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Friday, November 24, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

LANDOVER | The Washington Redskins avenged their devastating season-ending loss last year to the New York Giants with a 20-10 win on Thanksgiving night at FedEx Field.

The difference was that this time, little was at stake.


The last time they met, the Giants had already clinched a place in the playoffs and had nothing to play for except practice. The Redskins, though, had everything to play for — a win would have secured a second-straight postseason appearance.


AUDIO: Sports broadcaster Roy Firestone with Thom Loverro


So of course the Redskins lost 19-10.

This time it was an even playing field — neither team had anything to play for.

You could argue that Washington, now 5-6 with the soft part of their schedule ahead (you would be hard-pressed to find a softer touch than these New York Giants), still has a puncher’s chance to be a wild card. But you would have to be punchy to argue that. You would have to be Chuck Wepner punchy.

Washington didn’t exactly step up for this revenge game — it was more like the Giants fell down so far that they passed the Redskins on the way to life among the bottom feeders in the NFL.

That made this Thanksgiving football feast far more competitive than last year’s season-ending debacle.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden did what he could to level the playing field with another bizarre coaching moment — having his team called for delay of game on 4th and 1 early in the fourth quarter after he had called a time out. And Kirk Cousins contributed to the competitive cellar dwelling when he threw an interception to Janoris Jenkins late in the third quarter, who returned it 53 yards for a touchdown, tying the game at 10-10.

But it would have been really hard to lose to a Giants team — now with a 2-9 record — that managed just 170 total yards, with two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Eli Manning completing just 13 of 27 passes for 113 yards.

This would have been an unspeakable loss.

As it was, it was a barely audible win.

Cousins connected with Josh Doctson on a 14-yard touchdown with just over three minutes remaining in the game, and then Washington added a 33-yard Nick Rose field goal two minutes later after the Giants gave the ball up on downs for the victory.

“Everybody was good,” Gruden said after the game. Yes he did. He said that.

“It’s always really pretty when you win,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter statistically or what happened.”

Gruden was feeling pretty feisty, as if he knew deep down this was the kind of win that usually comes with an apology, and he was going to have none of it. When asked about the delay of game after the time out, he responded that one of his players that was supposed to be out there was missing. “He had his shoe off on the sideline,” Gruden said. “We weren’t aware he had something wrong with his foot.

“We didn’t get the memo.”

Relax, Jay. You’re in the protective bubble of the lost season — a season defined by who didn’t play for the Redskins than who did. The list is long of Redskins players who have been sidelined with injuries. Cousins has to identify his offensive linemen — arriving daily at Redskins Park — with name tags.

This is a special kind of hell, if you will, for Redskins fans. Their team loses, or they win but they stink, and yet you can’t get angry about it. You can’t criticize Gruden or Cousins because they are coaching and playing under the duress of injured reserve, where center Spencer Long, guard Shaun Lauvao, running back Chris Thompson and receiver Terrelle Pryor are the latest to reside, joining running back Rob Kelley, linebackers Will Compton and Mason Foster and rookie defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and others — 15 players in all since the season started.

It’s become so contagious that it is spreading to the fan base. They announced the crowd Thursday night at FedEx Field at 73,201. I’d say about 20,000 of them must have been on injured reserve.

This season is reduced to hypothetical status. The “if only” season.

If only Cousins had a healthy offensive line. If only Gruden had experienced, healthy running backs for his genius game plans. If only the much-improved Greg Manusky defense had stayed healthy.

Which leaves Redskins fans asking the legitimate question — would it have made any difference?

We don’t know — the maddening safety of uncertainty that now protects Jay Gruden and company.

• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.


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