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.
Next week, Washington gets another shot at moving the ball and putting up points against a less-than-stout defense when it faces the New York Giants. Successful teams beat the teams they're supposed to beat.
For now, the Redskins can accumulate moral victories by playing well against teams that are vulnerable.
"I typically go into every game thinking it's about the offense's execution rather than what the defense is doing," Grossman said. "But there are definitely some weeks where you look at your plays and how they are going to stack up, and I thought we could get some good plays with the passing game."
If they couldn't do that against one of the league's worst secondaries, the situation is bleaker than we thought.
Helu is proving his worth as an every-down back. Gaffney and Jabar are among a number of Grossman's viable targets. The offensive line is coming together through injuries and suspensions. And Grossman is playing his position well enough to keep the Redskins competitive.
"We're all judged by winning and losing," Shanahan said. "We moved the ball fairly well and scored a few points."
But it's better to move the ball, score points and lose, than it is to lose without accomplishing the first two feats.
If losing is inevitable - not saying that it is (just saying) - the Redskins might as well provide some excitement and entertainment in the process.
It always helps when a porous defense plays along.
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