- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009


It wasn’t so long ago you could make the argument - and a convincing one at that - that the Redskins were one of the worst teams in the league, card-carrying members of the NFL Underclass. This was back when they were just skating by the Rams, losing to the Lions and Chiefs and blowing a 15-point second-half lead against the Panthers.

But you can’t say that about them anymore - as their 34-13 win over the wretched Raiders on Sunday amply illustrated. The Redskins aren’t nearly as bad as Oakland, even though both clubs are now 4-9. And they haven’t totally packed it in the way St. Louis (47-7 losers to Tennessee earlier in the day) and Detroit (48-3 losers to Baltimore) have.

No, the Redskins are at least one cut - and possibly two - above awful, and that’s encouraging given the casualties they’ve suffered. In the last six games, in fact, they’ve been a thoroughly respectable outfit, giving themselves a chance to win every week. Maybe they won’t require the total makeover in the offseason that they looked like they might in October. Maybe there’s more here that’s worth saving than we thought.

“These last few weeks have been building up to this,” said Santana Moss, who had four catches for 58 yards - both team highs - at drizzly, sparsely populated Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. “Every week we’ve been playing better and better.”

This game could so easily have been a travesty of a mockery of a sham. The Raiders, after all, were 4-8 coming in, and the Redskins were 3-9. It was the Irrelevant Bowl - and the wet, slippery conditions could have led to real slapstick.

On the Oakland side, things did get a bit comical - to the tune of 14 penalties and eight sacks allowed. Indeed, when quarterback Bruce Gradkowski got knocked out with an ankle injury and JaMarcus Russell, the eternally disappointing first pick of the 2007 draft, replaced him, the Raiders’ offense became something of a joke. Russell got sacked six times - and Oakland gained just 39 yards - in the second half.

Much of the damage was done by Brian Orakpo, the Redskins’ increasingly impressive rookie, had four sacks. “We knew JaMarcus was a pocket passer,” he said. “He wasn’t a threat to run. So we could put our moves on and get some sacks. He didn’t step up in the pocket much, either, which made it easier to get to him.

“We just kept rotating [linemen] in there and keeping everybody fresh. You could see their offensive line was getting winded. That really gave us an advantage.”

That’s the thing about the Redskins now. They’re missing so many players - Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley et al. on offense, Albert Haynesworth, DeAngelo Hall et al. on defense - that the only way they can remain competitive is By Committee. They have to use everybody at their disposal, every tool in their toolbox - a Reed Doughty blitz, a half-dozen runs by Marcus Mason - just to give themselves a chance.

And lately, it’s been working. Their goofy system of calling offensive plays with Sherm Lewis, Sherman Smith and Chris Meidt - “our triangle playcalling system,” Moss calls it - has been producing more points. The Redskins are no longer maxing out when they hit 17. Greg Blache’s Kitchen Sink defense, meanwhile, has been surprisingly effective without some of its biggest names. Refresh my memory: Why exactly did Dan Snyder think he needed Haynesworth and his $100 million contract?

Unlike Russell, who never saw a double coverage he couldn’t throw into, Jason Campbell continues to string together serviceable performances - including Sunday’s 222-yard effort, highlighted by two touchdown passes to Fred Davis. It’s uncertain what the future holds for him in Washington, but he’s done much to improve his stock amid the wreckage of another losing season. If the Redskins don’t want him next year, somebody else will.

Of course, there might not be a next year for Jason if he keeps getting keelhauled like he did by the Raiders. Seems like every time he hit the ground, which was often, there was uncertainty about whether he’d get up. He got sacked on the Redskins’ second offensive snap, pounded again to the turf on the third - stop me if you’ve heard this before - and was generally treated like somebody who doesn’t figure in the club’s long-term plans.

“I kept telling the guys, ‘Just one more second. Give me just one more second and we can hit deeper routes and some of the double moves we use,’ ” he said. After a lengthy apprenticeship, “I feel like the game has really slowed down for me,” he added.

It sure looks that way. On the second TD throw to Davis, a 17-yarder, he eluded a sack, started to run but never took his eyes off what was going on downfield. When he spotted his tight end open in the left corner of the end zone, he delivered a perfect pass. Earlier in his career - perhaps even earlier this year - he might not have made that play.

The Redskins could have let their crushing overtime loss to the Saints ruin their resolve the rest of the way, but they didn’t. They scored their highest point total of the season against Oakland and, for once, put their opponent away when they had the opportunity. The season may be gone, but there’s still some progress being made, some learning taking place.

And the Redskins can no longer be considered One of the Worst Teams in the League, not any longer. They’re showing there’s some fiber there, that there might be something to build on - by whoever ends up being their coach in 2010. That’s something. In fact, that’s a good deal more than something.

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