- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The Cincinnati Bengals were absolutely dreadful in their 31-10 loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday. The Atlanta Falcons were even worse in their 24-2 loss to the New York Giants 24 hours later.

If you’re a Washington Redskins fan — and there still seem to be a few — you were probably muttering: “Heck, my team can do that.”

(And when Tim Tebow, Denver’s southpaw quarterback, hurled a game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers early Sunday night, Brandon Banks was probably grumbling: “Heck, I can do that.”

The NFL playoffs are once again upon us in Washington — and once again the Redskins have been left off the invitation list. All Redskins Nation can do now is snicker at the bumblings of teams such as the Bengals and Falcons, and walk around telling people, “Don’t forget, we beat the Giant twice.”



It might be better to consider why such unspectacular clubs as these reached the postseason — while the equally unspectacular Local Entry didn’t. The answer, it seems, is always the same: While the Redskins are occasionally capable of 60 minutes of excellence (a year ago, they beat Super Bowl champion Green Bay), they aren’t a very good week-in, week-out team. And making the playoffs isn’t about 60 minutes, it’s about 60 minutes plus 900. It’s the other 900 that give the Redskins trouble.

Mike Shanahan’s club is in its two-week quiet period at the moment, during which heads clear, tempers cool, blood pressures return to normal and the coach and his collaborators begin drawing up plans for next year. They’ll have the benefit of an offseason this time, management and labor having settled their differences. They’ll also have the sixth pick in the draft to play with, a selection that may yield their much-longed-for quarterback of the future.

Shanahan will tell you his club isn’t that far away. But the Redskins, you may have noticed, didn’t go 5-11 this season against the iron of the NFL. Twelve of their 16 games, in fact, were against teams that finished .500 or below. They went 3-9 in those games. So how good are the Redskins, really?

And in 2012, they’ll play the AFC North, the only division that produced three playoff teams this season (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati), and the NFC South, which had two playoff teams (New Orleans, Atlanta). So it’s not like it’s going to get easier for them (even with another last-place schedule that throws them bones such as Minnesota and St. Louis — again).

But we’ve got six more months to obsess about the Redskins. Let’s spend a few paragraphs on the NFL as a whole. There was much concern during the lockout that the 2011 season would be adversely affected — that play might be sloppier, that offenses might be ahead of defenses (or vice versa) and so on. None of it, as it turned out, came to pass. Indeed, 2011 wasn’t much different from 2010. Allow me to illustrate:

• Points per game — 44.1 in 2010, 44.4 in 2011.

• League-wide passer rating - 82.2 in 2010, 82.5 in 2011.

• Turnovers — 860 in 2010, 809 in 2011.

• Run/pass touchdown ratio — 399/751 in 2010, 400/745 in 2011.

• Yards per game — 672.1 in 2010, 693.7 in 2011.

• Rushing yards per game — 228.9 in 2010, 234.3 in 2011.

• Passing yards per game — 443.2 in 2010, 459.4 in 2011.

• Field goals — 789 in 2010, 838 in 2011.

There was a bit of a spike in field goals (6.2 percent), but nothing alarming. Everything else was pretty much status quo. Turnovers actually went down — and San Francisco tied New England’s record for fewest in a season (10, set the year before). Who would have predicted that?

Also, like any other season, it produced its wonders. Such as:

• The Saints’ Drew Brees (5,476) and New England’s Tom Brady (5,235) both topping Dan Marino’s 27-year-old record for passing yards in a season (5,084).

• The Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski catching 17 touchdown passes, breaking the mark for tight ends by four.

• Three teams - the Packers (35), Saints (34.2) and Patriots (32.1) — averaging 30 points a game, something that hadn’t happened since 1949.

• Finally, until this year, no player had ever had 200 yards receiving in his first playoff game. Last weekend, two players did — Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (211) and Denver’s Demaryius Thomas (204). (Previous record: 178 by Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer Raymond Berry in the famed Sudden Death game against the Giants in 1958.)

The lockout has proved so unobtrusive that two teams with new coaches — coaches that didn’t get to install their systems until August — still are alive in the playoffs: 49ers (Jim Harbaugh) and Broncos (John Fox).

In the end, NFL 2011 didn’t — as some feared — turn out to be NFL Lite (or even NFL Abbreviated, with a chunk of the schedule lost). It was just as worth our while as any other season. And the playoffs are only beginning.

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