It may not have been pretty, but by winning Saturday’s rematch with Tampa Bay, the Washington Redskins extended their win-streak to six games and punched their ticket for another Saturday showdown, this time in Seattle with the best team in the conference.I’ll start with the bad news.
Offensively, the Redskins did absolutely nothing on Saturday. They had almost as many punts (seven) as first downs (nine). The most yards they gained on a single drive was 40. They even set a new playoff record for fewest total yards by a winning team (120).
But wait, there’s more.
Defensive end Renaldo Wynn broke his arm and is done for the year. Cornerback Shawn Springs was scratched from the line-up right before kick-off and is still iffy for this weekend’s contest in Seattle. And who knows what kind of backlash Sean Taylor will face for his ill-advised salivary discharge?
It gets worse.
Next up for Washington are the well-rested, top-seeded Seattle Seahawks (13-3). Though the Redskins were able to eke out an overtime victory against the Seahawks in week four, Seattle hasn’t dropped a home game all year long. What’s more, running back Shaun Alexander earned the league’s most valuable players award last week for leading the league in rushing with 1,880 yards and setting a new record for the most touchdowns in a single-season with 28.
Even so, there’s still plenty of reason for optimism.
Lost amidst the criticism of Washington’s abysmal offensive performance was the fact that the Buccaneers came into the game as the league’s top-ranked defense. Struggling to move the ball in a hostile playoff environment against the NFL’s stingiest defensive unit is to be expected to some degree. This may be a merciful verdict for a squad that managed just 25 net passing yards on 16 attempts, but consider this: the last team to win a playoff game with less than 135 yards of total offense was the 2000 Baltimore Ravens – or, as they’re more commonly known, the 2000 Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens.
A closer look at the 2000 Ravens reveals that the 2005 Redskins may have a better shot at making it to Detroit than many had originally thought. Like Washington, the 2000 Ravens started out strong, winning four of their first five games. After losing three straight in the middle portion of the season, Baltimore regrouped and won their final seven contests, holding opponents to an average of less than ten points a game from week nine on. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Though it may be a stretch to argue that this year’s Redskin defense is as dominant as the victors of Super Bowl XXXV, the statistics clearly show that Washington’s offense is comparable with that of the 2000 Ravens. Baltimore’s offense finished the season ranked 14th in points and 16th in yards, while the Redskins were 13th and 11th, respectively. Both teams relied heavily on a seasoned quarterback (Trent Dilfer and Mark Brunell), a workhorse tailback (Jamal Lewis and Clinton Portis), and a sure-handed tight end (Shannon Sharpe and Chris Cooley). Still think you need Peyton Manning to win the big game?
The parallels with the 2000 Ravens aren’t the only thing Washington has going for it. For one, Seattle’s defense is much more susceptible than Tampa Bay’s. The Seahawks rank 25th in the league against the pass and 17th in total yards allowed. Second, Seattle has a run-oriented offense, so Washington’s beleaguered secondary may be able escape the game relatively unscathed. Lastly, the concerns of Joe Gibbs’ penchant for “sitting” on leads with conservative play-calling won’t be an issue this week. Maybe this offense needs to be down a couple scores before it kicks into gear. When you’re down in the playoffs, you’re forced to take risks, and oftentimes these gambles can make all the difference.
In fact, I’m strangely confident about Saturday’s game. Part of me feels as though Washington is playing with house money after the Tampa Bay game. Many experts predicted that the Redskins would defeat the Buccaneers, but few, if any, will pick an anemic Washington offense to win in Seattle on Saturday. With most gambling books having the Redskins listed as nine-point underdogs, the bulk of the pressure will fall on Seattle, a team whose last playoff win came when Sean Taylor was only seven months old and still just spitting on himself.
At any rate, Seattle may be three time zones and 3,000 miles away, but the game still lasts sixty minutes, Qwest Field is still 100 yards long, and the team with the most points on the board when time runs out still moves on to within one game of Super Bowl XL.
And as the famous football adage goes: any team, under any circumstances, can win any game, on any given Sunday.
I just hope Saturdays work too.