Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ravens Rev Up, Redskins Recede

Well, it was almost a complete washout for the FitzFan Sunday; the Redskins got thumped like a Republican incumbent, the Wizards lost an overtime game that they led by three with two seconds left in regulation, but the Ravens blocked Tennessee's last second field goal to preserve a comeback win that wasn't supposed to be that close. Last week the Skins got the win by blocking a Dallas field goal, followed by the sketchy personal foul face mask call to get them into range for their own game-winner. I suppose the Wizards will win their next game with a last second block of a field goal attempt.

The football games really put a damper on the day. The weather was lousy outside, but I was well-positioned on the couch with the picture-in-picture going between FOX and CBS to catch all the Ravens and Redskins action. Usually, about 99% of the time, I hate the PIP feature, but this was that rare occasion where it came in handy. My only gripe is that you can't invert the two screens with one click. You have to hit channel return and then push a few more buttons to get the other game in the smaller picture. (At this point, I'd like any five year olds reading this to post a comment or email me on how to do this more quickly. Please enclose diagrams and a 1-800 help line) .

The Doc was at the hospital and the boys also wanted to watch, so everything looked good until the teams kicked off. The Redskins could not have been worse. Clinton Portis broke his hand, but the Eagles let Washington stay in the game until a highly questionable replay challenge was up held to give Philadelphia the ball on the goal line. The Redskins were so desperate for offense, they not only put TJ Duckett in the game, they actually let him carry the ball. By the start of the fourth quarter, even the notoriously sadistic Philly fans had to avert their eyes when Mark Brunell dropped back to pass.

The Ravens, on the other hand, spotted the Titans 26 first half points before putting the clamps on Tennessee's rookie QB Vince Young, and pitched a shutout in the second. Preacherman Ray Lewis sat out the game with an injury and the Titans exploited his absence in the middle of the Ravens' defense, running Travis Henry for 85 first-half yards. So my halftime dogwalk was pretty miserable. But the defensive soft spots were gone in the second half as Tennessee managed only three first downs and never crossed midfield until the final drive.

A few words about Vince Young . Maybe the Ravens' defense is just that good, but he doesn't scare me nearly as much as Michael Vick did when he came into the league. Don't ask me about Young's throwing motion or the positioning of his elbow relative to the release point, all I can tell you is that he really had to work for his 39 rushing yards and one TD, but he did have a nice improvisational lateral to Brent Scaife for a touchdown. Then again maybe he was tentative because he remembered that the Ravens broke Vick's leg a few years ago in a preseason game. Either way, I think the Titans would have been wise to keep Steve McNair at least one more year as a mentor to a guy who has a very similar talent package.

But the Titans loss is a huge gain for the Ravens. McNair had his best day in purple and black which really came in handy on the day of the worst defensive effort of the season. The Ravens now find themselves securely perched atop the AFC North division at 7-2, three games ahead of the 4-5 Bengals, and tied with San Deigo and Denver for the second-best record in the AFC. Once the undefeated Colts burn out under the heat of the national spotlight again, I can't see any reason to pick against Baltimore to get back to the Super Bowl.

The Redskins, on the other hand, have reached yet another crisis point in the ongoing saga of Daniel Snyder's tumultuous reign as owner. The Redskins trail the divison-leading Giants by only three games, but they have one win in the division. The triumphant return of Joe Gibbs has proven oxymoronic and rather expensive. In a division that is clearly there for the taking, Washington today announced that Jason Campbell will make his first NFL start on Sunday. Without Portis in the backfield, Brunell looked like a postgame smorgasbord to opposing defenses. Campbell's strong arm should open up parts of the field unavailable to Brunell, but he had better be mobile, or better yet, durable. Technically, Washington is still alive for a playoff berth, but, technically, I still have a year of NCAA eligibility.

If Campbell pans out - and he has to win at least a couple games, not just survive - then Washington will have found a major piece of the puzzle and will be able to focus on offensive and defensive linemen in the offseason. I don't see Gregg Williams being the hot commodity he was last year, and the offensive problems can't be blamed on Al Saunders, so the hype will be in its usual breathless state of overdrive from January to August in Redskinland. If Campbell is a bust, well, darkness will cover the land, seven plagues will be visited upon the populace for seven years, and, worst of all, we will have to listen to Joe Theismann expound on his theory of the fanchise's demise.

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