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WP: A Shot in the Arm M Wilbon


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A Shot in the Arm

By Michael Wilbon

Monday, September 22, 2003; Page D01


You would be hard-pressed to find a more sophisticated defense than that of the New York Giants. It's not always the hardest hitting or the stingiest, but it's a defense that's particularly clever and crafty and therefore rough on young quarterbacks, designed to get in the head of kids like the Redskins' Patrick Ramsey.

While there is nothing more immediate in team sports than the NFL, where every single game brings such dramatic feelings of triumph or despair, the Redskins still have to keep one eye on the quiet and unspectacular evolution of Ramsey, their cornerstone on offense. If the Redskins are going to be great in the next year or two, Ramsey's most significant progress will be measured against defenses like the one he faced yesterday. The pain of an extremely aggravating loss to the Giants will be lessened if Ramsey can take what he learned against New York and use it in upcoming games against the Buccaneers, Panthers, Bills, Seahawks, and for that matter, Bill Belichick and the Patriots next week.

The bottom line loss to the Giants shouldn't obscure the fact that Ramsey, in his eighth start, threw for 348 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 heavenly interception by Will Allen. Better yet for the Redskins and their prospects this season, Ramsey made adjustments on the fly, introduced plays that weren't in this week's game plan, and nearly pulled out a game the Redskins trailed by 18 points.

The kid said all the right stuff afterward, said "we" when talking about the good stuff, said "I" when talking about the bad stuff, and credited the coaches for audibles and adjustments. And while it's exactly what a team wants to hear from its still evolving and unproven quarterback, much of it wasn't exactly true.

"They threw some things at us, coverages and blitzes, we had not seen on film," Ramsey said afterward. "They mix things up really, really well. We didn't abort the game plan, but we had to adjust it, go to some things that weren't in there that we had to go to."

In their locker room, the Giants were relieved to have won in overtime after having lost to the Cowboys in overtime just six days earlier, relieved to be ahead of the Redskins and not behind them in the NFC East, relieved not to leave Washington having failed in yet another close game. ("My wife had better keep her finger on 9-1-1, had we not had this outcome . . . I don't know what I would have done with myself," all-pro defensive end Michael Strahan said afterward.) But they also were tipping their hats to a new and emerging opponent, one they'll have to butt heads with twice a year for the next 10 or so seasons if the Redskins are lucky. "That kid is very poised," Strahan said. "It's amazing how much difference a year makes. Last year he was young and inexperienced and they were playing quarterback by committee. Now, he doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He doesn't really throw bad balls. He calls the right audible. He doesn't hurt his team. He's a tough quarterback to play against."

The Giants' first mission on defense was to shut down the Redskins' running game, which they did early. Ramsey countered with screens and quick hit passes to his wideouts. "Smart audibles," Strahan said.

When the Giants had to react to quicker hitting plays, Ramsey moved around -- avoiding Strahan as much as possible -- to look downfield. In one sequence, Strahan draped himself around Ramsey three straight times, and two of them were flush hits, but Ramsey got off the passes without being sacked. "I'm laying on the ground and I'm waiting for the crowd to go, 'Awwwwww.' But I hear them going, 'Oooooooh,' " Strahan said, "and I'm thinking, 'Don't tell me he completed another pass.' He's good. He can be good a long time."

Of course, these are the games that will make Ramsey good, or crush him physically and in spirit. He got less help from his teammates yesterday than any team would want for its quarterback. The record-tying 17 penalties were shameful, especially since Steve Spurrier's theme all week in the wake of the Falcons game was staying away from stupid penalties. The false starts were particularly mysterious for a team playing at home. The 15-yarders for taunting (Darnerien McCants) and unnecessary roughness (Jeremiah Trotter) were unforgivable. "I think that was the difference in the ballgame," Trotter said of his gaffe.

"The Redskins," former Redskin Brian Mitchell said, "have talent out the ying-yang, particularly on offense. They play smart football . . . The defense, though, has too many guys doing individual things. That personal foul on Trotter? Come on. That gave us a first down, and the drive ended in a touchdown, right?"

The Giants committed 15 penalties, but none was a killer. Kerry Collins didn't have to overcome that. But Ramsey did, and couldn't quite pull it off. Had the Redskins been ahead, or simply closer, he wouldn't have had to throw it 45 times and take those shots from Strahan, all 275 pounds of him. The flip side for the Redskins, however, is Ramsey not only took the shots and survived, but he handled everything the Giants threw at him, if not right away, then gradually. He was masterful by the end of the game, moving right, then back to his left to complete that two-point conversion pass to McCants to get within three points.

The Giants' defenders, even when they aren't dominant, are smart. They're always savvy, always challenging. To beat them, you have to be physical and just as smart as they are, and a lot of quarterbacks aren't up to both. And because Ramsey was able to counterpunch with the Giants, there's good reason to believe he has a better shot to handle Belichick and the Patriots next week, and all the tough defenses that follow.

It's a brutal schedule, and not everybody's starting quarterback will get injured before playing the Redskins. While a loss at home to a division opponent is always crushing, by the time the Redskins begin to prepare for Belichick's schemes and trickery, they should be more confident that their young quarterback, while he hasn't seen everything, is increasingly capable of holding his own . . . if he can just get a little help from his teammates.

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wilbon has been on the money lately...i totally agree...sometimes you learn a lot more out of a loss. i think this can be a character-builder for the skins...they took all the body-punches of the nfc east favorite and then came roaring back and almost stole a game they had no right being in....props to ramsey but the key is to BUILD on this loss!

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Slightly OT, but not worth a new thread -- an excerpt from George Solomon's column this morning:

Memo to ESPN's 'Playmakers'

The reason your fictional team is falling apart is a lack of strong ownership. You need a character in keeping with the late Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke. Can you imagine The Squire putting up with D.H.'s shenanigans? The Squire would get one dose of this guy's nutty posse, his dour puss, his flaunting the law, late-night carousing and tell him, "My good man, I've had enough of your act. You've been traded to Cincinnati."

I really miss JKC. I am considering making all of my future exquisite posts exclusively in that wonderful Cooke-speak.

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