Emotion can only carry you so far in the NFL. At a certain point — and the Redskins reached that point yesterday in the first round of the playoffs — you simply have to be better than the other guy. Otherwise, you might as well pack up and go home.
After all, everybody gets jacked up for the postseason. It's what teams live for ... and, in the searing heat of training camp, die for. What January almost always comes down to is whether Player A can block Player B when he needs to, whether Player X can cover Player Y when he needs to. That is, it comes down to talent and the ability to impose it at crucial moments.
The Redskins lost to the Seahawks 35-14 at Qwest Field because, in the end, emotion wasn't enough. If it were, they wouldn't have been stopped on every third-and-short they faced (three in all). If it were, they would have done better at keeping Seattle's fierce pass rush off Todd Collins' back. If it were, their rally in the second half from a 13-0 deficit to a 14-13 lead would have resulted in a victory.
But it wasn't enough. And, ultimately, the better team won, the Seattle team that has been to the playoffs five straight seasons, went to the Super Bowl two years ago and had the screaming support of a stadium-record 68,297 fans. The Seahawks are what the Redskins want to be — perennial contenders. After four seasons of building under Joe Gibbs, though, the Snydermen aren't quite there yet.
Maybe next year.
"I told 'em how proud of 'em I was," Gibbs said. "To overcome everything they had to this year ... I think they've got great heart, great character."
He'll get no argument here. But then, the Redskins have battled like crazy ever since Coach Joe returned to the sideline in '04. That, as much as anything, is the distinguishing characteristic of his clubs: an absolute refusal to give in. And this season was no different. The injuries to Jon Jansen and Randy Thomas, the murder of Sean Taylor, the late loss of Jason Campbell — what other playoff team had to deal with so many potentially crushing blows?
"We got to this point by staying together," Phillip Daniels said. And because of that, the Redskins didn't unravel yesterday when, as Clinton Portis put it, "our offense was stinking it up" for much of the day. Indeed, it wasn't until late in the third quarter that Todd Collins and Co. managed to move the ball past midfield. (Which strongly suggests that, despite its late-season success with Collins at the controls, the unit still has Serious Concerns.)
Ever so briefly, the Redskins threatened to steal the game with two quick touchdowns — a 7-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El and a 30-yarder to Santana Moss that put them up 14-13. Then, miraculously, they had another scoring chance when special teamer Anthony Mix recovered a mishandled kickoff at the Seattle 14.
But Shaun Suisham's chip-shot field goal try veered wide, and the Seahawks got down to business, driving 42 yards for a touchdown after a short punt and getting two more touchdowns on long interception returns. As Marcus Trufant and Jordan Babineaux raced down the field — 78 yards in the first case, 57 yards in the second — it became clear how totally spent the Redskins were. Their offense couldn't muster the energy to make a tackle.
Standing on the sideline, watching helplessly, Daniels could barely contain the urge to run out from the sideline and stop Trufant and Babineaux himself. "You really do want to get out there and help those guys out," he confessed. "They're offensive players and aren't used to making tackles."
And so a one-sided game became a close game — and then went back to being a one-sided game. The Redskins would do well to remember that during the offseason when they're making plans for the future. They came a long way late in the year and deserve every bit of praise they've gotten, but all it earned them was a 21-point shellacking by the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs. Wasn't that how they ended the season two years ago, losing to a superior Seattle team on the road and struggling offensively for much of the day?
No, in this game, the emotion the Redskins had been riding through four late-season wins wasn't nearly enough. "Guys [on the other team] were definitely flying around a lot more," said young Stephon Heyer, who had his hands full with Pro Bowl pass rusher Patrick Kerney, "because they knew what was on the line."
It was the playoffs — win or go home — not a Week 15 game against the fading Bears. The better team won, as it usually does, and the Redskins went home.