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Bold Predictions–A Trap?

Dec 18, 2004, 2:51 AM EDT

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You can reach me by email at rtandler@comcast.net

Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins. Get details and order at http://GutCheckBook.com

Just five years ago, an 8-5 Redskins team went to San Francisco to face a 49ers team that would finish 4-12. Those 1999 Redskins needed a break or two to win that game in overtime to clinch their only playoff berth since Joe Gibbs left in 1992.

On most teams, there would be some institutional memory, some players and coaches still around from that who would be able to warn the team of a pending trap. However, Team Turmoil has just one person who played on that night still on the payroll and Jon Jansen is on injured reserve.

No. It can’t possibly be. Or could it?

Is this game in San Francisco against the one team in the NFC looking up at the Redskins in the standings a trap, possible letdown game? Could the Redskins take them too lightly? Is that possible? It’s hard to shake the feeling that it’s possible even though on the face of it it’s ridiculous to think that a 4-9 team, one that has won just one of its last five games, would take any opponent for granted.

Even though Washington is 1-3 in its last four games, the Redskins certainly have been playing their best football of the season in that stretch. Unfortunately, the team starting to gel has coincided in time with playing three games in four weeks against two teams with a combined total of two losses. Had this upturn in the level of play come during a stretch in the schedule occurred during a stretch of the schedule when the team was playing against mediocre teams, which compose at least 75% of the league, a 3-1 or perhaps even a 4-0 record in those games.

So, while the Redskins haven’t been winning much lately, they have been putting forth a winning effort for each of the last four weeks. And that is what’s creating the feeling that a letdown might be coming.

It’s extremely difficult for a team that’s in the NFL’s mass of mediocrity—the Redskins right now are firmly ensconced in the lower end of that group—to put forth a winning effort for an extended period of time. Five weeks is getting towards the definition of “an extended period of time.”

Earlier in the week, I wasn’t going to predict a score for this game. I was going to say that if you wanted to know the score of this game you would have to ask Joe Gibbs because he was going to be able to name the score. That confidence has dissipated considerably over the course of the week.

Taking all of that into consideration, however, the Redskins could play at a considerably lower level than they have recently and still pull this game out. So, there are three possibilities for this game:

  1. A loss like in the Cleveland game where the Redskins sleepwalk through it and lose through a combination of mistakes and an inability to make the key plays at the important moments.
  2. A win like in the Chicago game where the Redskins make just enough mistakes to keep the other team in it but manage to stagger to an unimpressive win.
  3. A win like in the Giants game where everything comes together and the Redskins dominate the proceedings from the get-go and roll to a comfortable win.

All three outcomes are possible, but I think that something in between the latter two is the most likely. The Redskins will start out slowly but will avoid the killer mistake and pull away and get some breathing room in the second half. Let’s say something like:

Redskins 24, 49ers 10

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