Somebody had to lose to the Lions - and take the Motor City out of its misery. Let’s spend the next 1,000 words discussing why it had to be the Redskins… and not, say, Towson.
OK, that last crack wasn’t fair - to the Lions. They’re obviously not an 0-16 team anymore. That was last year. Their win Sunday at Ford Field, before a small but enthusiastic gathering of 40,896, is likely the first of several this season. (I’d put the over-under at four.)
The big thing, of course, is that, with the first pick in the draft, they’ve gotten themselves a quarterback they can build around. Let the record show it took Matthew Stafford exactly three weeks to end Detroit’s long losing streak - and to look good doing it.
Stafford showed arm strength. He showed touch. He showed mobility. He showed presence of mind. Heck, he completed six straight third-down throws in the first half, picking up the necessary yardage each time. The kid could be a Serious Keeper, the Matt Ryan of 2009 (and at the very least is light-years better than the Lions’ previous quarterback/savior, Joey Harrington).
But this isn’t a column for the Detroit Free Press. This is a column for The Washington Times. And the story from the Washington standpoint is: Can the Redskins sink any lower? How could they lose to a club that had gone down, often resoundingly, to 19 straight defeats - especially after barely scraping by the almost-as-hopeless Rams seven days earlier? Is this where they are right now, running shoulder pad to shoulder pad with the dregs of the league?
In a word, yes.
Sometimes, the fans see a team more clearly than the team itself does. That seems to be the case here. As Sunday’s 19-14 disaster showed, those boos at the St. Louis game - the boos that “disappointed” some players, mystified others and introduced Robert Henson, the Mad Tweeter, to the wider world - wasn’t a case of Redskins rooters pitching a hissy fit because they are going to have to cancel their Super Bowl reservations in South Beach.
No, it was tough love. It was tantamount to saying: “As much as we adore you, you’re underachieving horrifically. You’re better - way better - than this. And if your performance doesn’t improve soon, we’re cutting off your allowance and taking away the car keys.”
Unfortunately for the Redskins, they didn’t take the hint. They stumbled around in the first half against the Lions, fell behind 13-0 and never quite caught up.
“We can’t stand around and wait for teams to make us angry,” said Santana Moss, whose 10 catches for 178 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, went for naught. “We have to do it from the start. We have to finish them off from the start.”
Ah, the start. For the Redskins, it was a veritable instructional manual on “How Not to Begin a Game Against a Team That Has Lost 19 in a Row.” After forcing Detroit to punt, Jason Campbell and Co. moved smartly downfield 75 yards and had a first down at the 9. But once again, the offense found itself unable to get from here to there - “there” being the end zone.
What made it worse, though, is that Jim Zorn decided to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-1 rather than taking the three points. His reasoning: “We drove all the way down there, and… it’s a very solid play that we had [over the left side], easily a 1-yard play.” Even if the Redskins didn’t score, he figured, if the defense kept the Lions bottled up in their own end, “We’d get the ball back at [around] the 50. So I was thinking field position there, too.” Passing up the field goal, he was convinced, “wasn’t going to lose the game for us.”
Anyway, this is what happened: The Lions stopped Clinton Portis in his tracks and took the ball. Visibly inspired, they then marched 99 yards to go up 7-0 on a 21-yard alley-oop pass to 6-foot-3 wideout Bryant Johnson.
But here’s the best part: Late in the game, the Redskins found themselves needing a touchdown to win. But if they had been content with a field goal in the first quarter… (Put it this way: The Lions would have kicked the extra point after their last TD instead of going for two, which would have made the score 20-17. Thus, the Redskins, who got as close as the Detroit 36 in their final series, would have had at least a chance to send the game into overtime.)
Why didn’t Zorn’s fourth-down call, of which he was so confident, gain the necessary 36 inches? Well, one reason might be that with right guard Randy Thomas out for the season - and his replacement, Chad Rinehart, making his NFL debut - the Lions had a pretty good idea the Redskins would try the other side, behind Chris Samuels and Derrick Dockery. (That, at least, was what Zorn did at the end of the St. Louis game, when the Rams dropped Portis for a 2-yard loss.)
“It makes a difference” not having Thomas in there, Campbell agreed. “Randy was a force in both the running game and in [pass protection]. Defenses are going to load up on one side. There are things we’re probably going to have to change until Chad settles in.”
The Redskins are going to have to change a lot more than that. Phillip Daniels called Sunday’s debacle “the most disappointing loss since I’ve been in Washington.” A tweak here and a tweak there won’t change the southerly course of this season.
“You don’t ever want to be in this position,” Campbell said. “But we’ve gotta find a way to get this thing turned around and turned around quick because it’s not going to get any easier.”
They can start by listening when Redskins Nation talks to them - even if it’s something they don’t want to hear.