What a difference a year makes. Last season, Washington’s nationally televised Thanksgiving-week game was an exhibition for the league’s most exciting new offense — a 38-31 win in Dallas that was never actually that close and saw Robert Griffin III throw what is still a career-high four touchdowns. With the late-November stage again last night, the results couldn’t have been more different. The win over the Cowboys was the second in a run of seven straight toward the playoffs. Yesterday’s sputtering, almost pitiful performance against the 49ers was Washington’s third loss in a row, and Griffin’s four touchdowns were replaced with numbers like this:
I have to begin this week's column by passing along my best wishes to John Fox and Gary Kubiak, who each had medical episodes this weekend that caught them by surprise. In both cases, fortunately, it seems like the symptoms manifested themselves before they could become bigger problems, and it doesn't appear that there will be long-term effects to either coach's health. Kubiak's ailment, in particular, seemed so scary; to see a coach doing his job (very well, mind you) for a half on national television and return from a commercial break to see him surrounded by doctors on the ground was surreal and terrifying. In a way, it was a relief that Kubiak's episode occurred at Reliant Stadium on game day, when he could be immediately treated by doctors and whisked away by a waiting ambulance to a hospital minutes away from the stadium. You obviously hope that nobody ever has to deal with anything like this, but were this going to happen to Kubiak, it happened in the best possible location. It's great to hear that Kubiak and Fox are in stable condition.
This was a strange week of action in the NFL, and the decision-making by coaches on Sunday was no different. One of the head coaches in the running for worst team leader in league history pulled out all the stops and ended up on the positive side of the ledger. Meanwhile, a coach with a Super Bowl ring had such a high-variance day that he finished with one each of the three best and three worst calls of the week. And then, to finish the week off on Monday night, there was a call so boldly aggressive that it might even have been too strong for my tastes, and I'm basically a freak in terms of running or passing on fourth downs. Let's get into it.
Every now and then, we will attempt to write the worst sports column on earth. Today: Let's talk about Robert Griffin and common sense.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Spend a day or two in our nation's capital, and it won't take long to find an argument. Everyone wants to play hardball, and you can't help but get caught in the crossfire. Trust me, I've lived my whole life in this city. And you know what'll really start a debate around here?
Bring up the Redskins.
Oh yeah, this town can filibuster about the home team all day long.
And that's what makes it so remarkable — with RG3 controversy dominating headlines all summer long, nobody wants to touch the toughest talking point of all.
What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next two months providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
It might make sense for the first Redskin in this countdown to be another second-year member of the Washington offense, but I’m sorry to say that’s not going to happen. In fact, his name will not appear in this space at any point. Considering my own sports fandom this year, and a considerable fantasy football keeper investment, that is not an evil I plan to bring upon myself. You’ll have to look for you Bob Half-Lion Half-Eagle the Tertiary takes elsewhere.
Even if there were no superstition involved, any excitement for Alfred Morris’s sophomore season is warranted. His quarterback was the Offensive Rookie of the Year, but in just about any other season, Morris’s first-year totals would’ve been more than enough to take the award home. His 1,613 rushing yards are the third most for any rookie ever. Like, 93 years ever.
"Coach Shanahan didn’t lie about it, and I didn’t lie ... I didn’t get to examine [Griffin’s knee] because he came out for one play, didn’t let us look at him and on the next play, he ran through all the players and back out onto the field. Coach Shanahan looks at me like, ‘Is he OK?’ and I give him the ‘Hi’ [sic] sign as in, ‘He’s running around, so I guess he’s OK.’ But I didn’t get to check him out until after the game. It was just a communication problem. Heat of battle. I didn’t get to tell him I didn’t get to examine the knee. Mike Shanahan would never have put him out there at risk just to win a game." — The Washington Post
Don't get me wrong, the next time I shred my ACL bending over for a Pop-Tart, I'm going straight to this guy to get my knee fixed. But is giving someone the high sign really ... like really? I gave the high sign?! You're the most respected doctor outside of Princeton-Plainsboro! Hi! Hello!
With Tom Brady and Peyton Manning still dissecting defenses, this weekend’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins might not produce this year’s Super Bowl winner, but it may still be the key to the NFL’s future. Since their 3-6 start, the Redskins are on a seven-game winning streak, during which their already potent offense stabilized into one of the best in the league. Seattle, on its own five-game winning streak, has coalesced into arguably the best team in football. After outscheming the Chicago Bears en route to a dramatic overtime victory, Seattle pulled off one of the greatest three-game stretches in league history by bludgeoning the Cardinals, Bills, and 49ers, a stretch during which they outscored their opponents 150 to 30.
Among similar dominant stretches in NFL history, one that comes close was by the 1940 Chicago Bears, whose streak culminated in a 73-0 victory over the Redskins in the NFL Championship. That record offensive output followed totals of 47 and 31 points in the previous two weeks. The success was the direct result of a switch in offensive scheme by legendary Bears coach and owner George Halas, a switch that helped turn a 7-3 Bears loss to the Redskins earlier that season into the most lopsided championship game in any major professional sport. Halas, frustrated by his offense, turned to good friend and Stanford coach Clark Shaughnessy for help.
At the time, every NFL team ran the single wing offense, a shotgun-based attack with an unbalanced line where the ball was typically snapped directly to the tailback. Shaughnessy — first at the University of Chicago, where he and Halas became friends, and later at Stanford — had revived the old T-formation, which placed a quarterback directly behind the center. Shaughnessy updated the T to include a variety of motions and misdirection to buttress the running game and bolted on an all-new passing attack. The combination made the offense nearly unstoppable — at least in college. Even as late as 1940, most pro coaches viewed the T formation and its reliance on the quarterback making fakes and dropping back to pass as a bizarre gimmick. That is until Chicago ripped through the latter part of its schedule, and, with Sid Luckman as the prototype for a new era of "T-formation quarterbacks," built a dynasty.
Jalen Rose reacts to Mike Shanahan's comments, after a mid-season loss, about shifting focus to the future of the franchise rather than the current season, and explains what it feels like to be a player on a losing team.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Wei-Yin Chen pitched 6⅓ strong innings and Chris Davis hit a crucial two-RBI single as the Orioles evened up the ALDS at one game apiece with a 3-2 win over the Yankees. "Was this my favorite game? No," said home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, who was repeatedly forced to clean vomit off home plate after at-bats by "nervous pukers" Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher. "Swisher even tried to apologize, but guess what happened? If you guessed that he puked on me, f---ing bingo."
In an otherwise grim day for rookie quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III's debut against the New Orleans Saints went about as well as it could possibly go. He went 19-for-26, threw for 320 yards with two touchdowns, and, most importantly, led the Redskins to a 40-32 Week 1 win. Following the win, many were quick to applaud the Redskins’ approach, which seemed to allow Griffin to get comfortable with quick, easy throws. But the real hero of Washington’s offensive success wasn’t Kyle or Mike Shanahan. In fact, he isn’t even on the staff. It was Art Briles, Griffin’s college coach at Baylor, and, based on what the Redskins showed in Week 1, the team’s de facto co–game planner along with Washington’s head coach.
Coaching is about putting players in positions to succeed. Griffin’s potential is nearly limitless, but as a rookie playing his first game, he’s not Tom Brady just yet, and asking him to throw 40 or 50 traditional drop-back passes was not going to give Washington its best chance to win. Shanahan has clearly gone into this year with an open mind — something many otherwise excellent pro coaches don't do often enough — and he’s blended his tried-and-true West Coast/zone-blocking offense with some of the best and simplest principles Griffin executed so well at Baylor.
Back in November, when Robert Griffin III insisted he was keeping all of his options open, he sat in a windowless conference room and told me he was seriously considering a return to Baylor for his senior season so he could enroll in law school, and that he had not ruled out the possibility of making a go at the 2012 Olympic Games as a hurdler. All these possibilities laid out before him seemed to brighten his spirits, and yet when I asked specifically about the NFL, pragmatism crept in.
“With the NFL, if they come knocking at your door, you’re not going to tell them no,” he said, and then — largely because my question nudged him in this direction — he said that the NFL didn’t like smart guys who knew what they were worth, and that pro football was a bottom-line business that was “just about the spectacle.”