WASHINGTON (AP) — Don’t touch that dial. There are oh-so-many suspense-filled reasons to tune in when the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins go at it on Christmas Eve.
Can Rex Grossman get through an entire game without committing a turnover? Can Christian Ponder get through a game without getting sacked several times? Does an undrafted rookie have any chance whatsoever against Jared Allen?
Can the Vikings avoid their worst in-season losing streak since 1961, when they were an expansion franchise coached by Norm Van Brocklin? Can the Redskins avoid their worst home losing streak since 1994? How much more misery awaits the two clubs that swung and missed with an aging Donovan McNabb?
How many people will actually bother to show up for a Saturday holiday weekend game between two teams that have a combined five wins since the start of October?
“I don’t want to be part of that, the worst team in Vikings’ history,” Minnesota linebacker E.J Henderson said. “I’m sure it’s on some people’s minds, some guys’ minds. Whatever it takes to motivate you.”
See! There’s actual history on the line!
In all seriousness, motivation is a big deal when the Vikings (2-12) have lost six straight and are in danger of matching or sinking below the all-time worst Minnesota team that went 3-13 in 1984. And it’s a big deal when the Redskins (5-9), even though they’ve played better lately, are perilously close to extending a dubious franchise record by finishing last in their division for the fourth straight year.
“The season didn’t go the way we thought it would, and everyone knows that,” said Washington fullback, tight end and all-around veteran voice Mike Sellers. “But no one’s going to give up. And no one’s going to sit there and let no team embarrass them. Just got to fight through it.”
Full credit goes to the Redskins for salvaging some pride after their own six-game losing streak. They’ve won two of their last four and put up a good fight in a seven-point loss to the New England Patriots. That said, Washington’s locker room had a definite last-day-of-school feel about it Thursday, with players collecting autographs from each other and talking about offseason plans.
“There’s a lot of distractions that go on this week with Christmas and the holidays,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “And you’ve really got to work with those distractions during a week like this. So hopefully our team’s focused and ready to go.”
The Vikings’ ship is less steady. The star players on both sides of the ball were publicly questioning their roles after last week’s 42-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Allen, who needs 5 ½ sacks to break Michael Strahan’s single-season record, was on the bench during the Saints’ final possession and complained: “What are we resting me for? The playoffs?” Adrian Peterson, in his first game back from a sprained ankle, had just 10 rushes and wondered aloud: “I don’t know how to explain 10 carries. I was ready to roll. I just do my job.”
Later, after reviewing the game, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said: “You could see some guys hung it up.”
None of which bodes well for Leslie Frazier, who claimed victory in his NFL head coaching debut in a November game at Washington last year and hasn’t won much since — and perhaps regrets not saying from the outset that this would be a rebuilding season.
“I really coming into the year thought we had some things in place to really push in our division, especially with the way the offseason had gone, knowing that there would be a lot of things unknown about this year,” Frazier said. “But as it has turned out, looking at where this team is and where other teams are in our division and around our league, we have a ways to go.”
There’s also been some debate as to whether Shanahan should have declared the Redskins to be in rebuilding mode during training camp. He has essentially conceded that to be the case, saying recently this was the year to stock the defense and next year the focus will be on adding talent to the offense.
Meanwhile, the real fun should be watching Allen. He has 17 ½ sacks and is expected to spend much of the game against left tackle Willie Smith, who made his NFL debut just two weeks ago after Trent Williams was suspended for the rest of the season for violating the NFL’s drug policy.
Allen used to give Shanahan fits when the defensive end was with the Kansas City Chiefs and the coach was leading the Denver Broncos. During one game, Shanahan called for a play for the tight end to deck Allen with a crack-back block. There was only one problem — Allen came out of the game for that play.
“And so we just kill the guy that’s substituting for Allen,” Shanahan said, “and I look across the field and he’s pointing his finger at me and he is laughing as hard as he can. And I couldn’t help it, I started laughing myself. I saw him in Vegas that offseason and he looked at me and said, ‘Oh, that was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. You just killed my substitute. That could have been me.’”
Could there be a similar call in the Shanahan playbook on Saturday?
“Could be, could be,” the coach said.
Yet another reason to watch!