- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO

The sun was shining in San Francisco on Sunday. The Washington Redskins were coming off their best week in a long time, having upset the Philadelphia Eagles and then enjoying Christmas after an early practice.

After a rough start, the game turned Washington’s way on a great play by cornerback DeAngelo Hall on third-and-1 from the Washington 29-yard line. Hall forced 49ers receiver Isaac Bruce out of bounds for a 1-yard loss. And when Joe Nedney’s 48-yard field goal sailed wide right, the Redskins trailed just 3-0. By halftime, they led 17-7.

It looked like a ballgame, but the 49ers scored the next 17 points, forcing Jason Campbell to dive into the end zone to tie the score with 1:09 left. But then the defense couldn’t make a critical stop, and the Redskins lost 27-24 on Joe Nedney’s last-second field goal.

And with that, Washington’s seemingly sure back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1996-97 had disappeared. Instead, Team Mediocre finished 8-8.

Q: Yuck. How ticked off should I be by this choke?

A: Not as much as by the loss two weeks ago at Cincinnati. With the losses by Tampa Bay, Chicago and Dallas on Sunday, Washington would have been a wild card if it had beaten the lowly Bengals and won Sunday (which it might have if it needed the victory) thanks to its sweep of the now playoff-bound Eagles.

Q: That’s actually kinda depressing. We haven’t been in the playoffs two years running since Coach Joe 1.0. And to come so close …

A: The Redskins should be better in their second year under coach Jim Zorn, but they also have so many starters in their 30s - London Fletcher, Chris Samuels, Shawn Springs, Pete Kendall, Randy Thomas, Jon Jansen, Marcus Washington - so there’s also reason to expect a drop-off as age and injuries really catch up with to them.

Q: The defense had a pretty good season. Can the Redskins figure out a way to keep together a unit that came in having allowed the fourth-fewest points and yards?

A: That won’t be easy because of the high salary cap numbers of Springs, Washington, Fletcher, Jason Taylor, Fred Smoot, Cornelius Griffin, Andre Carter - and with Hall and end Demetric Evans headed to free agency. Coordinator Greg Blache can count on some changes.

Q: Do you think we have seen the last of Jansen, the senior member of the Redskins?

A: The salary cap hit for all of the expensive players is big-time because of the acceleration of signing bonus, but with former ironman Jansen having been hurt in each of the last five years (missing virtually every snap in two of them) and with Stephon Heyer - who began 2008 as the starter - waiting in the wings, fellow offensive tackle Chris Samuels could well be the senior Redskins player come March.

Q: It wasn’t just the pass protection that brought Jason Campbell down in the second half, was it?

A: Nope. Campbell’s best plays against the 49ers both came with his feet: a scramble for 9 yards that moved the first touchdown drive into the red zone, the 5-yard run after somehow shrugging off blitzing safety Mark Roman, and his own fourth-down dive into the end zone to tie the game with 69 seconds left. But Campbell also missed a wide-open Santana Moss for a sure touchdown on the possession when the Redskins settled for a 41-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham. Instead of progressing as his first full year as starter (and his first under quarterback guru Jim Zorn) continued, Campbell regressed. That’s worrisome.

Q: Speaking of dropping off, Clinton Portis was the NFL’s leading rusher and an MVP candidate at midseason but had just one 100-yard game the rest of the way. Was that a harbinger for 2009?

A: That’s not a sure thing since Portis will be only 28 next year, but he’s had a lot of wear and tear in his seven seasons since he was a rookie at the tender age of 21. The Redskins can’t count on him to be a workhorse that much longer.

Q: The 49ers snapped the ball directly to running back Frank Gore on their second snap of each half for a total of 16 yards. Why don’t the Redskins ever use the Wildcat?

A: Zorn certainly could, but the most likely player, former college option quarterback Antwaan Randle El, is too undersized to take much of a pounding. But it’s certainly something to consider for 2009.

Q: So what’s your early forecast for next year?

A: Wow. It’s way too early to make that kind of call, but the schedule should be similar since the AFC West foes (2009) are easier than those of the AFC North (2008) but those of the NFC South (2009) are tougher than those of the NFC West (2008).

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