You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net
Yeah, I know. It's all about winning. Joe Gibbs will tell you that. Every other coach from Al Saunders to Bob Saunders will tell you that. Every player from Albright to Yoder will say the same thing.
Still, all losses are not created equal. There are good losses and there are bad losses. That's the case when you are in playoff contention and it's especially true if you are eliminated, as the Redskins are. The elimination became official when the game ended on Sunday—the Redskins can't finish any better than last in the division as the Eagles and Giants hold all of the tiebreakers even if one of them finished 7-9 and a team that's 4th in its division can't be a Wild Card—but it has been waiting to become official ever since the Redskins lost to the Tennessee Titans on October 15.
Ever since then, the Redskins have had a string of ugly losses. They withered in the second half in Indianapolis, they were utterly unproductive offensively in Philly, they got run over by a weak Bucs team, and they couldn't keep a reeling Falcons team down despite holding a 14-0 lead at home.
On Sunday, they seemed to be headed to another bad loss. After a crisp opening drive the turnover bug bit. Jason Campbell didn't see a linebacker and the Philly pick in Redskin territory set up one touchdown. Safety Michael Lewis returned a tipped ball for another. It looked like the defense might be packing it in after Jeff Garcia completed a long pass to Reggie Brown and the Eagles easily completed the drive to make it 21-3. A collapse to a 30+-point loss seemed to be in the offing.
But the Redskins didn't let it happen. Campbell and the offense cobbled together a drive to a field goal before halftime to make it 21-6. That was the first of four scoring drives in their next five possessions. The Redskin defense tightened up, forcing two three and outs. After Jason Campbell scrambled to set up a first and goal at the three with the score 21-16 it looked like the Redskins would come all the way back.
But they did not. The last seven minutes of the game demonstrated why the Redskins will finish with a losing record for the eighth time in the last 15 years. They had stuck with giving the ball to Ladell Betts, who has having a career day, even when they were down by 18, right up until they got that first down at the three. In three plays their best offensive weapon got zero touches. A penalty and a sack precluded going for it on fourth down. And then, after having held the Eagles in check for most of the second half, the Washington defense let up, allowing Philly to get a couple of first downs and kill the clock without giving Campbell a chance to try to rally the team to a game-winning field goal.
It was the season in a nutshell. Questionable play calling, confusion leading to a dumb penalty, bad luck (Chris Cooley was the primary receiver on the second and goal pass but he stumbled), and the inability to get a key defensive stop adding up to not getting it done.
Still, the good thing was that they were in a position to blow the game at the end. Again, that sounds dumb, but in a season like this one it's reality. You'd like to think that players making six- and seven-figure incomes wouldn't mail it in no matter what the score in a game or the situation in a season. But the stark reality is that they do (did anyone see the Rams last night?).
The game also could have been a key in the development of Campbell. He rebounded from a dreadful first half to post a QB rating of 118 in the final 30 minutes. His TD pass to Antwaan Randle El was as perfect as his first interception was ugly.
Tough times don't mold character, they reveal it. At 21-3, this game was as much of a gut check as being down by four in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. The Redskins passed the test, even though they revealed some of their many flaws in doing so.
Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when they moved to Washington for the 1937 season through 2001. It makes the perfect stocking stuffer for the Redskins fans on your shopping list. For details and ordering information go to http://www.RedskinsGames.com