By DERON SNYDER
Here’s an idea for a great Hollywood story:
Colt McCoy, the former Texas Longhorns star, returns home for Monday Night Football and leads Washington to victory against archrival Dallas, snapping the Cowboys’ six-game winning streak and putting a frown on Jerry Jones’ overexposed face.
If that project isn’t green-lighted, another script has some potential:
Washington turns to its other quarterback who played college football in The Lone Star State and Robert Griffin III displays his remarkable recuperative powers again, shaking off the rust and recapturing enough old magic to vanquish the despised Cowboys.
There’s also a chance that Jay Gruden resurrects the fantasy tale he shut down Sunday:
Bouncing back from his benching, Kirk Cousins shows a national TV audience that he can indeed eliminate turnovers and post the plump stats that make observers swoon, as Washington wins its second consecutive game with him as the starter.
None of the aforementioned plots are likely to play out as written, where Washington gets the W at the end. Dallas opened as 10-point favorites and the spread might grow higher.
The real suspense is which of Washington’s three quarterbacks will start the game, though the intrigue won’t end there.
No matter the results after Gruden names a starter for Monday night, his team will continue to seek long-term answers to its pressing questions at football’s most-important position.
Pickings are slim. There’s a maybe (RG3), a probably not (Cousins) and a definitely not (McCoy).
By DERON SNYDER
The Kirk Cousins Experiment, which took off with so much hope and promise, crashed and burned Sunday afternoon.
It’s too early to tell the full extent of damage that Cousins suffered, but he undoubtedly limps away with a scarred psyche and bruised ego at minimum.
Instead of stating his case to be Washington’s starting quarterback after Robert Griffin III returns, Cousins has sputtered and backfired.
On Sunday, he faltered to the point that Colt McCoy – Washington’s third-stringer who failed to fill Cleveland’s long-running black under center – was inserted at halftime and engineered a 19-17 victory against the visiting Tennessee Titans.
We still refer to Cousins as a “young” quarterback, because he’s in his third season and has yet to reach double-figures in starts. But NFL types don’t need much time before designating players as starter-material or career backup.
Cousins has made their decision easy since taking over for RG3 in Week 2, entering Sunday’s game with eight interceptions in five contests. Two picks in the first half sent him to the bench after intermission.
If his confidence is shaken, that’s something he’ll have to deal with, because it unlikely that the league’s talent evaluators care.
By DERON SNYDER
Just in case you remained unconvinced, just in case a touch of delusion still lingered, just in case traces of denial were evident, it’s time to face reality:
Washington absolutely, positively is one of “those” NFL teams.
There really should be no doubt after last-place finishes in seven of the last 10 seasons, including five in the last six. But acceptance is difficult for diehards, who always look for glimmers of hope and reasons to refute the obvious.
They thought they found some when coach Mike Shanahan arrived and quarterback Robert Griffin III soon followed. But the glow of a 10-6 record two seasons ago has long since faded and Washington has resumed what constitutes normalcy around here.
“All the players are having their share of good plays,” coach Jay Gruden said Monday during his media session. “But over the course of the game, everybody sprinkles in a little bit of poor play and that results in 1-6.”
“Or 1-5. What are we, 1-5? I’m losing track.”
Keeping up can be difficult when losses pile up like dirty laundry. Sunday’s defeat against Arizona dropped Washington to 1-13 in its last 14 games.
That type of mark inspires confidence in opponents, no matter how dreadful they might be themselves. When they see “Washington” on the schedule, they circle the date and believe that’s the game when they’ll fix whatever ails them.
Because it’s a game against their own kind.
By DERON SNYDER
The victors get to write history.
The vanquished get to lament it.
The Washington Nationals, arguably baseball’s best team this season, begin their winter vacation much earlier than they expected, much sooner than predicted.
Instead of advancing to the National League Championship Series to settle a two-year-old score with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Nats are left to ponder what happened at Nationals Park and AT&T Park over the course of three losses in five days.
They will look back on their blown opportunities and untimely miscues. They will reflect on their failure to execute in critical situations. They will recall their inability to produce when production was a must.
They will rewind key moments of Games 1, 2 and 4 – the crucial at-bats, pressure-packed pitches and split-second fielding plays – and they will wince.
What they could have done will provide no solace. What they would have done will offer no relief. What they should have done will ease no pain.
They will keep coming back to what they actually did, losing the National League Division Series for the second time in three seasons. And they will hurt all over again.
There is no shame in dropping three, one-run games in the NLDS against a San Francisco team with championship DNA. But that does not make defeat sting any less.
“I told them I’m proud of their effort,” manager Matt Williams said in the interview session after the Giants’ 3-2 victory ended Washington’s season Tuesday night. “We established a way to go about this game in spring training and we accomplished that goal. We played the way we wanted to play and did a lot of things right.
“So, you know, it’s tender and it’s bitter and all of those things, but I’m proud of them. I’m proud of the way they went about it.”
Williams had a fine season as a rookie skipper and he should garner many votes for NL Manager of the Year. He was no stranger to postseason baseball during his 17-year playing career, especially toward the end. He reached the playoffs four times between 1997-2003 and participated in the World Series with Arizona and Cleveland.
His counterpart, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy, didn’t have nearly the same playing career, lasting just nine seasons and reaching the playoffs twice. But Bochy is in his 20th season as a skipper, with three pennants and two World Series titles on his resume.
To say the Giants had an advantage in the dugout is stating the obvious. Bochy has first-hand knowledge about the required shift in mentality once the regular season ends and the postseason begins.
That’s a lesson that Williams just learned the hard way.
By DERON SNYDER
For the first time in seven years, LeBron James will not be featured on opening night when the NBA season commences in three weeks.
Don’t get it twisted, though: All eyes will be on James this season, again, like they have since he was drafted in 2003. His exceptional combination of skill, size, speed and strength, along with his record of single-handedly shifting the league’s balance of power – twice – makes him a most uncommon hoops commodity.
It’s no surprise that the Cleveland Cavaliers, with their new Big 3 of James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, are tied with Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers for the most national TV appearances (not counting games on NBATV) on the upcoming season’s schedule.
More incentive is unnecessary. But there’s another reason to keep tabs on Cleveland this year; they might speed up the revolution that San Antonio has struggled to pull off alone.
Everyone raved about the beauty of Gregg Popovich’s offense as it sliced and diced James’ Miami Heat in the NBA Finals last season. The ball moved, the players cut and the Spurs’ shots ranged from good to great to unbelievable. It was downright embarrassing at times for the bewildered Heat.
In scooping David Blatt from Europe and installing him as head coach – before anyone knew for certain that LeBron was headed back – the Cavs took a step toward spreading that style of play.
The league should send a thank-you note.
By DERON SNYDER
For all the winning they have enjoyed since 2012, the Washington Nationals entered October with just two postseason victories.
They are still very much neophytes at this playoff-baseball thing, especially as it concerns coming out ahead. With their loss Friday in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, the Nats had twice as many postseason defeats as wins.
They fell even further below the .500 mark on Saturday, in historic, frustrating and excruciating fashion. The San Francisco Giants’ 2-1 victory in 18 innings – MLB’s longest postseason game in terms of time (six hours and 23 minutes) – was another painful postseason lesson for the Nats.
They are learning that experience can be a cruel teacher and substitutes are not allowed.
At least Washington is being schooled by the best, San Francisco this year and St. Louis in 2012. Thanks to Brandon Belt’s solo homer leading off the 18th inning, the Giants won their 10th consecutive playoff game. But they did so in atypical fashion, failing time and again to capitalize on opportunities in extra innings and beat the Nats with fundamentals.
Yet, the Giants prevailed, which is all that matters this time of year.
Winning a lot during the regular season and being close to winning or tying a series, matters not at all.
However, the cusp of victory has become an unwelcome pattern for the home team. The Nats were one pitch away from knotting the NLDS against the Giants, just like they were one pitch away from advancing to the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals.
By DERON SNYDER
Once again, it’s time to check off some items on my “TIDU List” – Things I Don’t Understand:
*How Buck Showalter kept Baltimore on track.
Their BW Parkway rivals had lots of injuries, too, but the Orioles took “next man up” to a new level. All-Stars catcher Matt Wieters and Manny Machado were lost for the season in May and August, respectively. GM Dan Duquette deserves credit for providing capable reserves and trading for others, but Showalter has pulled all the right strings.
Having won AL Manager of the Year in 1994 and 2004, he’s due again.
*Why the Nationals shouldn’t be favored to win the pennant.
Things didn’t work out last season when Washington was a popular World Series pick. But the team is back in that position. ESPN’s Jayson Stark polled 15 baseball executives; a dozen picked the Nats as NL champs and 11 picked them as Series champs. Folks struggle to identify a real area of weakness.
If the Nats play to their ability under postseason pressure, D.C. has a parade in store.
*How a 29-year drought could have a wilder, happier ending.
The Royals didn’t clinch a playoff spot until the season’s final weekend. Then they played 12 innings in nearly five hours Tuesday before allowing their fans to go crazy again. Kansas City’s walk-off, comeback victory against Oakland was quite the thriller for everyone in attendance and viewers who didn’t turn off the TV and turn in.
Regardless of what happens next, the Royals have atoned for missing the playoffs since 1985.
By DERON SNYDER
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosted Washington on Nov. 25, 2007, I covered the game as a sports columnist for The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press. One of the best things about writing for The News-Press – which I did from 2000-2009 – was being equidistant from Tampa and Miami, which meant regular coverage of the Bucs, Dolphins and “The U.”
The Bucs had two Fort Myers natives on the field that day, halfback Earnest Graham and cornerback Phillip Buchanon – who later played for Washington. On the visitors’ sideline were two players I covered at the University of Miami, wideout Santana Moss and halfback Clinton Portis.
But a third former Hurricanes player didn’t take the field for Washington and he didn’t accompany the team on its flight back home.
The decision to stay in Florida ultimately cost Sean Taylor his life.
Taylor was shot during a botched burglary attempt by some Fort Myers thugs and died the next day. “Fort Myers scoundrels” is the way journalist Amy Shipley described the killers in the documentary, “Sean Taylor: A Football Life,” which aired last week on NFL Network.
She’s absolutely correct.
But in “Fourth Down in Dunbar,” a new book released earlier last week, author and former colleague David Dorsey offers a deeper look at the relationship between football, felons and Fort Myers, particularly the black part of town referenced in the title.
Though the timing of the documentary and the book are coincidental, Dorsey hopes that people who watched the show also read his work to “find out more about the forces that shaped the young men” who traveled across Alligator Alley and killed Taylor that night.
Those same forces helped shape a slew of NFL players, too.
By DERON SNYDER
Washington and the New York Giants will not put their best product on FedEx Field Thursday night.
And the NFL couldn’t care less.
Last Thursday, the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers “treated” their national audience to a game that was 56-0 well into the fourth quarter. The previous Thursday, the Baltimore Ravens laid a 26-6 beatdown on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But, hey, Thursday Night Football still draws monster ratings. So who cares what it looks like? Who cares about player safety/performance after a three-day recovery period?
Not the NFL or its partner on mid-week games, CBS, which crowed about the ratings for a blowout.
“CBS and NFL Network’s broadcast … which featured Atlanta’s lopsided 56-14 victory over Tampa Bay, gave CBS and NFL Network a dominant primetime win,” CBS said in a press release. The game’s primetime audience “averaged 11.8 million viewers, which beat the combined delivery of the other broadcast networks, NBC, ABC and FOX, by +15% (11.8 million vs. 10.3 million).”
That probably won’t be the case this Thursday, not with the return of ABC’s powerhouse block of Shonda Rimes’ hits “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” followed by her promising newcomer “How to Get Away With Murder.”
But the NFL gets away with anything it can.
The league and CBS laugh all the way to the bank while players drag Sunday’s aches and bruises back onto the field for Thursday.
By DERON SNYDER
In most years since the Nationals arrived in Washington, fans haven’t expected much and they’ve gotten just what they expected – last-place finish after last-place finish, if not next-to-last.
However, the exact opposite was true the previous two seasons. Fans anticipated great things and they were rewarded with great disappointment, from what appeared to be a slot in the 2012 National League Championship Series, to what presumably was a surefire berth in the 2013 playoffs.
This season has brought great expectations along with doses of apprehension. After watching the team come within one pitch of advancing to the NLCS, and then miss the playoffs despite being a popular pick to reach the World Series the following year, a little anxiety amongst the base is understandable.
We’ve barely grown accustomed to having baseball back in the nation’s capital, as the Nats are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their relocation from Montreal.
It’s going to take a while longer to get used to the sport’s fickle treatment of winners and would-be winners.
The Nats returned from their last regular-season road trip with their second NL East title in three years and the league’s best record. They’re poised to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which doesn’t mean as much in baseball but certainly doesn’t hurt. They’ll look to seal the deal during this homestand and then get set for the postseason.
Two trips in three years is no small feat for most teams, so these rides are to be savored no matter the final outcome. At this point, the Nats are trying to emulate two thorns-in-the-side, St. Louis and Atlanta.