We’ll get to last night’s completely and totally and amazing insane Washington Redskins game—which your faithful blogger was fortunate enough to attend—in a second. First, a quick look at how our other teams fared. (Who is Tablet Magazine’s official team? So much ire has been thrown my way over various selections, and non-selections, that I’ve decided we will be watching and rooting for three teams closely over the season: The New England Patriots, the New York Giants, and the Skins. By playoff time, we’ll have one team, which is how we’ve tended to operate anyway.)
The point-spread for the Pats’ game against the Cincinnati Bengals started at Pats by 5.5: Given the built-in three points the home team traditionaly gets, oddsmakers felt the Pats would beat the Bengals by less than a field goal at a neutral location. Which sounded low to me, and must sound low to everyone else after the Pats’ 38-24 drubbing of last season’s AFC North winner. The story of the game was slot receiver Wes Welker, the NFL’s leading catcher, who returned for his first game merely six months after ACL surgery to lead the team with eight receptions for 64 yards. (Famed non-Jew Julian Edelman did not play; he has a foot injury.) The story of the post-game was (once-?)star receiver Randy Moss’s complaining about his contract negotiations. Basically you’re looking at another 11-5 or 12-4 AFC East winner who will lose in the playoffs’ first or second round.
The Giants have been a gigantic question mark. Is the offensive line too porous? Is the defense too old? Has Coach Tom Coughlin—a Super Bowl winner three seasons ago—lost his fastball? The one non-question mark has, though, has been the Giants’ outstanding pass-catchers, and in yesterday’s 31-18 win at home over the Carolina Panthers, they put on a show, helping QB Eli Manning to a 263-yard, three-touchdown performance (indeed, the real winners yesterday were receiver Hakeem Nicks’s fantasy owners—he caught all three end-zone passes). Sage Rosenfels, the Jints’ nominally Jewish back-up QB? He attempted no passes; I’m pretty sure he didn’t play a down.
And then, last night, the season’s first showcased Sunday night game featured the League’s most venerable rivalry: The Dallas Cowboys at the Washington Redskins. Oh boy.
At halftime—which is to say, after I had screamed myself hoarse and headached following Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall’s half-ending fumble-recovery touchdown, which put the Skins up 10-0—I noted to my friend that while we were seeing the game through the lens of homers, to the rest of the world, this was a classic Wade Phillips game: The basically hapless Cowboys coach’s team was committing way too many penalties and throwing way too many two-yard screen passes.
This was a defensive game to the max. Final score: 13-7, Redskins. The Skins missed a short field goal, but also made a long one; the Cowboys missed chances left and right, although here, the home crowd—really almost impossibly loud—certainly played a role in stifling what should be an explosive offense. The game will most be remembered for its final two minutes, in which the Cowboys drove up the field—with the aid of a couple third downs and a couple more missed interception opportunities—only to score a touchdown as the clock ran out … a touchdown nullified by a Cowboys offensive lineman’s (massively obvious) hold on second-year Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo.
Skins fans should not be jubiliant, in a sense: The dawn of the Donovan McNabb era featured six offensive points and zero touchdowns, and that is not good. It is not clear if chief running back Clinton Portis, who had an uneven game, can remain even uneven for the whole season; it is not clear whether any members of the offensive secondary other than lead receiver Santana Moss (who is short and getting on in years) and fantastic tight end Chris Cooley are going to be able to contribute meaningfully.
That said, Skins fans should be jubiliant, in another sense: This game was a textbook example of the type of game that, in recent years—especially during last year’s putrid 4-12 season—the Skins always found a way to lose. And they didn’t. This offense was barely different than last season’s, which is a huge problem: It experienced a significant upgrade at quarterback and at coach. On the other hand, this defense, which has clearly bought into new coordinator Jim Haslett’s emphasis on creating turnovers, was different from last season’s (underrated) D, and is much better suited to today’s NFL, a league dominated as never before by the need to score points yourself rather than prevent the other team from scoring points. As a Skins fan, I feel good knowing that. And I feel good knowing that, unlike last year, the offense is going to be screamed at for its mediocre performance, and is going to be tinkered with and, hopefully, improved.
Are the Skins a Super Bowl team? God, no. (By the way, folks, nor are the Giants or the Pats.) Is it a playoff-bound team? I’d hesitate to put money on it. If nothing else, though, if you want to have a chance—particularly in the cut-throat NFC East—then you must win your intra-divisional home games, and, well, check the scoreboard.
Our record: 3-0.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.