Saturday, January 3, 2009

Sure, the Redskins Blew It, But...

...there's an NFL team this year that blew it even bigger. I'll lay out the details, and you can decide for yourself if I'm right, or if I'm just blowing smoke.

The Washington Redskins were 5-1 after back-to-back NFC East victories over Dallas and Philadelphia, and the entire city was buzzing with talk of the playoffs, and more. Jim Zorn was the toast of the town, the offense was clicking, the defense was stalwart, and the goofier of us were doing dances. Even a shocking loss to the Rams wasn't enough to dampen our spirits, and two more wins gave us a first half record of 6-2 and an inside track on a wild card berth (the Giants were 7-1 and looking unstoppable at the time).

And then, in a blink of an eye, the wheels came off. Each week, it seemed as if the 'Skins had played their worst game ever, only to play even worse the next game. Even in a win against Seattle, the Skins looked nothing like the team lauded early in the season for avoiding mistakes and playing good, efficient football. Their games against Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Baltimore were virtually unwatchable. You've read my disdain for my favorite team's performance all season long on this blog.

But what is it that actually defines a great collapse? Wasting an opportunity is the key part: the more seemingly assured the opportunity, and the more precipitous the decline, the more dramatic the collapse. Without question, the Denver Broncos pulled off a greater collapse than the Redskins this season.

With three weeks to go, the Broncos' magic number was one; one win or a Chargers loss over the last three weeks of the season and the AFC West title was theirs, as well as a playoff spot. And even if they couldn't pull it off in their games in week 15 and 16 (against Carolina and Buffalo), they'd have the opportunity to close the deal on the field against San Diego in the final week of the season. Denver managed to lose all three games, and give the division to the Chargers.

And on top of that, Denver wasn't an "out of nowhere" team like the Redskins were. The Redskins had a first-year coach, an inexperienced and unproven quarterback, and the consensus toughest division in football to contend with. While San Diego was a sexy Super Bowl pick this season, Denver was thought highly enough of to merit playoff discussion in the offseason (specifically on Joe and Joe Sports' AFC preview show). Moreover, (now former) Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has a pair of Super Bowl rings on his fingers. He's the kind of coach you're looking for when you just need to win one game. Denver couldn't, and they're out of the playoff picture.

I am, by no means, suggesting that the Redskins didn't choke; absolutely they did. But Denver had a greater and later opportunity to close the door on a playoff spot, and they laid an egg. Maybe we shouldn't have been that surprised about Shanahan getting axed.

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