Two short weeks ago, the 2-0 Washington Redskins were viewed by the football-watching world as an afterthought. Heading into tonight's Monday Night Football showdown with their arch-rival Dallas Cowboys, however, the burgundy and gold are suddenly a sexy story.
Like the emerging 3-0 Detroit Lions and Buffalo "Really?" Bills, the Redskins quick start has forced people to sit up and take notice.
It started in week one with their surprisingly convincing, 28-14 home win over divisional nemesis the New York Giants. In that game, the Redskins were, quite simply, the better team. Forget the "Giants were injured" angle. If you watched the NFL at all this week, you know about "any given Sunday." The Giants had owned the Redskins, for a very long time, and no one would have been surprised had said ownage continued.
It did not. Emphatically.
And it was more than "just" starting 1-0, by the way. In that game the Redskins re-vitalized defense came up with a play that, it says here, will be recorded in unofficial lore as the Turning Point. Rookie draft pick. Blue collar. Deflected pass, returned for stadium-rocking touchdown. Shades of Hogeboom and Grant (Wham! Bam! It's the Redskins!).
Oh, I know...very different stages. Just planting that flag in the ground here and now.
Then, in week two, the Redskins won a game that they would have lost in recent years—a game they dominated in every way except on the scoreboard. How many times have we seen it over the past generation ... the Redskins domintate time of possession, yardage, the run of play in general ... only to come up short on the one stat that, at the end of the day, anyone really cares about—the scoreboard.
In the NFL it's about finishing, and for 20 years that has been the one thing the Redksins have not been able to do. But last week, in crunch time, it was the Redskins who made the big stop. It was the Redskins who converted the big third down (and fourth for that matter).
And last week, for a refereshing change, it was the other team feeling they "let one slip away."
Redskins 22, Cardinals 21.
Think there isn't a big difference between 2-0 and 1-1? Just ask Dallas.
Which brings us 'round to tonight, and Monday Night Football.
Tonight the Redskins face, for the first time in 2011, what I have been calling for years an Opportunity Game. Every once in a while a game sets up perfectly for the Redskins to take, as the saying goes, the ever-ellusive "next step." To finally plant their cleats in the ground and vault back into relevance, reputation, perhaps even, dare we say it, contention.
Oppotunity Games are games the team does not have to win. Dallas, at 1-1, playing at home and in danger of falling off the NFC East pace early, "needs" this game more. In the NFCE you had better win your home matchups, because having to "get one back" later on the road is flat out hard. As a Dallas fan, how would you like to wake up tomorrow morning 1-2, and having lost to the Redskins, at home, on Monday Night Football?
So yeah .... if the Redksins lose tonight, it won't kill their season. They'd still be 2-1 and heading off to a "winnable game" next week at the 0-3 St. Louis Rams, with a solid chance to move to 3-1 before the bye. And following that they head into what is supposedly the "easier" part of the their 2011 schedule. It would all still be out there for this Redskins team, a team all indicators suggest is clearly headed in the right direction.
But man. What if they should find a way to win tonight?
3-0. Alone in first place.
2-0 in the division, 3-0 in the NFC.
The sky, and the imagination, would suddenly seem the limit.
There's a common saying: a win is a win. It's true. When they tally things up at the end of the year to see who makes the playoffs versus who tops the draft in April, all wins and losses count the same.
But they're wrong when they suggest all wins are created equal.
Where any one game marks a notch in a won-lost column, Opportunity Games are so much more. They are measuring sticks. They are macro to every other week's micro. They are banners stuck firmly in the ground proclaiming arrival ... or sober reminders of reality and work remaining to be done.
For the 2011 Washington Redskins—for the Shanahan Redskins—tonight's affair in Big D is one of those moments. Opportunity is knocking.
Are the Redskins dressed, primed and ready to answer the door?