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Light at end of the tunnel for Raiders, but Redskins are in disarray

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Neil Reynolds | 11:17 UK time, Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins boast healthy followings among UK NFL fans, in part, due to their successes during the Channel 4 boom years of the 1980s.

The fans that jumped on the Raiders and Redskins bandwagons during the age of the Rubik's cube and the BMX bike are able to boast of former glories. The two clubs have combined to play in 10 Super Bowls, winning three apiece and they remain among the most recognisable brands in American football.

But the boasting from fans of both teams is certainly not related to recent success.

The Redskins have not played in a Super Bowl since the 1991 season. The Raiders went to the title game a little more recently but got blown out by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the end of the 2002 campaign.

The Raiders won the last of their three titles when they defeated the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII in 1983.

The Raiders won the last of their three titles when they defeated the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII in 1983. Photo: Getty Images.

Since then, the Raiders have posted a record of 34 wins and 87 losses, they have suffered seven consecutive losing seasons and have not returned to the play-offs. They have been so bad that they have made a mockery of the club's 'Commitment to Excellence' motto.

The Redskins have fared a little better - but only just. They have won 51 games and lost 70 but can at least take comfort from the fact they qualified for the play-offs during the 2005 and 2007 campaigns.

But it is not just results that have led to both teams becoming a joke amongst NFL fans. Some of the decisions made by both teams have been disastrous.

For example, the Raiders used the first overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft on quarterback JaMarcus Russell, and all he did was eat his way up to 275lb and eventually out of the league.

And the Redskins signed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth last season to a seven-year, £62.5m contract. He has spent much of his time with the franchise causing friction and failing to live up to his huge price tag.

However, this season, there are signs that one of these sleeping giants is about to awaken.

It appears as though Oakland might be relevant as a play-off contender for the first time since that Super Bowl loss to the Bucs. They have won three games in a row and are currently tied for first place in the AFC West with a record of five wins and four losses.

The Raiders are even bucking a recent trend by proving that some - certainly not all - of their off-season personnel moves are paying off.

All-Pro defensive tackle Richard Seymour was not a happy man when he was traded to the Raiders on the eve of the 2009 campaign. But he has been a solid team leader with the Silver and Black and a key component of a dominant defensive line, recording four-and-a-half sacks this term.

JaMarcus Russell is widely considered to be one of the biggest draft busts of all-time.

JaMarcus Russell is widely considered to be one of the biggest draft busts of all-time. Photo: Getty Images.

The Raiders are flying to the ball on defence and putting opposing quarterbacks under considerable pressure.

Offensively, they have yet to find consistent form at quarterback, but they are sticking with former Redskin Jason Campbell for now.

The strength of Oakland's attack in 2010 has been their ground game, and Darren McFadden - an under-achieving disappointment since being chosen in the first round of the 2008 Draft - has been much-improved and, at times, dominant.

We'll know more about the Raiders by the end of this season. Tough challenges lie ahead in the form of Pittsburgh, Miami, San Diego and Indianapolis.

A testing run-in might ultimately be their undoing, but at least the Raiders are playing meaningful games in the second half of the year. That proves they have taken a step in the right direction this season.

As for Washington, they continue to have a soap opera element to them and they are compelling to watch, albeit for all the wrong reasons at times.

Against the Detroit Lions last month, head coach Mike Shanahan pulled quarterback Donovan McNabb from the game late in the fourth quarter and replaced him with the often-inefficient Rex Grossman, who promptly coughed up a fumble that was returned for a game-winning touchdown.

Shanahan's explanations of that decision proved to be somewhat baffling. First he said McNabb wasn't knowledgeable enough when it came to Washington's two-minute offense. Then he insisted McNabb lacked the "cardiovascular endurance" to run the hurry-up attack.

Whichever is true, it was a damning indictment of a player who is struggling through his worst season in the NFL since being a rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999.

Many felt McNabb would be gone sooner rather than later. Instead, the Redskins shocked the football world when they signed the 34-year-old to a five-year extension worth £49 million, including a reported £25 million in guaranteed money.

There is a get-out clause in that contract for the end of this season but I see no reason for the Redskins to exercise that. If they were going to, there's no way they would have offered this new deal.

McNabb has lots to prove over the remaining weeks of the 2010 season. He did not make the best of starts on Monday, throwing a hat-trick of interceptions as the Redskins were thrashed 59-28 by the Eagles.

At 4-5, the Redskins are not out of the play-off race, yet they strike me as a team on the verge of self-destruction.

When things start to unravel as badly as they have in Washington in recent weeks, teams often look to their quarterback for leadership.

But all McNabb has given the Redskins in the past month - not all of his own doing, I should point out - are some unwanted headlines and media attention, combined with sloppy play on the field.

Not exactly a recipe for a winning season, is it?

Week 11 on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra

We will be on air as soon as coverage of the ATP tennis at the O2 finishes on Sunday night (any time between 2130 and 2330 GMT), bringing listeners the conclusion of the New England Patriots-Indianapolis Colts match-up from Foxboro, Massachusetts.

To make up for our on-air tardiness we will then provide live coverage of the key NFC East showdown between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, which kicks off at 0120 GMT.

As double-headers go, they don't come much better than this and it should be another good night of NFL action. For the record, I'm going for wins for the Patriots and Eagles, with respective quarterbacks Tom Brady and Michael Vick continuing their strong seasons.


  • Comment number 1.

    The story of the 2010 season has been long-time NFL journos writing an article like this, and then on Sunday the Raiders play like drains and the Skins stomp all over their opponents. Could happen again, the Steelers are going to be angry, and there are some iffy stories coming out the Titans camp (and Big Albert might be extra motivated to do some damage).

    But I have to agree with the gist here, the Raiders have had an attitude transplant and deserve to be in the thick of the AFC West, whilst the Skins have problems and surely won't get out of their division. I guess the other angle perhaps is that this is the year that Al Davies appears to have backed off the coaching staff, whilst Dan Sneider seems to be meddling as per normal. And the Haynesworth problems, fundamentally they are about that 100m contract, are of Sneider's making. It's arguably as much of a drag on the Skins as the JaMarcus bust was on the Radiers till they cut him loose this off-season.

    There may be a lesson there.

  • Comment number 2.

    Good blog, I am one of those 80's kids who got into American Football watching Channel 4. The first game I remember seeing was that Superbowl in 1983 which the Raiders won.....however, I opted for the Redskins.

    It has been a one-sided love affair since 1991 but one I don't apologise for. The Redskins are a joke of a franchise. Blessed with resources and fans many franchises would be envious of we have consistently managed to underachieve as an organisation.

    The relative success of Jason Campbell is annoying and McNabb's INT's are annoying and Haynesworth is a disappointment, but I think that McNabb will turn the team around. I hope that last week will have embarrassed everyone (although it really only was 1 bad quarter where Vick was unplayable) and we can turn the season around. It is not all bad.

    Our losses have been as ridiculous as our wins have been unexpected this season.

    The one overriding compensation is that the Cowboys are even worse......AND SO SAY ALL OF US!!!

  • Comment number 3.

    I too was an 80's kid who was a fan of the Redskins (and the Cowboys) in those days. I am happy to say that when I returned to American Football in recent years my allegiances have changed and I am very happy that I left the Redskins behind.
    They are now like a childhood friend who when I see them now I have very little in common with them and we have nothing to say to each other.
    I can't see Mcnabb turning it around and niether can I see the Raiders doing anything special. The Raiders are much better than they were but thats not saying much.
    I do agree with the first post though, this has been a very unpredictable season and they both will cause some upsets on their ways to average seasons - Chargers and Chiefs will top the AFC West and the Redskins and the Cowboys will fight it out for bottom of the NFC East. I love a good prediction!

  • Comment number 4.

    As an English living in the States and being a Redskins fan, it's been pretty tough watching them the past couple of seasons but in all fairness, the results on the field have been A LOT better than last year even if there have been a few unnecessary distractions off the field. I would certainly take this year over last year every time. We have won as many games as the whole of last season and we actually have a pretty decent defense. Even the OL is better but still needs work. I think a .500 season is very attainable. And we have the joint best divisional record even after that abysmal showing on MNF.

  • Comment number 5.

    There is a get-out clause in that contract for the end of this season but I see no reason for the Redskins to exercise that. If they were going to, there's no way they would have offered this new deal.

    Neil, it's simple, If McNabb is no good the rest of the way they'll have a reason to exercise the get out clause. If McNabb doesn't improve his fitness they'll have a reason. If McNabb breaks down they'll have a reason. What this contract says is "shows us that you deserve this or it's bye bye in January" - they're giving him an extended audition and trying to make sure they get the best out of him for the remainder of the season.


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