You know it's bad when so far in the season I've been watching most of the Redskins games after halftime. Sadly, it's either been unbearable for me to watch a Redskins game at all or it's just been tough to stomach an entire 60 minutes of the once-proud franchise.
It's been years since the household used to scream at the top of its lungs and yell at players with jersey numbers like 44, 81, 28, or 72. Ah, those were the days.
Yet I watched most of Sunday's game, a bit after kick-off to kneel-down.
In the game against the Atlanta Falcons on the road, I saw a spark. A little bit of a fight that didn't last long, but showed that the Redskins are still trying hard to prove that they're not a bunch of roll-over-and-play-dead cream puffs.
Nevertheless, at the end, I saw a team that still didn't really know what to expect of itself or know its identity.
They had a bye week, which to me meant that, despite the loss of their Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley (broken ankle) and a couple of offensive linemen before Week Nine, their latest top play-caller, Sherman Lewis, would have more time to tinker with the personnel at hand.
That, and the defense would rest up and provide more sustenance for an unbalanced squad in Atlanta.
I expected Washington to come out fightin', but not really look like the Greatest Show on Turf à la the St. Louis Rams of old either. But I did expect to see some points up on the board (one or two touchdowns, maybe?), if not in the first definitely in the second quarter.
As the minutes wound down to halftime, I noticed something sharp and slick. It hadn't come from head coach Jim Zorn's playbook; it came out of Lewis', whom I've noticed has displayed fewer gadget plays yet more seductive (and productive) ones.
Lewis certainly must have caught the Falcons sleeping when quarterback Jason Campbell noticed a wide-open fullback Mike Sellers on a sweet slant pass for 47 yards in Atlanta territory before the first half.
The only time that Sellers had been that successful in a Skins passing play harks back to Joe Gibbs' second stint.
Not too long after that, the 'Skins seemed to get out of their doldrums and score a measly field goal to make the score 24-3 at halftime. (Hey, it could've been a 24-0 or 28-0 blowout, so I was thankful for the team to cut down the lead before the second quarter ended.)
After an apparently colorful and animated halftime speech given by longtime offensive line coach Joe Bugel, along with a late-hit scuffle involving all the Falcons, the 'Skins seemed to get their groove back.
On a few long drives, Campbell and back-up quarterback Todd Collins (subbing in during periods of time when Campbell couldn't play after a chest contusion and several, other hard hits from the Atlanta defense) were able to muster enough grit, despite a porous offensive line, scoring twice in the red zone on a Ladell Betts run and a Todd Yoder catch.
Once 24-3; then behind 24-10.
Now 24-17, with some time remaining in the fourth quarter.
New life? Could this be...?
The defense, though, as solid and dependable as it has been to not turn most of these games into blowouts, could not stop their opposition's running game, as Atlanta's Michael Turner, all 5'8" of him, blew past feeble missed tackles to the end zone, on a 58-yard dagger of a run.
Nope. Ball game: 31-17.
What this game showed me is that yes, there's still an owner of the Redskins who belatedly says he's sorry for the state of the Redskins. You hear his words, and regardless of the several rants of former running back John Riggins, to you, Daniel Snyder's words remain hollow.
His state of disunion address did not occur at Redskins Park, mind you. He did it at some Prince George's County high school event in Maryland, during the team's bye week.
Snyder still didn't even answer the pertinent issues the media had for him, such as the status of Zorn after 2009, or if Lewis or his own yes-man, Vice President of football operations Vinny Cerrato, would be retained once Washington's season ends in early January.
And yes, as shattered as Jason Campbell and Jim Zorn seem to be, after one was temporarily benched and the other was permanently stripped of his play-calling duties, both showed great resolve and fight Sunday.
If the first half could've been as good as the second, who knows? Probably the 'Skins could've made it closer than it was.
Also, I may seem foolish to the rest of Redskin Nation, but because of Portis' unfortunate concussion, I think that Ladell Betts can be the starting running back after this season. As much as a workhorse and the face of the franchise that Portis has been, I think that one possible way for the team to get back on its winning ways would be to trade Portis at the end of the season.
Are you nuts?! No.
I know that Portis is playing hurt and has been one of the toughest players on the team to ignore and/or play through injury—to play productively.
But Portis has a few years left in the tank, and for Washington to get better five to 15 years from now, we may need to swap him for some draft picks. (I could care less about the fortunes of the team now than what could develop nicely in the future.)
Lastly, I think that the Redskins defense is still pretty good, but I'm concerned about whether safety LaRon Landry is disciplined enough to rein in his emotions and his brash style of play.
Eerily enough, I remember that the late Sean Taylor played this same way until maturing to All-Pro level later in his career before his untimely death two Novembers ago.
I like Landry and what he brings to the team. In addition, I think that the reason the 'Skins selected him is because of how he played when he was an LSU Tiger—fierce, tough, and with reckless abandon.
But whenever the team has been down in a game or looking for any sort of momentum from the D, you think about a crucial third-down play, where a three-and-out is negated due to a Landry miscue.
You think back to the scrum involving Landry and the prized possession of the Falcons, quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan scrambled and got the first down on a late second-quarter play. As he was slowing down to the sideline after passing the first-down marker, Landry came a bit late and hit Ryan, who was just about to go out of bounds.
Yes, again, Landry's a phenomenal player and that same late hit perhaps provided a spark that the offense sorely needed in order to strike back.
Also, these annoying, preferential rules for offensive players, particularly the quarterbacks, make it hard for defensive players, who seem to get a yellow hanky thrown at them (even for nothing more than sneezing on or tapping the shoulders of a Tom Brady or a Drew Brees).
However, I just wish that Washington's defensive coordinator Greg Blache, assistant defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, or safety coach Steve Jackson could calm Landry down. They could help in preparing him prior to when he goes crazy and tries to help out in ways that ends up hurting the entire team.
Instead of having him hit Ryan late, maybe those coaches can show him how to tackle properly, instead of rolling and trying to clip the legs of Turner on that last, game-winning drive for Atlanta.
I am convinced that one day the rest of the Washington, D.C. area will all sip the same Kool-Aid and take "...LaRon over Troy (Polamalu) any day," as Jackson put it in August.
The team played hard against the Falcons, but not nearly hard enough in erasing silly mistakes on offense, defense, and special teams to shock the Falcons and the league. They need to be taught the fundamentals, like how to play 60 full minutes of a game, and not attempt to be great before or after a half.
But let's hope that the front office and the rest of the franchise don't take too long to wait for that "any day."
Some pieces are in place, true. But there are lots more gaps in between in order to solve the last and ultimate puzzle.