- - Sunday, November 12, 2017

LANDOVER — If you closed your eyes when Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was sacked by Minnesota defensive end Danielle Hunter with less than two minutes left in the game on a comeback drive, with his team down 38-27, you would have sworn you were at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis – not FedEx Field — as the cheers rained down from the stands.

Heck, you wouldn’t have had to even close your eyes.

It was clear as the ice on a Minnesota lake that by the time Washington was fighting for its life at the end of a 38-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Redskins were playing a road game.

Heck, you wouldn’t have had to wait until Redskins fans were already sitting in traffic, fleeing the scene, to determine that the Redskins were, at the very least, certainly not enjoying what is known as in other stadiums as home field advantage. You could see it at kickoff, with about 15,000 empty seats and perhaps another 15,000 Vikings fans in purple.

This wasn’t Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles fans invading FedEx Field. We’re talking about the Minnesota Vikings, not the Green Bay Packers.

FedEx Field is not much of a home, not much of a field, and no advantage.

It was a startling scene throughout the game. Not only did Vikings fans turn out in large numbers, they made their presence known, while Redskins fans were dispirited, to put it kindly. It was as dead as it has been at FedEx Field since the Jim Zorn days. And this was coming off one of this team’s biggest wins in recent memory, the gutsy upset victory over the Seahawks in Seattle last week.

They used to line up to welcome the team home after wins like that. Now they don’t even bother to show up for games.

Dallas week in Washington the last time the team played at home? They might as well have been playing, well, the Minnesota Vikings.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said he doesn’t sense that his team is losing the home field advantage among the fans. But he noticed all the purple.

“Obviously, with all the purple jerseys there in the front, but deservedly so,” Gruden responded. “You know, our people are probably a little bit upset at us. But it’s our job to get the home field into the game and we didn’t do that the end of the second quarter into the second half.”

But this is far from the worst team to wear the burgundy and gold. They came into Sunday’s game against the Vikings with a 4-4 record – an achievement considering the number of injuries to starters, particularly along the offensive line, and the lack of offensive weapons (see Minnesota’s Adam Thielen and his eight catches for 166 yards and Stefon Diggs and his four catches for 78 yards from Case Keenum, the four-touchdown, 300-yard passing backup).

And Washington opened the game with a strong drive that ended with a circus one-handed catch by Maurice Harris on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Cousins, who also rushed for two scores, to take a 7-0 lead. The defense would let the Redskins down over 60 minutes, but this was a Vikings team that was 6-2 coming into this game, having won four straight. Losing 38-30 is not embarrassing. By itself, this was not a game for Redskins fans to wave their white flags of surrender – or indifference. But there is a bigger picture here.

The NFL’s problems are well-documented – falling television ratings, anthem protest controversies and bad stadium experiences,, among other issues. So things are tough all over.

But if you have a product that is suffering, imagine how bad the suffering is where that product is among the worst in the industry, and has been for decades. If things are bad in Green Bay and Foxboro, Mass., imagine how bad things are in Landover, Md.

Pretty bad.

Cousins noticed the purple jerseys. Players look up and pay attention. They see. They listen.

“I think when we played the Raiders, I remember, we shut their fans up pretty good,” Cousins said. “When they made a play and got back in the game, suddenly they were really loud. And then we didn’t have that advantage for a time, and we quieted them down again by playing well. We felt like we had it.

“I think that we’ve got to put a product on the field that people have something to cheer about,” he said. “They’re dying to cheer for us. When we have done that, it has been a great place to play, and that’s the dream. To put a product on the field that is the toughest ticket in town, and the place is rocking and it’s all burgundy and gold.”

But FedEx Field has never been a great place to play, and now the product they sell here is in trouble everywhere. It’s going to take more than the occasional accidental 10-win season that has been the measure of this franchise’s success for 25 years now for Cousins’ dream to come true.

It may take more than a Redskins team under Dan Snyder’s ownership is capable of to shake a fatigued fan base out of its slumber.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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