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Once Again, Preseason Hype Didn't Match Season Opener

I watched my first Washington Redskins game on television when I was 8, fell in love with the team, and have never missed a season-opener since.

So losing the first game of a season is no big deal. Winning the first one isn’t either, as there were times like when Sonny Jurgensen threw 4 touchdown passes against the Bears – including a 99-yarder out his end zone to Gerry Allen – that made you think that first game portended a great season. Then you looked back in December and realized it was only a moment in time, as the team ended the season with a 5-9 record.

Heck, this team won its season-opener last year, then proceeded to lose 7 of its next 8 to the point they were nearly unwatchable. Yet despite playing like a third-rate Indoor Football League franchise at times, they got it turned around in a season where the rest of their NFC teammates did not, managing to make the playoffs despite not even having a winning record at 7-9.

So anything can happen, no matter what you do in September.

But there was something about today’s loss that was annoying. Over my 57 years as a fan of the team, I’ve watched the relationship with the pro football team in Washington go from a feeling of deep trust and I can’t live without you, to the edge of separation, divorce and a feeling of I don’t even know who you are.

The majority of it – oh what the heck, who am I kidding, ALL OF IT – derives from the stewardship of the team by the current owner the last 20 years. Nothing is ever as it appears with this ownership, and if there’s a way to spin, position, lie by omission or present just about anything as the greatest thing since sliced bread to a fanbase hungry for any information to know how to temper their expectations, it will be done.

You’d think I’d have learned by now, but during the August exhibition games, I once again started buying into these mirage-like Skintangibles. The defense is filled with young exciting players, they said, and it’s going to be one of the toughest in the league. They said they didn’t have to rebuild at the QB position, and a veteran like Ryan Fitzpatrick who could steady the offense for two years was all that was needed.

And of course, because they were the defending NFC East champions, pay no attention to that 7-9 record. All that mattered was they were the defending champs, and with a great defense and an experienced QB, now’s the time to win two titles in a row.

Great defenses, however, don’t let a team go the length of the field for a touchdown after the opening kickoff. The team had months to study film of the Chargers, and they did nothing unusual in that first drive other than realize the WFT defense was soft in the middle of the field last season, and went after it this season. I saw a hot QB that faced little pass rush, and knowing what to exploit, he methodically moved the ball down the field.

Then it was Fitzpatrick’s turn. I wasn’t sure of this deal from the beginning, because while it’s true his experience should allow him to see the field better, his advanced age wasn’t going to help him move quickly around the field, and at some point with a mercurial offensive line that is far from consistent, you’re just asking for him to be knocked out of a game by October.

Turns out it didn’t take until October, only the second quarter of the September 12 game, when Fitzpatrick suffered a hip injury. In came Taylor Heinicke, the player many have determined is not the long-term answer, and you could see a noticeable pickup in the body language of the offense. Heinicke even got the team in the end zone for the go-ahead score, and for the first time all afternoon, you could feel a sense of hope the team might win the game. 

But they didn’t, as the defense couldn’t hold when they needed to, the running game fumbled in the shadow of its own goalposts, and the QB the team bet the season on was sitting on the bench with a significant injury after less than one half of play.

There were some good things, most notably the play of Terry McLaurin, and no matter who is playing QB, it wouldn’t hurt the team to throw the ball his way many more times. William Jackson made an excellent interception that looked like it might save the game, and with the exception of a 51-yard miss, Dustin Hopkins was back to his old self, nailing three straight field goal attempts.

But it’s time to be honest. The defense is good, not great, and needs work. The team needs to pick a QB that helps them for years, not quarters. If you’ve got a fast horse, you ride it until it is out of breath, meaning throw McLaurin the ball. Acknowledge there are times the offensive line can’t protect the QB. Play the running backs who WON’T fumble on the three. Make the necessary adjustments.

Truth is, this is an average to mediocre team with some potential. Stop acting like that 7-9 season in 2020 was something special because the Cracker Jack box had an NFC East title in it as a prize, and 2021 could be still be pretty entertaining.

Ignore the reality of the situation, however, and future games in that stadium out in Maryland this season are going to be played before even more empty seats. 

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Friday, 02 June 2023

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