If the Washington Redskins played every game with the emotion they displayed Sunday against the New England Patriots, their season might have turned out differently. Not differently enough to put them in the playoffs, perhaps, but differently enough to cut down on the cries of despair from their fans as one defeat was piled atop another.
Jabar Gaffney was so excited to catch a touchdown pass against his former club that he did the FedEx Leap into the stands behind the end zone. Granted, he got a little too much lift and landed in the seats instead of on the ledge, but these things can happen when you’re going toe to toe with one of the NFL’s elite.
As the day went on, other Redskins released their Inner Child — showed, as Rex Grossman put it, that “it’s fun to go out there and play football.” Whether it was hurling themselves into the crowd after scores, twirling the ball on the ground after first downs or otherwise celebrating big plays, the Redskins didn’t hold anything back.
“We were pumped up,” Gaffney said. “Had a good team coming in here, a chance to show we could play with the best.”
For 60 minutes, the last-place Redskins did play with the best, too. Indeed, with 1:09 left, they thought they had tied New England 34-34 on a 5-yard TD throw from Grossman to Santana Moss. Alas, Moss was called for pushing off, and Grossman’s next pass went off Moss‘ hands and into those of Jerod Mayo, the Patriots‘ Pro Bowl linebacker. Thus did one of the most entertaining Sundays in many moons at FedEx Field end in a 34-27 loss.
But back to our original “if.” Where has this fight, this feistiness been all season? The Redskins, after all, had no business being in this game in the fourth quarter. They were already without Fred Davis and Trent Williams because of suspensions and assorted others (e.g. LaRon Landry) because of injuries; then Jammal Brown, one of their few semihealthy offensive linemen, further complicated matters when he tweaked his groin in warm-ups and couldn’t play.
It figured to be a long day, especially after New England took a quick 7-0 lead on a defensive touchdown (set up by old friend Andre Carter’s sack/forced fumble). There just didn’t seem to be any way the offense-challenged Redskins could keep up with the high-scoring Pats, who put up 30 points against just about everybody.
But no one likes to be embarrassed, and surely that was in the back of the Redskins‘ minds as they geared up for New England. The Patriots, during their near-perfect 2007 season, had whomped them 52-7, and they were quite capable of whomping them just as badly this season. Tom Brady, last I checked, is still Tom Brady, Wes Welker is still Wes Welker … and Rob Gronkowski is like no tight end you’ve ever seen.
So the Redskins brought their A game — or what’s left of their A game, after all these casualties — and, miraculously, matched New England score for score. The biggest shock was seeing Grossman and Co. gain chunks of yardage, something they haven’t done all year. In their second series, Grossman lobbed a 51-yard bomb to Donte Stallworth to set up a Graham Gano field goal. Not long afterward, Brandon Banks connected with Moss on an end-around pass for a 49-yard TD that put the home team ahead 17-14.
A trick play. Imagine that. It was the first pass, in fact, since Mike Shanahan took over as coach that wasn’t thrown by a quarterback. Yup, the Redskins came at the Patriots with everything they had, spiritually and strategically. And lo and behold, it enabled them to hang with a club that’s in the running for the first seed in the AFC.
It helped, of course, that they caught Brady on one of those rare afternoons when he actually looks mortal — at times. Brady’s numbers were still terrific (22 of 37 for 357 yards and three touchdowns), but he was off target more than usual and was intercepted in the end zone by Josh Wilson in the late going when he had a chance to put the game away. (Though, in his defense, the pass was well within the reach of receiver Tiquan Underwood, who was outbattled for the ball).
Then there’s the New England secondary — nothing special to begin with — which, because of injuries, has been forced to use wideouts (Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman) to cover opposing receivers. Gaffney, Stallworth and Moss were running free all day, as Washington (293) just missed becoming the ninth team this season to throw for 300 yards against the Patriots.
Incredibly, it was there for the taking for the Redskins. Shanahan said he was even considering going for the two-point conversion — and the win — if Moss‘ touchdown hadn’t been called back. The coach and his players were leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit of victory.
Hallelujah. But why couldn’t the first 12 games have been like that? Why did it take utter desperation — and a visit from Bill Belichick’s wrecking crew — for the Redskins to play the way they should have been playing all along?
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Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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