprisingly crisp-looking young team that had yet to do anything bad this year to set the more dour among them to booing ... against an opponent that engenders little awe (no disrespect, Buffalo—just the way the cookie crumbles).
All in all, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s set the early part of the 2008 season to a stirring backbeat that’s got Redskins fan tapping their feet and nodding their heads in rhythm. Me among them; I ain’t too old to dance.
I’m just saying, Saturday things start getting real.
This week all the attention, energy, karma, expectation and other intangibles will be lurking on the other sideline. Brett Favre’s debut as quarterback of the NY Jets has the News (York and Jersey), league and entire football world in a classic media feeding frenzy. After a week of almost championship-style buildup, be assured that the Meadowlands, and more importantly the New York Jets, will be as fired up for a preseason game as perhaps any time in that team’s long, sad history since the day Joe Namath ran off the Orange Bowl field in Miami 39 ago wagging one finger in the air.
(Know what else was happening 39 years ago? Saint Favre was being conceived. Gives you chills man.)
Yeah, that’s probably hyperbolic, but you get my drift. The Redskins have stumbled into a situation where they’re set up as the proverbial ‘opponent.’ In the pregame billing, they’re the Washington Generals to Brett’s Favre’s Harlem Globetrotters.
Which, as it happens, makes it equal parts possible reality check and potential springboard.
I don’t care about the final score (much, though the day comes I truly don’t care if my team wins or loses anything is the day I give up sports and take up, well, dying, I guess--but that’s not important right now). What's important is how the Redskins respond to the challenge. Because either way, we’re about to really begin getting a sense for just what kind of team Jim Zorn’s Redskins are.
Will Jason Campbell and the “scary efficient” (courtesy Joe Theismann) Redskins offense sustain a couple of drives early, as they did in the first two games, helping overcome the emotional Meadowlands tidal wave the Jets and their fans will be riding? Maybe even grab a score, letting the football-watching world know there are two quarterbacks, and two NFL teams, on the field?
Or will the Jets, who you know are going to come out attacking the line of scrimmage looking to make things happen, send Washington back the sideline with dispiriting, futile three-and-outs, or worse, force turnovers, and set the tone for the game?
And what about the defense? Will the starting unit rise to the challenge Favre and Jets coach Eric Mangini are sure to throw at them? I hope no one thinks the Jets intend to have Brett Favre hand the ball off in his one or two series. Uh-uh. Not this week, not with the world watching. He’ll come out winging it, looking to light his team, the stadium and the NFL gossip-sphere on fire.
And it’s entirely possible they’ll do just that. They could march right down the field, score, carry Brett off on their shoulders, and petition the NFL to call the season off right then and there. I mean, the guy ain’t bad.
On the other hand … Jason Taylor and Andre Carter could just happen to meet at Brett’s midsection and introduce themselves to the football world instead. I don't mean they should, you know, hurt the guy or anything ... but seeing old #4 pick himself off the turf adjusting his chinstrap, and walking slowly, deliberately back to the sidelines wouldn't ruin my day one bit. Think how that would play on Sportscenter.
And then of course there’s the new coach. Will Zorn maintain his zenlike demeanor on the sidelines in that cauldron if, say, Favre leads the Jets to a couple quick scores and the Redskins are down 10 or 14 after a quarter? Will the electric atmosphere affect his playcalling? Will he continue liberally throwing the ball around as he has so far, or will he pull in his horns, looking simply to avoid the killer turnover and play field position?
Hey, preseason results mean nothing. All thinking NFL fans know that. But for those studying the 2008 Redskins for early indicators, good or bad, Saturday night shapes up as the teams’ first real test; their first real barometer.
If they get pushed around and the NFL gets to celebrate Saint Brett for another whole week, this time at the Redskins’ video expense, we’ll have been reminded that these Redskins are, after all, very much an unknown quantity facing a host of major changes and with many unanswered questions. Which, honestly, is probably the way we should be viewing them at this point.
If, however, under the bright lights and as Brett Favre’s designated tomato can, they were to turn in a third straight efficient, effective professional performance, and leave the Jets and football world fully aware that they were there … I’m thinking things could start to get interesting around here.
Very interesting indeed.
Going to track some weekly stats I think are seriously under-valued in today’s NFL. Why? Because I’ve always wished someone would, and I have nifty blog now, so I’ll do it myself.
Game 1 (W) – 1-0 (+1); game clinching INT pick-six
Game 2 (W) – 2-2 ( = )
Season (2-0) – 3-2 (+1)
3rd down Efficiency:
Game 1 – Off. 5-10 (50%); Def. (6-14 (42%)
Game 2 – Off. 7-14 (50%); Def. 4-12 (33%)
Season – Off. 12-24 (50%); Def. 10-26 (38.4%)
Red Zone Efficiency:
Game 1 – Off. 2-3 (66%, 2TD); Def. 0-0 (100%)
Game 2 – Off. 2-3 (66%, 2TD); Def. 1-4 (25%, 1 TD)
Season – Off. 4-6 (66%, 4TD): Def. 1-4 (25%, 1TD)
Hey Brett … duck.