- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Playoff Express is getting ready to leave the station — and the Redskins, once again, won’t be on it. That’s five years in a row now, five years of mediocrity and underachieving and, lately, touchdown avoidance. Meanwhile, Charlie Casserly’s Houston Texans, in just their third season, have a chance to finish 8-8 in a much more challenging conference. The pain of it all.

This latest disappointment hurts more than the others because the Redskins have a playoff-caliber defense, the second-ranked unit in the league. It also stings because the door is more than a little ajar in the NFC, what with the Eagles losing Terrell Owens.

But we’ll leave the Team Autopsy for next week and focus on some other, league-wide topics this morning, such as:

• The death of Reggie White at 43. Do you see any defensive lineman today doing the kinds of things White did in his prime — wreaking havoc as a pass-rushing end on one down and as a run-stuffing tackle the next? That just shows you how great he was. He wasn’t just a two-position player, he was a two-position Pro Bowl player. Anywhere you put him, he was a menace. (Howie Long was used much the same way in that era but wasn’t quite in Reggie’s class.)

White will be remembered, too, for helping to return Green Bay to the Land of the Living. The Packers had been down for a while — since the Lombardi days, really — when Reggie signed with them in 1993, the first year of free agency. But along with Brett Favre, he made it fashionable to be a Packer again; here it is, more than a decade later, and Green Bay is still winning division titles.

We’ll downplay his impolitic remarks to the Wisconsin legislature some time ago — which set sociology back a few centuries — and simply say that if there were a Mount Rushmore for D-linemen, his mug would be on it.

• Peyton Manning’s 49 touchdown passes. OK, one major passing record — set by a fellow named Dan Marino — is out of the way. And Manning could well erase some more marks before the season is over. But if he doesn’t take the Colts to the Super Bowl, as Marino did the Dolphins in ‘84, it won’t mean nearly as much.

The ridiculous numbers Manning has been putting up suggest that this is His year, but there are other indications that it isn’t. For instance, Indy, if it closes out with a win Sunday, will be just the second 13-3 club not to get a first-round bye in the playoffs. (The Titans were the first, in ‘99). The Colts also were unlucky because they had to play the Patriots on the road — and at a time (Week1) when the Pats’ cornerbacks were healthy (which probably cost them the No.2 seed). Beating New England and Pittsburgh on their own turf might be too much to ask, even of a passer as hot as Peyton.

• Can Ben Roethlisberger really run the table? If he does, if the Steelers go all the way and he finishes 17-0 as a starter — as a rookie — it will be one of the most amazing feats in NFL history, perhaps in all of sports. I mean, Sammy Baugh quarterbacked a team to the championship in his first year (Redskins, 1937); so did Bob Waterfield (Rams, 1945). But neither of them went undefeated. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen.

Not to be a killjoy, but I don’t think Roethlisberger can pull it off. I’m not talking about him crashing and burning, I’m just talking about him having an average game in the playoffs … when an average game might not do. Besides, can you imagine what life would be like for the poor kid if he did win a title on his first try? The whole rest of his career could be anticlimactic.

Then again, maybe he’s the next Otto Graham. There’s always that possibility.

• The Patriots are peeved, which is bad news for the rest of the league. Bill Belichick’s boys responded to the Great Miami Giveaway the way a team for the ages is supposed to respond — they went to the Meadowlands and whipped a very capable Jets club, 23-7. Now if they can just get Ty Law back — so Troy Brown can return to full-time receiver duty — they might be able to match the Cowboys’ feat of winning three rings in four years. (The prospect of playing the Colts and Steelers in consecutive weeks does seem daunting, though.)

The Pats, by the way, are on a 30-4 tear (17-2 last season and 13-2 so far this season). Pretty impressive — but not quite as good as the 31-3 run the Redskins were on heading into the Super Bowl in ‘83 (whereupon they got walloped by the Raiders, 38-9).

More Fun Facts next week, when the playoff situation gets all sorted out. One of these years — who knows? — maybe the Redskins will get invited to the party.

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