NFC East: Darrell Green
Date: Jan. 30, 1983. Site: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
From the moment this project was announced, and before I tweeted a word on it, there was only one play in my mind that deserved top billing. When a team hasn't won an NFL title in more than 40 years ... and it trails by four points in the ultimate game ... and it's fourth-and-1 ... and the running back goes the distance? How exactly do you top that?
Fortunately and wisely, the fans agreed with my take. Which is why John Riggins' touchdown run against Miami in Super Bowl XVII was the runaway choice for the top spot. Riggins' run received 76 percent of the more than 30,000 votes and was solidly ahead shortly after the choices appeared on the blog.
But the right three were on the board. A Hall of Famer in Darrell Green making one of the biggest plays of a 20-year career. That garnered 16 percent of the vote. A clinching touchdown on an unlikely play -- an interception return by defensive tackle Darryl Grant -- to win the NFC Championship Game at home, providing a moment that likely still brings chills to those in attendance. But it wasn't big enough, receiving just 8 percent of the votes.
Riggins' run happened in the ultimate game. It happened on a fourth down. It gave Washington the lead. Shall I keep going? Based on the votes, the answer is no. You got it. And you got it right.
@john_keim These are great memories, but the list is (1) 70 Chip with John Riggins in Super Bowl and (2) everything else :)— Dave Scarangella (@DullesDistrict) July 10, 2014
This is the third of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. We've already featured Darryl Grant's interception return for a touchdown in the 1983 NFC Championship Game and Darrell Green's punt return to beat the Chicago Bears in a 1988 playoff game. Please vote for your choice as the Redskins’ most memorable play.
Score: Redskins 27, Dolphins 17
Date: Jan. 30, 1983 Site: Los Angeles Coliseum
To understand the moment, why it carried the weight that it did, it’s important to first look back. Like to the 1950s, when the Redskins posted two winning seasons. Or the 1960s, when they could score but not win. They managed a winning record once, in the final year of the decade. This despite several Hall of Famers on offense.
There was hope, though, with new coach Joe Gibbs, who led the team to an 8-1 mark in the strike-shortened 1982 regular season (his second in charge). Then three double-digit playoff victories put Washington into Super Bowl XVII.
But no titles ever come easy, and the Redskins trailed Miami 17-13 when they took over the ball at their own 18 early in the fourth quarter. They drove to the Dolphins’ 43, where they faced fourth-and-1 with 10 minutes, 10 seconds remaining.
John Riggins and the Redskins’ run game already had posted good numbers. So everyone had to know what would happen next: a handoff to Riggins. The Dolphins used a six-man front, which meant the play would either be stuffed or a huge one. The Redskins got the latter as tackle Joe Jacoby buried linebacker Kim Bokamper and fullback Otis Wonsley helped seal the end.
That left Riggins one-on-one with corner Don McNeal. Mismatch. Riggins swatted him away and the man nicknamed The Diesel chugged toward the end zone, running for the lead and a place in history. Diesel horns blared in the stands, a signature sound that season. And it became a run that is mentioned seemingly every Super Bowl week. It was the first of three Super Bowl victories under Gibbs, giving Redskins fans a taste of success that had eluded them forever.
For Riggins, it enabled him to post a Super Bowl record 166 yards rushing and then to make this statement after a congratulatory phone call from President Ronald Reagan: “At least for tonight, Ron’s the president, but I’m the king.” Decades of frustration had ended for Redskins fans. They, too, finally felt like football royalty.
@john_keim The Riggins play will never be matched because it was the game deciding play when we were down in our first SB win. If he had not— Riggo (@dmoore2004) July 2, 2014
@john_keim made the 1st down (let alone TD) Dolphins would have had the ball with all the momentum with little time left.— Riggo (@dmoore2004) July 2, 2014
This is the second of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. We already featured Darryl Grant's interception return for a touchdown, and on Wednesday we'll feature John Riggins' game-winning touchdown run in Super Bowl XVII. Please vote for your choice as the Redskins' most memorable play.
Score: Redskins 21, Bears 17
Date: Jan. 10, 1988 Site: Soldier Field
Redskins cornerback Darrell Green had burst onto the scene in a much different situation. Dallas running back Tony Dorsett sped down the field, and as anyone knew at the time, no one caught him from behind. Then Green did just that, a rookie coming out of nowhere -- shot like a bullet -- to tackle Dorsett. Green denied Dorsett an 83-yard touchdown run, tackling him at the 6-yard line and forcing a Cowboys field goal.
It didn’t matter that Dallas ended up winning the game. Green announced himself to the NFL, flashing his speed and creating a memory. But it wasn’t as big as the one he created in 1988 in a much tougher spot: a first-round playoff game at Chicago.
But they had a rough assignment: win at Chicago for a second straight year in the playoffs. This time they faced bitterly cold conditions. Former defensive end Charles Mann once said the Vaseline he had applied froze to his body that day.
Chicago, just two seasons removed from Super Bowl glory, led 14-0. But the Redskins rallied to tie the game, and, with 11:40 left in the fourth quarter, Green started a punt return for the ages. He retreated to the Redskins' 48-yard line to field Tommy Barnhardt’s punt and started up the right sideline.
Out of the corner of his eye, Green spotted Cap Boso diving at his legs around the 34. Green then created the memory: He hurdled Boso, then cut back inside and, within a few yards, grabbed his left side. He clutched his side for the final 30 yards en route to a 52-yard game-winning punt return.
Green had torn his rib cage on the return and could play only one more snap. But his efforts on this play led to not only a 21-17 win but also a moment that was hard to top in Redskins history. A week later, he defended the final pass at the goal line in the NFC Championship Game victory over Minnesota. But his play against the Bears was more impressive. It required vision, athleticism and toughness. In a Hall of Fame career, it’s hard to believe one moment can stand out. The return against Chicago did.
@john_keim Green's punt return for TD at Bears capped off a wild week of trash talk between Dexter Manley & Coach Ditka— David Devall (@McNubian) July 2, 2014
- When I started covering the Redskins, Darrell Green was already deep into a Hall of Fame career. When Bruce Smith joined the Redskins, you knew he was on that path, too. But Bailey is the only player I’ve covered that I remember thinking after several years: This guy is going to be a Hall of Famer.
- Sean Taylor might have gotten there, too. But, remember, he didn’t start playing at that level until his third season -- he certainly wasn’t bad before then -- and then in his fourth started to really take off and become a major difference-maker. And then he was murdered. It was right at the time when players separate themselves. Taylor was doing so.
- Like Taylor, Bailey had all-world talent and both players were great with the ball and could have been standout offensive players. These players were ... just different.
- Bailey made the Pro Bowl in his second season (2000) and didn’t miss one until 2008. By then he was long gone from Washington. There was something different about him: He was athletically arrogant. Though he hasn't come across as boastful during his NFL tenure like some other corners do, you better believe he's competitive and felt like he was the NFL’s best corner. I remember talking to Bailey about that early in his career in an article for Pro Football Weekly. Bailey was matter-of-fact about where he thought he stood and he could say things without being perceived in a negative light.[+] EnlargePhoto by Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesChamp Bailey played for the Redskins for five seasons before being traded to the Broncos in a deal for RB Clinton Portis.
- He was also immensely talented. Every corner will be beat and when you’re a corner like Bailey, people expect perfection. I remember one game against the New York Giants -- I forget the year -- in which Bailey smothered his man off the line all game (I want to say it was Amani Toomer, but could be wrong). I remember the Giants’ quarterback looking in that direction and quickly going elsewhere. This happened all game. But Bailey did get beat once and it resulted in a touchdown. The life of a corner. Darrell Green got beat, too.
- Bailey was great with the media. That’s not to say everyone was yukking it up around him and he was some sort of lively personality or sharing state secrets. No, he was respectful. There were many examples of Bailey being stopped by a group of reporters outside the locker room. He’d answer the questions. Another group would stop him inside the locker room. He’d answer the questions. And then another group would talk to him at his locker. Again, he’d answer the questions. I don’t think his demeanor ever changed. That demeanor is one reason he’s lasted so long at a position that demands steadiness. Santana Moss is similar in the way he deals with the media.
- Bailey learned from his elders, notably Green and Deion Sanders. At the Super Bowl media day, Bailey told reporters, “I give a lot of credit to Darrell Green. He was an older guy and he had won Super Bowls, played in a lot of games, and he definitely helped me out a lot in my first couple years.”
- Green told ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill for this in-depth look at Bailey and his career that they met twice a week in the morning to watch game film. "My motivation wasn't the fame, and people screaming my name," Green said. "It was going to work and being the best I could be."
- Here’s what Bailey told reporters on his time in Washington: "I was very fortunate to be drafted by the Redskins, a great organization. But things just didn't work out and I was blessed to go to an even better organization with the Broncos. That was probably the best thing to happen for my career because I've been in a good place, a good city, and have worked for some of the best people in the world."
- And Bailey’s thoughts on the Redskins now: "They're still a great organization. There's so much history there, and I appreciate them believing in my talents enough to draft me. That was pretty much [former Washington general manager] Charley Casserly all the way, but people forget about him. He's the one that made me a pro."
- Casserly made some of his best moves in the 1999 draft to not only land Bailey, but to also leave the organization with three first-round picks in 2000 -- even though he knew he’d likely be gone -- courtesy of a trade with New Orleans. The Redskins turned those three picks into the first two picks in the draft, grabbing LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels.
- Here’s Bailey’s secret to his success: "Really, my thing is you find something that works for you. I don't try to push my values and my faith on anybody. You find what works for you. Everybody's built a little different and just believing in myself and what I can do and things like that, that's what's really propelled me to the position I'm in."
- I don’t know if Bailey is done as a player or when he’ll retire. He has the body type to shift to safety if he wants and he’s smart and athletic enough to make such a switch. But will he have to? Green told Merrill that he has more time. Green said, "If he is in the mold that I believe he is, he doesn't even have to begin to look over his shoulder for three years, maybe four. I didn't feel like until I was 38 or 39 years old that I needed to take a breath. That's a once-in-a-generation kind of gift. People don't have that. I say it humbly, but it's true. I was blessed that way, and I think Champ is, too."
The area I wouldn’t say needs repair? Leadership. Which is why it was surprising to hear what Redskins Hall of Famer Darrell Green said the other day, questioning not only Robert Griffin III, but London Fletcher as well.
“I don’t know if they have a leader,” Green said on Showtime’s Inside the NFL this week.
Now, Green has a terrific perspective as a Hall of Famer and someone who played a long time and played the right way. He led as much by example, how he took care of his body and withstood numerous changes to the staff and the game to survive as long as he did. Green still occasionally talks to players, but he's not in the building or around the team that much. That in and of itself doesn't make his comments wrong. And I certainly can see why some outside the organization can view things differently. Griffin made some P.R. missteps in the offseason and the summer with comments that could, if reading between the lines, be damaging.
But when you talk to players, they don’t question his leadership. Just the opposite. They’ll point to how he prepares and how he plays and how he’s willing to say things to the group. He doesn’t duck from the responsibilities of his position or standing on the team. There are times he won’t speak on controversial topics, though that doesn't necessarily make you a leader, and other times he might not want to admit a failing or a play he did wrong. I think he'll always need to be careful balancing the attention he receives without coming across a certain way in the locker room. But even after an offseason of attention and much focus on him, players who don't hang around him still view him as a leader.
He’s not an in-your-face guy who is going to threaten someone if they don’t play better. It’s not his style. If that’s what someone wants, they have the wrong guy.
But the players he’s with view him as a leader. They want to follow him because they also know he lives what he says about work, and that he’ll do what it takes to win. Hence the dives in traffic each of the past two games. He can improve as a leader, but he is a leader and it does not seem unnatural for him at all.
Green also said Fletcher’s age prevents him from being the sort of leader the Redskins need. Green played a long time, so he has a unique perspective and felt he was not the same leader when he was older. But again, I disagree that it means Fletcher isn’t as well. Fletcher’s play hasn’t been the same this season; I’m not breaking news with that comment. However, Green was not the same sort of leader that Fletcher has been throughout his career. Green was highly respected, no doubt. But it’s tough for corners to be true leaders. Green was never considered a coach on the field. Like Fletcher.
No player is thought of the same way by everyone in the locker room. There will be some who dislike a guy or think he’s just out for himself. It’s true of many players I’ve covered. But Fletcher remains a voice players listen to. In the end, leadership also is about making plays, and if you say that’s where Fletcher hasn’t led this season, that’s fine. But I haven’t seen or sensed a big drop-off in this area in the locker room since last season.
The Redskins do miss former special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander. But it's his play as much as anything that they miss most. Despite being 3-6, the Redskins haven’t changed their approach. What they need are more playmakers who can change their record.
"I don't know if they have a leader," Green said.
The others, apparently, brought up Fletcher.
"Well, London Fletcher is, but I've been that old player before," Green said. "And you're a moral leader, people love you and respect you, but you're really not the leader. You're not. And really, you shouldn't be. Because in my opinion, the leadership should come from the offensive side of the ball, because the game is such an offensive-based game."
It's an interesting point. Green is not around the team often, but he is a smart guy and offers a different perspective. The only problem with this assertion, as someone who covered Green and respected him and still enjoys talking to him when I see him, is that Fletcher was a stronger leader. Green was respected for his play and for what he stood for. But as a cornerback it was difficult for him to provide the sort of leadership Fletcher has during his career. Because Fletcher is the defensive mouthpiece, he's in a much different spot than Green was at the tail end of his career. You can debate his play all you want, but I wouldn't say Fletcher can't lead anymore.
Later in the show, Cris Collinsworth raved about Griffin.
"Robert Griffin is an unbelievable leader," Collinsworth said. "Teams are built now around first-, second- and third-year players. They're the great majority of the players on the team. And Robert Griffin is the guy that's gonna take them where they want to go if they just leave the whole thing alone. Next year, you'll go,'Oh my gosh, we almost blew it up, it would have been the dumbest thing ever.' "
Collinsworth, also NBC's Sunday Night Football analyst, then lobbied for Mike Shanahan to remain as coach.
"It's crazy," Collinsworth said. "You just take what the system is. It's perfectly built for [Griffin]. Let them develop him as a pocket passer; next season, they're going to be the favorite to win the division."
Here are the four seasons in which Washington has finished on a hot stretch, taking a season from bad to excellent:
How they started: The Redskins lost their first five games under coach Marty Schottenheimer -- and looked terrible in doing so. It also happened to follow a horrible preseason. The Redskins were outscored 143-33 in those games.
Thoughts of a turnaround: None. The Redskins had played poorly since the preseason and they had cast-off Tony Banks at quarterback and no legitimate playmakers on offense. But what did start to change was the impression of Schottenheimer. Players started to respect his methods. They started to become a tough, physical team. A LaVar Arrington interception versus Carolina in a 17-14 win turned it around.
How it ended: The Redskins won five straight to reach .500 en route to an 8-8 record. Schottenheimer was well-liked by most players in the locker room, though Smith and Green, by most accounts, did not buy in. Owner Dan Snyder did not buy in, a fact that upset numerous players, as he fired Schottenheimer. It was a mistake.
How they started: The Redskins actually played well at the start of the season, winning their first three games and they were 4-2 after six games. But they lost four of their next five to sit 5-6 after 11 games.
Low point: The Redskins lost three straight games, including the last two at home. One of those was as bad as the Minnesota game last week as they lost 16-13 to a three-win Oakland team that lost every game the rest of the season. They followed that with an overtime loss at home to San Diego.
Thoughts of a turnaround: Solid, despite the skid. Players were genuinely confused about what had happened. They knew Gibbs’ first year would be a struggle, but I remember talking to players, tackle Jon Jansen in particular, about what was happening. Their belief was that they were at least a nine-win team, that they had worked too hard and believed too much in what they were doing. I didn’t think they would win every game the rest of the season, but a strong finish? Doable.
How it ended: The Redskins won their last five regular season games to finish 10-6 and reach the playoffs. No opponent scored more than 20 points and the Redskins topped 30 in each of the last three games.
How they started: The Redskins won five of their first eight games coming off a 6-10 season. Things looked good.
Low point: Sean Taylor’s death. The Redskins then lost a crushing game to Buffalo, 17-16, and flew to Miami for his funeral. It was their fourth straight defeat as they fell to 5-7.
Thoughts of a turnaround: None. It was asking too much for them to turn it around given the circumstances. They were a drained team. But, as in 2005, there were a lot of true professionals that provided reason to believe they could win again.
How it ended: Todd Collins entered and played well at quarterback for an injured Jason Campbell and the offense started to click. The team overall played inspired football and the Redskins won four in a row to reach the playoffs. They lost in the first round and Joe Gibbs retired.
How they started: Washington lost three straight, including at home to Carolina, 21-13, to fall to 3-6.
Low point: Losing at home to previously one-win Carolina after two straight defeats to the New York Giants and Pittsburgh. Against the Giants, the Redskins played a solid game and lost on a last-minute touchdown pass. But Robert Griffin III's heroics provided hope that they were never out of a game. They lost at Pittsburgh in part because of nearly a dozen dropped passes and the Steelers’ defense had been dominating all year. Neither were terrible losses. But at home to the Panthers? That was bad.
Thoughts of a turnaround: After the bye week, the players returned refreshed and energized and expressed a belief that they could play better and finish strong, with fullback Darrel Young saying they would do “something special.” Too many players believed in what they were doing to write them off; it was similar to the 2005 feeling I had. So I anticipated improved play? But a seven-game streak? No way.
How it ended: With seven straight wins and a home playoff loss to Seattle, and the injury to Griffin. But with a belief that they had turned a corner.
We’ll find out starting Monday night. Regardless, Vick can’t wait.
“I feel like I have the opportunity to do some great things and show my talents I still possess, so that’s a bit of excitement,” Vick said, “and throughout the course of the summer I’ve been able to expand on what I’ve learned and I really feel good about where we’re going.”
The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback earned the starting job under first-year coach Chip Kelly with a solid preseason (28-for-38, 383 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions). In a conference call with Washington reporters, Vick also said the following:
My take: Vick is in a good spot now to add several years to his career, if he proves he can run this offense well. He has weapons around him. Perhaps he’s in a better spot to run this style of offense now than ever.
On if he feels like he was a “trailblazer” for this particular type of offense: “Yeah, I feel like I was kind of the ambassador of this offense in the NFL, like I was the originator. In 2006, I ran for 1,000 yards running the same type of read-option offense, you know it’s in the record books and I couldn’t have done it without running the read-option. I don’t think you can be a dropback passer and run for 1,000 yards in one season, so it was a big accomplishment for me. It was something that I was shooting for. I probably had some other goals set, but it was one of them.”
My take: Vick ran the ball 113 times in his first full season as a starter. It was not the same offenses that are being run today, but his legs were a major weapon. He had to learn to be a passer; he did not complete more than 56.4 percent of his passes until 2010 with Philadelphia. Completion percentage is not necessarily the measure of a great passer, but in his first six seasons Vick completed less than 53 percent of his passes three times. He ran as much because he wasn’t always an accurate passer and could not sustain an offense with his arm alone.
On the biggest improvement he made in reading defenses in his first two seasons: “I think from Year 1 to Year 2, the game slowed down for me. I didn’t play as a rookie. I only started in three games because I played behind Chris Chandler, who was a great, great pocket passer, so I was able to learn from him. Once I started my second year, I was able to see all the things that he had seen and had a better understanding of the game thanks to Coach Dan Reeves. So the transition was easy and it was smooth and I felt like the game had slowed down for me.”
My take: This question was asked in relation to Griffin and what growth fans could expect from him. Coaches always say there’s a huge improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, just because of the experience and then building on it in the offseason. Griffin was a more accomplished passer than Vick -- better accuracy -- in college and as a rookie. Part of that was the style of offense. Regardless, I expect Griffin to improve the way Vick felt he did -- and then some.
On if mobile quarterbacks take pride in their ability to throw the ball: “I think as kids when we’re in the backyard, we idolize certain guys and we want to be like those guys who we look up to. You don’t want to just be viewed as a running quarterback, like all you can do is run or he’s just athletic. We put a lot of hard work into our craft and what we do, to be able to go out and execute and run an NFL offense, which is hard, because if anybody could do it, we probably wouldn’t be here. Sometimes you don’t get credit for what you do, but I think at the end of the day, you’ve got to be the best football player that you can be.”
My take: You don’t last as long as Vick has if all you can do is run the ball, though it certainly has helped. He has a strong arm, too. Quarterbacks need to be smart in order to survive a long time. I also remember former Redskins cornerback Darrell Green once telling me he did not want to be known just for his speed at corner. There were other things he did well -- and there were other reasons he excelled. But players should embrace their skills and not worry about perception. However, if you want to survive a long time like a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, you can’t do so by running more than 100 times a year. So, at some point, you’d better take pride in throwing the ball.
On to the links.
New York Giants
Hakeem Nicks said he plans to practice today, after missing last week's practices with a groin injury, and that he's well aware of how much he has riding on a healthy 2013 season.
What can something as simple as an autograph from a professional athlete mean to a fan? Giants punter Steve Weatherford found out, if he didn't know already.
The plan is for top draft pick Lane Johnson to play right tackle in Philadelphia this year but left tackle in the long run or in a pinch, which is why he's working at both spots during this training camp.
The signing of Felix Jones could have been the end for reserve running back Chris Polk's time with the Eagles, but Polk has responded with a strong camp as he works to hold off Jones and defend his spot.
Two key veterans -- DeAngelo Hall and Brandon Meriweather -- returned to Redskins practice from their injuries. It appears the Redskins dodged a bullet with Hall, whose sprained ankle seemed more worrisome at the time than it turned out to be.
With Robert Griffin III still working his way back from knee surgery, it's going to be Kirk Cousins under center for the Redskins in their preseason games. His teammates are comfortable with that.
Todd Archer examines the ways in which Sunday's preseason opener was different for Jason Garrett with Bill Callahan calling the offensive plays.
Jared Green, the son of Redskins great Darrell Green, is a long shot to make the Cowboys' roster as a wide receiver, but he and his dad are working on it.
Owner Daniel Snyder has said he will never change the team's nickname, but Monk and Green told WTOP Radio in Washington on Tuesday that the topic isn't one that should be so easily dismissed.
"[If] Native Americans feel like Redskins or the Chiefs or [another] name is offensive to them, then who are we to say to them 'No, it's not'?" Monk told the radio station.
Read the rest of the story here.
If you thought the Doug Free situation took too long to resolve itself this offseason, don't worry about a repeat. Free's new contract is structured in such a way that requires a much quicker decision by the Cowboys in 2014.
I was in college in Washington, D.C. when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI. Jared Green was 2-years old and sitting on his father's shoulder in a postgame celebration. Darrell Green is expecting his son to return the favor should Jared and the Cowboys find their way to the Super Bowl this season.
New York Giants
Tom Coughlin's recently published book, "Earn the Right to Win," is being studied by college football coaches at Arizona State University. Coughlin has said many times on his book tour that the book isn't football-specific and includes life lessons as well. I personally have yet to read it.
Giants draft pick Cooper Taylor has already overcome a serious health scare on his way to the NFL. He's one of the picks about which I get asked about the most, and he's intriguing for this reason as well as the question of how he fits into the Giants' defense.
Nick Foles took more first-team snaps than Michael Vick did in Monday's practice. This clearly means Vick's hold on the starting quarterback job is slipping away in record time and that his career is nearing an ugly end. I'm kidding, of course. This doesn't mean that. It means it's mid-May, and Chip Kelly's using practices to find out as much as he can about all of his players. But we'll keep you posted.
Running back LeSean McCoy left practice early due to a knee issue of some sort, but again. May. Anything that doesn't feel 100 percent right at this point in the year is reason enough to stop working so as not to make it worse.
Redskins GM Bruce Allen says he's hearing positive reports and has reason for optimism, but that it's too early to tell when quarterback Robert Griffin III will be fully recovered from his offseason knee surgery and cleared to play. This is, of course, the responsible thing to say and the only thing anyone should be saying right now about Griffin's knee. No word from Allen on how ticked off he was to go on Griffin's wedding registry and find out that some fan had already bought the food processor.
It's also too early to tell who's going to play free safety for the Redskins this year, though Tarik El-Bashir has the scoop on the candidates for the job.
You might not need my permission, or my urging. You might already be there -- as excited as you've been about a professional football game in a very long time. And if that's the case, good. You should be. Sunday night's game at FedEx Field for the NFC East title has everything any of you could possibly want. And while some of you will end your night deeply disappointed in the result while others celebrate a playoff appearance you couldn't possibly have imagined two months ago, these next 53 hours are your time to feel like kids on Christmas Eve. Get excited.
If the Cowboys are your team, you were 3-5 on Election Day, losers of two straight heartbreakers to the Giants and Falcons and wondering when anything was ever going to change. Defensive starters were dropping like flies, DeMarco Murray was out with a foot injury that refused to heal and Tony Romo was throwing interceptions around as though they were "I Voted" stickers. You were two-and-a-half games out of first place behind the team that took the division from you last December, and you wanted everybody gone. If you want to look back over the last seven games and wonder what made Romo stop throwing picks or marvel at the way Jason Garrett has managed the second half or tell everyone it's about time Dez Bryant turned into one of the best receivers in the league, go ahead. Get amazed.
If you are a Redskins fan, you were 3-6 heading into the bye week. Your coach, Mike Shanahan, was defending comments he made after a miserable loss to Carolina about using the rest of this season for evaluations. You were pleased, obviously, with the brilliance of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, and of the belief that the future looked bright. But you were still staring at a second half of the season that was going to feel too sadly familiar -- watching from the sideline while the teams you hate fought it out for the division title. If you want to slap your friends on the back and shout, "Did you ever think we'd win six in a row after the bye and be in first place in Week 17?", be my guest. Get proud.
Whichever of these teams is your favorite, you have to be happy that this rivalry means something again. Cowboys-Redskins is one of the most historically intense rivalries the NFL has. Popular wisdom holds that the reason the Cowboys were kept in the NFC East when the divisions realigned, in spite of good geographic reasons to move them elsewhere, was to preserve the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry by allowing them to continue playing each other twice a year. So if this week gives you reason to think about Tom Landry and Joe Gibbs and Jimmy Johnson and John Riggins and Michael Irvin and Darrell Green and Troy Aikman and Joe Theismann ... good. It's time to hate again -- time to remember why that star bugs you so much, time to get outwardly indignant about a politically incorrect team nickname that wouldn't bother you otherwise. Get trash-talking.
Get jacked. Get geeked. Get fired up. This is a big, big game, folks -- the kind of game that justifies every kind of the silly, overblown enthusiasm sports fans can muster. If you're a Redskins fan or a Cowboys fan, Sunday is your night. And the days leading up to it are for getting excited.
With the Redskins on the verge of their first division title since 1999, Dan Daly writes that there's still a lot we don't know about this team. Dan thinks the most important thing for them Sunday night in the division title game against Dallas will be maintaining balance on offense.
Liked this Rick Maese story on Michael Irvin and Darrell Green, two great veterans of past Cowboys-Redskins tussles who have evolved from fierce rivals into good friends.
What's at stake for the Cowboys on Sunday night? Todd Archer writes that the chance they have is one to write an entirely new story -- one that will keep, at least for a little while, their detractors from saying "same old Cowboys."
DeMarcus Ware's elbow huts, and his shoulder keeps popping out of its socket. He's going to play Sunday night anyway, even though that latter problem could require offseason surgery.
New York Giants
A lot of people have been doing a lot of looking ahead with the Giants the past couple of days -- looking ahead to 2013. This blog pleads guilty to doing some of that. But as Mathias Kiwanuka reminds us, the Giants' 2012 season isn't over yet. And while they need four games to break their way Sunday, including their own, the Giants believe anything's possible.
The Giants' biggest problem this year, on both sides of the ball, has been a lack of the kinds of big plays that were their hallmark during their Super Bowl run.
All of the talk has been about head coach Andy Reid, who could be out as soon as Monday. But expect changes on the rest of the coaching staff, too, with veteran assistants likely on the chopping block as well.
Michael Vick's last game in East Rutherford was the miracle comeback against the Giants in December of 2010. (It was Vince Young who beat the Giants in MetLife Stadium last year, remember.) Much has changed for Vick since that day, and as Zach Berman writes, that change hasn't been good.
New York Giants
The reason Ahmad Bradshaw was barking at Tom Coughlin and, seemingly, everyone else during the Giants game was because he felt the Giants should be running the ball more. So says Bradshaw. No, this is not symptomatic of a larger or longer-term problem in the Giants' locker room. It's heat-of-the-moment stuff among guys who've won Super Bowls together and understand each other's temperaments.
The Giants believe their offense is better prepared this week to take on the Cowboys than it was in the Sept. 5 season opener at MetLife Stadium. Clearly, it will need to be.
Nnamdi Asomugha is thoughtful and honest when asked questions after games, and this is a rare and valuable thing in a sound-byte era. So it disturbs me a bit to hear that Asomugha struggled last week with how much the coverage of the Juan Castillo firing was connected with what Asomugha had to say after the Eagles' most recent loss. Asomugha reached out to Castillo to make sure there were no hard feelings. And to the surprise of no one who's met either man, there do not appear to be.
The message from new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to his players, according to those players, was that the defense is "not going to be predictable anymore." I figure that has something to do with blitzes, but we'll all find out together.
Tim MacMahon is... um... how shall I put this? Not feeling the optimism that Jerry Jones and Jason Witten have been spouting lately about the Cowboys as a Super Bowl contender. Tim doesn't think Dallas is a playoff team. Neither do I, as you all know, but I don't think that should stop the owner or the players from believing they're capable of proving us wrong.
The Cowboys could be without linebacker Sean Lee next week against the Giants, as he's got a sprained toe and was on crutches following an MRI on Monday. Obviously, it would be a huge loss, as Lee has been the best and most consistent player the Cowboys have had on defense this year.
As Dan Daly writes, the only way the Redskins are going to be able to fix their issues in the secondary before the end of this season is for the players they currently have to play better. In other words, Darrell Green ain't walking through that door. The Redskins are establishing defensive back as a 2013 offseason priority, but they're pretty much going to have to roll with what they have, for better or for worse, for the rest of 2012.
The offense is rolling, but as much as wide receiver Pierre Garcon would like to be a part of it, his injured foot is keeping that from happening. It appears it will continue to do so for another four weeks at least.