- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 11, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

That certainly was fun, way more entertaining (and competitive) than anyone imagined. Too bad the Washington Redskins can’t play New England every week.

Sure, the Patriots generate a lot of offense. But they yield a bunch, too. They were the perfect remedy for an inconsistent Redskins attack that posted its most points and most yardage all season, albeit in a 34-27 loss Sunday at FedEx Field.

No one expected a shootout between Tom “Captain America” Brady and Rex Grossman because the latter misfires and shoots his team in the foot too often. But the Redskins couldn’t ask for a more susceptible opponent if their offense ever started to click.

The Patriots’ scoring prowess might skew their defensive numbers a bit, as teams hopelessly behind can pile up inconsequential yards. But New England without the ball doesn’t remind anyone of Baltimore. Opportunities figured to abound against the Patriots - ranked dead last in the NFL in yards per game. The only questions involved the Redskins‘ ability to capitalize.

They did, to a point, amassing 463 yards. There were a slew of big plays, eight passes that covered at least 20 yards (including a 51-yard bomb to Donte Stallworth) and three runs that covered at least 15 yards. Rookie halfback Roy Helu rushed for 126 yards. Stallworth (96 yards) and Jabar Gaffney (92 yards) had huge days against their former team.

“They’re both very good players,” Grossman said. “I’m glad the Patriots got rid of them.”

But lots of players look good against New England. So don’t get too carried away by Sunday’s production.

The Redskins still settled for field goals when touchdowns are necessary against Brady. They still committed mistakes and a turnover in the red zone. They still failed to a play when they absolutely, positively had to have it.

The effort would’ve been good enough to beat plenty of other teams. Washington’s offense might have had trouble sleeping Saturday night, eager to face New England (The opposite reason might have led to difficulties for the Redskins‘ defense getting a good night’s rest).

“We knew they played a lot of zone and there are a lot of open spaces out there,” Gaffney said. “It’s just about getting into them. We felt like we could, and we executed pretty good today.”

Sunday provided something to build on, especially when you consider the reshuffled offensive line that’s also missing tight end Fred Davis. Coach Mike Shanahan and his offensive coordinator will have to figure out how much of the success was a result of the Patriots’ weak defense versus progress from Grossman, Helu, et al.

Just don’t tell Stallworth that the Redskins‘ output gets an asterisk.

“This is the NFL,” he said. “It’s anybody’s game on any day. No one gave us a chance to win or be in this game. We played well, just not well enough in the end.”

There’s no denying that they played surprisingly well, which might explain Gaffney landing on his butt after a celebratory leap into the stands. Unaccustomed to such frolicking, the fans were caught off guard and failed to catch him.

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