- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

— On the last day of the NFL regular season, nobody seemed to want the last wild card spot in the NFC. The Bears could have put themselves in position by winning at Houston, but they lost. The Bucs could have done likewise by beating the laugh-a-minute Raiders, but they, too, lost.

That turned the Cowboys-Eagles grudgefest into a winner-take-all battle - with the Redskins once again on the outside looking in. Just to refresh your memory, these are the same Eagles the Snydermen had beaten the week before, giving them a sweep of Philly this year. (As if they needed something else to feel bad about as they wrapped up their season at sparsely populated Candlestick Park against the also-going-nowhere 49ers.)

How easily could the Redskins have made the playoffs? How easily could Sunday’s exercise in irrelevance have meant something? They’ll spend the offseason contemplating that one, torturing themselves with woulda-coulda-shouldas, painfully replaying mishaps against the abysmal Rams and nearly as bad Bengals.

“Staring at the ceiling” moments, Jim Zorn called them after his team closed out 2008 with a come-from-ahead 27-24 defeat. Still, he said, “I just feel like we’re so close. Just a handful of plays [away].”

His quarterback, Jason Campbell, expressed many of the same sentiments.

“We really can be a good team,” he said. “We showed that early in the year. But we’ve got to do it for 16 games … and fight through some things.”

So it is with clubs that just miss the postseason. The Redskins’ discomfort, of course, will be especially acute because they were 6-2 at the halfway point and had all their division road games behind them. Remember how good their chances, even for winning the division, seemed then? Now … there’s only regret.

Not that they won’t have plenty of company in their misery. A ton of teams gagged away - or tried to gag away - playoff berths this year. It’s entirely possible, in fact, a RECORD number of teams with postseason possibilities wheezed to the finish line. I mean, when have we ever seen anything like the last month (or so) of 2008? To recap:

The Bucs lost their last four, the final two at home, to finish 9-7 and out of the running.

The Cowboys went 1-3 down the stretch, blowing a game at Pittsburgh and getting blown out Sunday at Philadelphia, to also end up 9-7.

The Jets were 8-3 after back-to-back road victories at New England and then-undefeated Tennessee … and proceeded to go 1-4 the rest of the way. (And they were lucky to win one, thanks to some curious playcalling by the Bills.)

The Broncos appeared to have the AFC West title locked up, then lost to Carolina and Buffalo to set up Sunday night’s elimination game at San Diego.

And we won’t even talk about the Cardinals, who got hammered in the last five weeks by scores of 48-20 (Eagles), 35-14 (Vikings) and 47-7 (Patriots) en route to the NFC West “crown.”

So the Redskins’ swoon fits right in with the General Theme. For whatever reason, this was a season of false clues and red herrings, a season in which nothing was as it seemed. (Hey, I just thought of another one: The Bills starting 5-1, and Sports Illustrated touting Trent Edwards as the Next Great Quarterback. How’d that work out?)

What all this cliff diving served to remind us is how long a 16-game schedule really is and how often the winds can change - for all teams. Take the Patriots. They lost Tom Brady in the first half of their opener, managed an 11-5 record anyway (with four straight victories at the end) - and STILL didn’t make the playoffs. Who could have imagined that?

But returning to the Redskins, their scrimmage with the 49ers was almost a microcosm of their season. They looked lost early (when the Niners drove 65 yards for a touchdown on their opening possession), regained their footing nicely the remainder of the first half (when touchdowns by Clinton Portis and Antwaan Randle El gave them a 17-7 lead), then came undone in the second half (when a Portis fumble, an 80-yard drive by San Francisco, a big drop by Santana Moss and a defensive cave-in in the last two minutes doomed them).

“It was great having that 10-point lead,” said Andre Carter, whose unit hasn’t enjoyed many of them this year. “The offense did well [to get it]. In the second half the momentum shifted, the crowd got involved and we didn’t do our part on defense. It was a tough loss.”

All this way to finish 8-8. And this season, at least, 8-8 isn’t even mediocre; it’s less than mediocre. How so, you ask? Well, look at it this way: At game’s end Sunday, with Denver-San Diego still to play, there were 17 teams with better records than the Redskins and 12 with worse records. That makes them, to my thinking, a little less than average.

Not exactly where they wanted to be after sneaking into the playoffs last year. They had hoped, obviously, to build on that success, especially with Jason Campbell being a more experienced quarterback. But there was no major progress; it was just another season come and gone, another disappointment atop the pile … and for Zorn, another reason to spend the night staring at the ceiling.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

blog comments powered by Disqus

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide