If the Redskins can win a playoff game playing the way they did yesterday, well, maybe this is their year. When has a Joe Gibbs offense ever been so ineffective in the postseason, even when lining up against Lawrence Taylor's Giants or Dan Hampton's Bears? When have the Redskins ever had this many slip-ups -- three fumbles (all of which, amazingly, they recovered), an interception and shanked punt in the final four minutes and a mindless ejection by Designated Spitter Sean Taylor -- and lived to see another January day?
They're invincible, these Redskins. They can get held to a record-low (for a winning team) 120 yards, lose the time-of-possession battle by nearly nine minutes, and still beat the Bucs 17-10 at Raymond James Stadium to advance to the NFC semifinals.
Now you know why Dan Snyder threw a three-year, estimated $8million extension at Gregg Williams last week. Every time the Redskins find themselves in dire straits -- down 17-7 late in the first half in Philadelphia, barely budging the ball in Tampa -- Williams' defense scores a touchdown or shakes loose a turnover or does something else dramatic.
Can the Redskins possibly keep up this smoke-and-mirrors act, even as the competition in the coming weeks gets (presumably) stronger? Why not? I'll take luck over talent -- and momentum over home-field advantage -- any day. Don't be surprised if the margin of victory against the Seahawks on Saturday is a drop kicked extra point.
There was certainly no sheepishness in the Washington locker room about the club's seemingly heaven-sent victory. As Joe Salave'a put it, "I thought we got robbed the first time we came here [in November]. Things just turned our way this time."
He can say that again. Taylor scored the Redskins' second touchdown -- the winning TD, as it turned out -- by running 51 yards with a fumble by, of all people, Marcus Washington, who was running with a fumble himself. But it might not have been the winning TD if Edell Shepherd hadn't dropped a pass from Chris Simms in the end zone with 2:55 left, a ruling that was upheld by replay.
The way the Redskins looked at it, the Shepherd call balanced the scales for the disputed two-point conversion by Mike Alstott in the first Tampa Bay game. (And from where I'm typing, Taylor's improbable scooping up of Washington's fumble balanced the scales for Warrick Dunn's improbable scooping up of Shaun King's fumble late in the Redskins-Bucs playoff game here in the 1999 playoffs.) See, every once in a while, things do even out.
Too bad the Redskins don't have any IOUs from the Seahawks. They've never met them in the postseason, and when the teams faced off in October at FedEx Field, the Snydermen got the biggest break of all: They won the coin toss at the start of overtime and kicked a walk-off field goal before Seattle's potent offense could get its hands on the ball.
So there'll be no axes for the Redskins to grind this week. On the other hand, they'll be able to walk into Qwest Field secure in the knowledge that "We've already beaten these guys."
Gibbs will have to reach into his bag of miracles, though, to survive another offensive performance like yesterday's. Clinton Portis, both shoulders dinged, managed just 53 yards rushing -- about half what he'd been averaging of late. Slumping Mark Brunell, meanwhile, had a game right out of the 1920s (41 passing yards, 25.7 rating), and Santana Moss (two catches, 18 yards) was rendered virtually invisible by double- and triple-teaming.
(Explain this to me again. How did the Redskins win this game?)
Perhaps Williams' defense will stage another tip drill -- at Matt Hasselbeck's expense. That's how the Redskins undid Simms. Salave'a tipped a pass in the first quarter, and LaVar Arrington intercepted it and set up a touchdown. Then, with a minute left, Cornelius Griffin put his hand on another Simms pass, and Marcus Washington picked it off to seal the win.
Fortunately for the Redskins, Salave'a was a bigger factor than saliva -- the spit that spewed from Taylor's mouth in the third quarter and caused No.21 to be banished. Sean had no business treating the Bucs' Michael Pittman like that, Gibbs acknowledged, and "if he did what [the officials say] he did, he should be [booted]."
But the team survived Taylor's dismissal, just as it did Shawn Springs' absence (strained groin) and Renaldo Wynn's premature departure (broken forearm). Hey, they're the Redskins -- indomitable, imperturbable and, somehow, headed to Seattle.