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Wilbon:Close Counts Them Out


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Close Counts Them Out

By Michael Wilbon

Monday, December 22, 2003; Page D01


It has become such a familiar pattern, particularly during the second half of this season. Sunday afternoon starts with reports of where Steve Spurrier will be next season, perhaps the University of Nebraska, perhaps the Miami Dolphins . . . and it ends with the Redskins losing, more often than not, a very close game, one they could have won, sometimes should have won. The Sunday before Christmas was just like so many others, probably even more painful because of the way they lost. A Bears kicker who couldn't make a 30-yarder against the wind, who then couldn't make a 33-yarder against the wind, kicked a 45-yarder against the wind after his coaches mismanaged the clock, leaving him twice as far from the winning field goal as he should have been. Yet, Paul Edinger made the field goal, against the wind, the ball clearing the crossbar by maybe a foot (and I don't mean Shaq's foot) with only five seconds left in the game.

Losing is bad in any sport, but it can be so unbelievably cruel in the NFL. Look no further than the Kansas City Chiefs, who on Saturday lost just their third game and began fighting each other afterward in the locker room. The Redskins have been reminded of this feeling 10 times this season, with six of the losses by four points or less. Careers go bye-bye after seasons like this, especially for teams as far removed from winning as the Redskins. "It takes a big emotional toll," the Redskins' Fred Smoot said. "People react differently to it, handle it in their own way. But it's a big toll. Some guys point fingers. Some guys look in the mirror and blame themselves. And a game like this, losing this one the way we did, is indicative of the whole season. We're about a minute away from 9-6. I know, some people will say that's crazy. But we are. We didn't finish. It's our fault. Maybe a little more focus in each situation."

Nearby, Laveranues Coles was expressing pretty much the same sentiment when he said: "It's an awful lot of close games lost, decided by two or three plays. It's been a roller-coaster season that mostly went down."

I asked Smoot which loss, other than this one, eats at him the most. "Shoot," Smoot said. Then he started ticking off the close ones. By three at home to the Giants in OT. By two in Philly on a blown two-point conversion. By three at Carolina, by one at Miami, by four to the Saints, and now by three to the Bears. "We didn't come to play in that game against Buffalo, and for whatever reason last week against the Cowboys," Smoot said, "but the others were right there. But you know what? That's what separates winners from losers in this league."

Because the Redskins once again couldn't win a game in which they won the turnover battle (2-0), because they allowed the team with the worst offense in the NFL (ranked 32nd) to score 27 points, because they allowed Anthony Thomas to gain 141 yards on 32 carries and because the Bears were able to hold the ball for more than a quarter longer (38 minutes to 22), the Redskins are ensured of finishing with a worse record than last year. They're ensured of having to live through another week of being scrutinized, criticized, ridiculed and having to guess about their individual futures.

Actually, that started in the postgame news conference when Spurrier was asked about an ESPN report on Sunday afternoon that Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, whose team still has a shot at the playoffs, is considering calling Dan Snyder to ask about Spurrier's availability. You understand the scenario, don't you? If the Dolphins fail to make the playoffs or lose in the first round, Dave Wannstedt is going to be fired. And if he's fired, Huizenga would be looking for a coach, and Spurrier's name, while it gets roughed increasingly in Washington, is still magic in Florida.

So understandably, somebody asked Spurrier about it after the Bears game and he said: "Don't ask me about that stuff now. Let's talk about the ballgame. Let's talk about the Bears kicking our butts."

Well, that's not exactly what happened. The Bears and the Redskins seem equal, even though the Redskins are 5-10 and going the wrong way while the Bears are 7-8 and playing as hard as they can for a terribly flawed coaching staff. Spurrier's woes, while entertaining along the Atlantic coast where he's so familiar a figure from his college days, don't stir anybody out here. Dick Jauron, the Bears' coach, would surely have lost his job had his team lost this game. And even though the Bears won, he's still on the hook for inexplicably employing an offensive coordinator who would rather have a rookie quarterback making his second start throw fade routes on a windy day with the ball at the one than hand it to Anthony Thomas, who was in the process of running for nearly a buck-fifty. Go figure.

"We couldn't get them off the field and their guy finally made a field goal" is the way Spurrier described the game, and that's about all the ink we need to waste on a game that means nothing.

It's not like the Redskins didn't play hard -- they did. Quarterback Tim Hasselbeck recovered from the most miserable start imaginable, including hitting the left upright with a pass when a receiver was open for a touchdown in the middle of the end zone, to have a very respectable game. It's just that the Redskins aren't any good right now. Actually, they are good enough to lose close games. The defense allowed a rookie passer throwing on a windy day to complete 19 passes for 249 yards, and allowed a team with perhaps the worst offensive scheme in football to pile up 429 yards. You just can't have that when you have players as good as LaVar Arrington, Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot. This is why the defensive staff is going to turn over, perhaps completely, at the end of this season.

There are the six close losses and four lopsided losses on the Redskins' ledger, and it adds up to 10 any way you slice it. A nine-loss season and an 11-loss season (you don't think the Eagles are going to ignore the race for NFC home-field advantage against the Redskins on Saturday night, do you?) adds up to serious evaluation, necessary changes, firings. Winners prepare to depart for the playoffs, losers just prepare to depart.

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Originally posted by chiefhogskin48

Wilbon must have loved this game. He loves the Bears. It's ashame that the Post can't get more sports journalists who actually grew up here and root for our teams, rather than guys who take a secret gratification for the 'Skins misery.

This is not true Chiefhogskin. You're only 21. In the 1980's when Joe Gibbs was winning it all, the Skins were the toast of the town with the writers, including Wilbon. You were just a kid then, so you can't remember. :)

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There are the six close losses and four lopsided losses on the Redskins' ledger

Sure there were six close losses -- but they also had three wins by 3 points or less too. They could just as easily be 2-13 as anything else. None of it matters -- they're 5-10 headed for 5-11. No excuses.

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Originally posted by Even Madder

Sure there were six close losses -- but they also had three wins by 3 points or less too. They could just as easily be 2-13 as anything else. None of it matters -- they're 5-10 headed for 5-11. No excuses.

As I have tried to point out before, close loses don't mean anything really. By comparing scores you can show that New Mexico State is the #1 team in the country.

Detroit lost 8 of 13 games last year by 7 or fewer points. So what? This year they are still lousy. :laugh:

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I just hope that rumor is true! Spurrier to Miami or Alaska or Iraq don't matter to me as long as it's not Washington D.C.

Endurance of pain is getting tuff and 2 years of Spurrier is really tuff. I really loved how his first year he goes out get alot of Florida Slum players then realizes they suck! In the mean time he alienates our franchise RB! Who goes off to Carolina to lead them to a Playoffs. This season reloads with offensive weapons and totally neglects backup QB and D-Line. He never impressed me as a HC because of his total lack of knowledge for the defense. That is mainly the reason we won 7 games his first year because Marvin Lewis held his hand all year.

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If indeed the Dolphins do wanna make a play for Spurrier, then just buying out his contract isn't gonna be enough.

What did the Raiders get for John Gruden from the Buccaeers anyways? We better get at least a 1st and 3rd rounder

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