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The Tuesday Take: Lucky or Good?

Nov 7, 2006, 3:51 PM EDT

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You can reach Rich Tandler by email at

It has been widely said that the Redskins were lucky to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, that they won on a fluke that wouldn’t happen again in a million years. That fluke, they say, came after a series of other breaks that went the Redskins’ way. While the Redskins did have some good fortune in the course of the sixty minutes plus one snap of play, it’s not like they were all playing with four-leaf clovers in their shoes. A look at some of the plays and situations that were considered to be the equivalent of blind hogs finding acorns:

  • The safety and Parcells’ failure to challenge it—It’s pretty apparent that Julius Jones was able to get the ball out of the end zone before he was down and the officials erred in calling it a safety. Parcells kept the red flag in his pocket. Good break for the Redskins, right? Maybe, maybe not. If the play is called correctly or if Parcells had successfully challenged, it would have been second and ten at the one-foot line. We don’t know what would have happened after that. I don’t have the Elias bureau’s numbers at my disposal, but I’m confident is saying that in that down, distance and field position situation that the team that is on defense will score more than two points more often than not due to the field position that will result after either a turnover or a punt from the end zone. The two points may have been a gift but it was one that came with an opportunity cost of the probability of even more points. On top of all that, we don’t know how the rest of the game would have unfolded had the play been called correctly.
  • Parcells’ strategic error in going for two after Dallas’ first touchdown—This wasn’t a case of Parcells getting brain lock and making a mistake. He stated after the game and again on Monday that he goes by the chart from the beginning of the game to the end and the chart said if a TD puts you up by one, go for two. What’s lucky about that? In addition, the Redskins had to make a play to stop the conversion from being successful. That’s not an east feat against a team with a mobile quarterback, a talented running back, a Pro Bowl tight end and a big possession receiver. If they don’t, it’s 8-5 and Parcells is a brilliant tactician. And, again, we don’t know how that one point or those two points would have affected the dynamic of the rest of the game. (By the way, am I the only one who thinks that Joe Gibbs would have been panned as a doddering old fool who has lost it if he had been the one who failed to challenge the safety and made the iffy decision to go for two so early in the game?)
  • Terrell Owens’ drop—True, the Redskins were nothing but spectators as Tony Romo’s pass dropped into Owens’ outstretched hands when a completion would likely would have given Dallas a two-touchdown lead. That was a break, but it also was a case of luck evening out. With the score 5-0 the Redskins had the ball at their own 34. Mark Brunell went over the middle to Chris Cooley some 15 yards downfield. The tight end was wide open and had built up a full head of steam. He wasn’t headed for a sure score as was Owens, but the play would have gone deep into Dallas territory. Cooley juggled and then dropped the ball. If the Redskins go on to score a touchdown there it’s 12-0 and Dallas faces a much tougher road. This just in—receivers drop passes. It’s part of the game.
  • The final facemask penalty—Prior to the 15 yards being marked off, the Redskins first had to block Mike Vanderjagt’s kick cleanly and then they had to recover the ball. No luck there, just veteran Troy Vincent using his 15 yards of experience to make a play. Sean Taylor had to have the aggressive mentality to try to make something out of it, running away from the goal line to try to set up a good return. Meanwhile Kyle Kosier, who a second or two before had expected to be walking off the field celebrating at that moment, was in a desperate fight to get Taylor down. He grabbed and turned Taylor’s facemask in the process. I’m not listening to any of this garbage that says that it should have been just a five-yard, incidental variety of penalty. Here’s the picture that was run here yesterday:

    When you see both the jersey number and the helmet emblem of the ball carrier facing right at you, it’s a personal foul and 15 yards every single time. Even after that, Taylor still had to pick up some nice blocking by guys who just seconds earlier were expecting to be walking off the field stunned after a close loss. But Kedric Golston, Andre Carter and Marcus Washington, among others, made their blocks and Taylor was able to get just far enough to make the penalty matter. Instead of getting a shot in overtime, the Redskins get another opportunity to let their inexperienced kicker boot the longest field goal of his career to win it.

Don’t get me wrong here. It would not have been an injustice had the Redskins lost. They played the Cowboys even for 60 minutes and made one more play when the absolutely had to than did Dallas. But to say that the Redskins were lucky even to be in the game and luckier still to win it is not giving the Redskins enough credit.

In the hunt

Don’t look now, but if the Redskins are close to being in the thick of the playoff hunt. Actually, they are on the fringes of it right now at 3-5. They are a game out of being tied for the second Wild Card spot and they play most of the teams that are directly in front of them at 4-4. They get the Eagles home and away, Carolina at home and St. Louis on the road. They also host the Falcons, who are two games up on them at 5-3.

At this point, the Redskins have to be considered pretenders rather than contenders. They haven’t shown that they can put a string of good performances together. But if they can go into Philadelphia and beat an Eagle team coming off of their bye, they will have to get some consideration.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when they moved to Washington for the 1937 season through 2001. For details and ordering inf
ormation go to

  1. Anonymous - Nov 7, 2006 at 9:24 PM

    I saw a slow motion replay of the Sean Taylor face mask and his head clearly jerks to the side just as your picture shows. That’s a 15 yarder for sure. Also, the roughing the passer call against the Redskins was no different than 2 hits that the Cowboys gave Brunnel and yet there was no call on those two hits. Just because the ending was unusual doesn’t mean it was a matter of luck. It is more accurate to say that when the game was really on the line, Vincent and Taylor (along with Taylor’s blockers) made a spectacular play to win the game. Great athletes making a game winning play when it counts most – stupid to call that luck.

  2. Joe - Nov 7, 2006 at 10:08 PM

    Vincent and Taylor (along with Taylor’s blockers) made a spectacular play to win the game.

    And don’t forget one very clutch kick.

  3. Kounter Trey - Nov 9, 2006 at 2:22 PM

    It’s silly to call it luck. I wouldn’ call TB’s 62-yarder to beat Philly luck, either. Just a great play. If the Cowboys didn’t want to lose an unlucky game, they should’ve found a way not to be tied with seconds remaining.

    What do you guys think of the Post saying Brunell “is coming off a strong showing against the Cowboys” (p. E8, 11/9)? If Cooley doesn’t pull down that miracle TD catch, Brunell’s stats would be as so-so as I thought his performance was. No, he didn’t rack up a lot of INTs, but he did have a dumb fumble and as always he didn’t really *make* any plays. Not trying to bash him–not today, anyway–but I would hardly call his performance strong.

    –Kounter Trey

  4. Joe - Nov 9, 2006 at 2:40 PM

    kounter, “strong” may be a bit much but he was better than usual. He made a couple nice throws over the middle – the one to Thrash sticks out in my mind – to keep drives going. I thought he took more chances this week and that was nice to see.

    And there weren’t nearly as many passes to the guys on the sideline that Brunell has become famous for.

  5. Kounter Trey - Nov 9, 2006 at 4:01 PM

    You’re right, Joe, he did make a couple of nice throws. I guess the bye week did him good–a chance to rest his arm.

    I don’t think he’s practicing much this week, either. Maybe Brunell just needs a lot of rest for that left arm of his.

  6. Chili - Nov 9, 2006 at 4:25 PM

    What struck me is that Brunnel seemed to have more time than usual in the Dallas game. I thought he looked pretty solid, standard Brunnel, not too many mistakes and just good enough to keep things competitive. I hope that the Dallas game helps Brunnel with spreading the ball around more, b/c I think he looks too much for Moss. I read that most 1st year Al Saunders’ offenses really start to take off in the second half of the season. This apparently is what happened in Kansas City. So, I’m intersted in seeing if this happens to the Skins. I like how they got Cooley more involved, but Cooly is not a good blocker and really was burned on several occasions including on one of those downs near the goal line in the first quarter. If Cooley makes his block, Portis scores. Archives

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