Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Tale of Two Teams: A Redskins/Eagles RetProspective

The return of the Washington Redskins to the Monday Night Football stage this past Monday brings me back to November 15th, 2010. That was the last time they played on a Monday night, and it left a bad taste in the mouths of Redskins fans everywhere.

Sometimes in sports a team gets punched in the mouth, and it either wakes them up or keeps them down on that mat. That fateful night it was the latter - and it was more of a decimating "Mortal Kombat" uppercut. It did not take long. On the very first play of the Eagles' very first drive, Michael Vick hit wide receiver DeSean Jackson in stride for an eighty-eight yard bomb. This being foreboding of the way the night would go for Washington would be an understatement. Jackson had burned LaRon Landry and had almost stumbled to the ground but remained upright and blazed his way to the end zone. Landry during his time in the nation's capitol blew many a coverage, always looking for the big hit instead of the smart know, covering his man. The stadium breathed a huge sigh just as  they were getting comfortable in their seats. They were most likely stuck anyway, seeing as owner Daniel Snyder charged both legs for them- rendering leaving not an option.

Vick set the tone for the night in a game that saw him put up Madden-like numbers and one of the highest quarterback scoring outputs in fantasy football in quite some time. He was 20-28, with 333 yards, four touchdown passes and  no interceptions. He also ran for eighty yards and two scores. This was another nail in the coffin for the 2010-2011 Redskins season, putting them under the .500 mark. The marketing team might as well have handed out shovels to the fans to help bury a lost season. Since the two years have passed, both teams are in two divergent directions - directions that no one would have been able to forecast at the time.

Just  a few years ago, the Eagles had a surplus at QB. Longtime wishy-washy star McNabb had left to go to the Redskins in the off-season. This gave the reigns for Vick to be the undisputed star quarterback in an effort to rehabilitate his rough public image, as well as help the Eagles win games. Backup Kevin Kolb, a Houston Cougar product, was in his fourth year and seemed poised for success of his own down the road. The jury is still out on that case, but the verdict seems to be close.

Kolb eventually saw the dollar signs in Arizona and became the starter there. Vick signed a massive  six year, one-hundred million dollar contract extension in August 2011. Forty million were guaranteed. He became the first player in the NFL to sign two one-hundred million dollar contracts in his career. Along with stud running back LeSean McCoy, wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin the Eagles seemed loaded for a potential NFC East dynasty-like run and finished 10-6, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual champion Green Bay Packers.

On the other side of the field, the Redskins' defense could not stop a cold. Landry ended up not lasting much longer with the Redskins, a victim of his penchant for big hits. Carlos Rogers' hands had officially turned into stone. DeAngelo Hall only showed some flashes of brilliance. The offense was not much better, filled with aging veterans and lacking any true franchise players. McNabb fled town to sign with the Minnesota Vikings, (where he was a poor man's Brett Favre) making way for an era of "Sexy Rexy" mediocrity. Clinton Portis played in only five games due to injury, which also happened to be his final NFL games as well. Once a shining star for the team, Portis scored on his first ever run for Washington in 2005 when he went sixty-five yards up the middle. Cameos were made by former Chiefs star Larry Johnson and former Steeler Willie Parker. Roy Helu and Evan Royster looked to be the two top backs until unknown Alfred Morris got his chance and hasn't slowed down yet, running  for 1,106 yards and six touchdowns with 4.8 yards per carry.

None of these players took as much blame as second-year defensive end Albert Haynesworth - a shining example of Dan Snyder's love of signing big name free agents without evaluating how they actually fit with the team's system. The very next day on "The LaVar Show", co-host Chad Dukes unleashed an impassioned ten minute rant  tearing apart management, and the team as a whole. If Dan Snyder was enemy number one, then Albert Haynesworth was enemy number one and a half. "He was doing the worm on the field," Dukes said. Arrington's response? "He looked like he was just dead."

The next seasons, the Eagles acquired Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Justin Babin to shore up the defense. Vince Young and Ronnie Brown were added to the offensive side to support Vick and McCoy. Young dubbed them "The Dream Team." Talk about lofty expectations. Needless to say, they didn't live up to them, with every Eagles fan hoping  that this season would be different.

If last year was bad, this year is most definitely worse. Nick Foles out of Arizona has been named the starter for the rest of the year, putting an injury-prone Michael Vick out to the pasture in terms of his future with the Eagles. DeSean Jackson was recently placed on the I.R., ending his season. This comes  after his admission that he mailed in last season for the sake of signing a hefty off-season extension. McCoy has been dealing with a concussion of his own, which gave way to un-drafted running back Bryce Brown to get a significant amount of touches. He has been their lone bright spot, racking up 347 rushing yards and four touchdowns in two games, but fumbling three times, losing them all. The last one essentially cost them a chance to win the game Sunday versus Dallas.

Back in D.C., they parted ways with Haynesworth to the delight of many Washingtonians. All that was missing was fans helping him pack his suitcases and  load up his car. They ended the 2011 season 5-11, securing the sixth spot in the 2012 NFL draft. By trading up to obtain the St. Louis Rams' second pick, it guaranteed they would have their  future quarterback and franchise cornerstone for years to come.

Baylor Heisman winner Robert Griffin III (a.k.a. RG3) was the first quarterback drafted by the Redskins in the last few decades that just felt right. He is a proven commodity in college, and has been compared to Carolina's Cam Newton in relation to adjusting well as a rookie to big boy football in the NFL. Don't let him hear you say that, though.“I'd rather be compared to Aaron Rodgers or a guy like that,” Griffin said, via Rich Campbell of the Washington Times, “someone who has won Super Bowls.”

By all accounts Griffin is modest, humble, hard working and  at a very young age he is the leader a team with a fan base like Washington craved. It also helps that he is freakishly athletic and makes good decisions on the field, only throwing four interceptions on the year. (But please, Robert: learn how to avoid some of those sickening hits for the sake of one more yard. Washington needs you.)

Despite losing defensive stars Brian Orakpo  and Adam Carriker as well as tight end Fred Davis for the season, RG3 makes football in D.C. fun again. He's a threat to run as well as throw the deep ball. He has helped keep the Redskins competitive in the NFC East, leading them in a win over the hated Cowboys on Thanksgiving and the defending champ New York Football Giants this past Monday. Monday's box score was not particularly staggering, but he won. He helped keep their postseason hopes alive with the help of first year Redskin receiver Pierre Garcon who had over one-hundred yards and a touchdown a second game in a row following a return from injury. He gives you a reason to watch and a reason to care. He has revitalized veteran receiver Santana Moss, and freed up late round gem running back Alfred Morris to make his long runs. I would even argue Washington has THE best play action in the NFL, with the Patriots a close second.

A franchise with a once bright future ahead of them, the Eagles have now lost eight straight, and are sitting at 3-9 on the season, last in  the NFC East. Head coach Andy Reid's future in the city of brotherly love is likely on life support. Starting recent first rounder Nick Foles is his small chance at retaining his position as head coach, to show he still has that drafting touch. With nothing to play for but pride, I would highly doubt they rush their franchise star McCoy back to the field anytime soon, seeing as Brown is filling in just fine despite his turnover troubles. Oh, and the future of that Vick guy? The magic eight ball reads "Cannot foretell now." Hazy would best describe it. Some team out there is always in need of a quarterback, (Jacksonville, Kansas City, Arizona) but with  the price tag along with the injury history, his career as a star quarterback is no sure thing and could likely be over.

For Washington, they sit at 6-6, second in the NFC East. A few losses in the coming weeks by the Giants could really propel them to first place if they can keep up their winning ways. If they make the playoffs, one could not predict how they would fare with a rookie quarterback even with one as talented as Griffin. Playoffs or not, the Redskins would still be in the rebuilding process. Although this time it feels like it's in the right direction. In a few years, maybe continued prime time success will begin to feel like a normal thing, not a novel one.

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