"I don't think a lot of people really want to see us in the playoffs," the veteran cornerback said Sunday night, his voice rising. "The way the guys feel right now, whoever plays us next, they're in trouble. If you're gonna beat us, you'd better be on it, cause we're gonna be hitting, stripping and smacking people as hard as we can."
And if those comments serve as motivation for Springs' former team, the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks, who host the Redskins Saturday in a first-round playoff game, well, so be it. The Skins are about as subtle as Chuck Liddell in an MMA title clash.
If there was a common strand to the two biggest winners on the final day of the regular season – the Redskins and Tennessee Titans, who claimed the last remaining playoff spots – it was that brute force is a very effective NFL survival strategy. Washington and Tennessee, teams seemingly doomed in early December, kept fighting fiercely and finally glimpsed cracks of light after getting some help a week ago.
Both teams kicked down the door on Sunday, riding the unlikely arms of backup quarterbacks named Collins to victories over elite opponents that had no postseason positioning at stake.
"That's been our identity all year – we're a physical team," Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said late Sunday night after Tennessee's 16-10 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. "We're not going to finesse anybody. On offense, we pound the ball, run it right at you, and on defense we're gonna come after you and hit you hard and never stop."
There'll be no letting up for the Skins or Titans, No. 6 seeds about to head smack-dab into punishing playoff clashes. Unlike the teams they played on Sunday, who were already assured of first-round byes, Washington and Tennessee (which travels to face the San Diego Chargers on Sunday) didn't have the luxury of holding anything back in their regular season finales.
Yet as thrilled as they were to qualify for the postseason, the Skins and Titans felt as though they belonged in the field all along.
It makes sense now, but go back a month and this scenario seemed so remote. The Redskins, less than a week removed from the murder of star safety Sean Taylor, blew a home game against the Buffalo Bills to fall to 5-7 with their fourth consecutive defeat. That game featured the fiasco of a finish in which coach Joe Gibbs's misapplication of the timeout rules allowed Buffalo kicker Rian Lindell to get 15 yards closer on his game-winning field goal.
"We never felt we were a bad team," wideout Santana Moss said Sunday night. "Even after that game when people said, 'Joe Gibbs, he's got to go,' we knew that was garbage. After the game he stood up for us and told us in the locker room that the loss was on him. We gathered in a circle and said to each other, 'No, guys, it's on us to put them away earlier and make sure it doesn't come down to the wire like that.' And that's what we started doing."
The next day, the entire team traveled to Miami for Taylor's funeral, then returned home for a Thursday night game against the Bears. Starting quarterback Jason Campbell went down with a dislocated kneecap in the second quarter, and in came Todd Collins, who hadn't started a game in 10 years.
Somehow, amid all that adversity, the Redskins got on a roll, beating the Bears, Giants and Vikings before sealing the deal against the Cowboys, who were already losing by 10 points when they pulled their starters in the second half. Collins, 31, who spent eight years in Kansas City – the last five of them absorbing current Washington offensive coordinator Al Saunders' system – has completed 64 percent of his passes while throwing five touchdown passes against no interceptions.
"We don't even look like the same team," said Springs, whose first-quarter interception of Tony Romo set the tone for Sunday's romp. "Coach Saunders is comfortable with Todd, and the playbook has opened up."
Added Moss, who had eight catches for 115 yards, including a 42-yard TD in the fourth quarter: "You never want to give a guy too much when he's young, and Jason was learning on the run. If his No. 1 option was covered, he'd dump it off and play it safe, because that's what they asked him to do. Todd's an old, veteran guy who has played in this offense for so long. He reads things before the snap and if he sees a good matchup, he'll throw it no matter what the call is."
As Moss spoke, the other Collins, Tennessee's Kerry, was warming up on the RCA Dome sidelines, about to enter the game in relief of Vince Young, who had strained a right quadriceps muscle with his team trailing 10-7 in the third quarter. Collins, who turned 35 Sunday, had helped rally the Titans to a victory over the Texans in October, part of a 6-2 first half that ranked among the league's biggest surprises.
Against Indy, Collins led the team on three second-half scoring drives that resulted in Rob Bironas field goals. The defense was its usual swarming, unrelenting self; in fairness, Peyton Manning and most of Indy's other regulars were watching from the sidelines after a couple of early series. The Titans pummeled Colts second-stringer Jim Sorgi, though not too hard, lest Manning be summoned back into the game. "We didn't want to knock Sorgi out," Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher admitted.
After safety Calvin Lowry blasted Colts wideout Devin Aromashodu to break up a fourth-down pass with 1:54 remaining, the Titans were good to go – to San Diego, where they'll get a chance to mix it up with a similarly physical Chargers team. Young, star defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (hamstring) and others left Indy with various bumps and bruises, but that shouldn't stop any of them from suiting up for the next elimination game.
"I expect them all to play," Fisher said Sunday night as the team plane prepared to take off for Indy. "The playoff doctor is in the house."
As for the Skins, who became only the fourth team of the Super Bowl era to make the playoffs after a 5-7 start, some of those on the inside are starting to wonder if something metaphysical might be involved in their stirring surge.
On Saturday, before the team conducted its walkthrough at its Ashburn, Va., training facility, defensive end Philip Daniels passed out copies of a photo of Taylor that Daniels' wife had pulled off the Internet, one which the safety had signed for a fan in training camp. "There was Sean's signature, with the words, 'We want Dallas,'" Moss said. "Guys got all choked up. He's not there physically, but that reminded us that he's been playing with us all this time, that we couldn't have gotten to this point without him."
As the final seconds ticked away on Sunday, Moss and halfback Clinton Portis, two of Taylor's closest friends, were talking with several teammates when one of them pointed to the video screen at FedEx Field and said, "Look at the score."
Moss did a double-take. "Look how much we won by," the other player added.
Twenty-one, the same as Taylor's jersey number.
"Guys talked about that in the locker room," Springs said, "and they were tearing up."
To Springs, whose father, former Cowboys halfback Ron Springs, has been hospitalized in a coma for more than two months, this season has been an emotional whirlwind. He has tried to cope with it all by doing what he and his teammates do best – getting physical.
"I'm so sad that we lost Sean," Springs said, "but he kind of brought us together as a family. We all want to honor him, and when it comes down to it, the best thing we can do is to try to do that with our play.
"Sean was a cannibal. He played this game the way it's supposed to be played. So, if you want to honor him, go full speed and put your heart into everything you do. And if there's a play to be made, make that play and plow through everything in your path."
I'M HOT CAUSE I'M FLY …
• Given that the Browns' game against the 49ers was virtually meaningless – their 20-7 victory over the 49ers would have gotten them into the playoffs only in the event of a Titans loss or tie – it would have been understandable if quarterback Derek Anderson had stayed on the sidelines after leaving late in the first half with an injured right pinky. Had the Titans lost, the Browns, win or lose, would have edged Tennessee for the No. 6 seed and would've needed Anderson to be as healthy as possible for the playoffs. Anderson, however, returned to play the entire second half, completing a highly successful first season as a starter. "I felt like I wanted to get back in there," Anderson said in a telephone interview after the game. "If it was the last game for us, I wanted to be out there with the guys." Now, given Anderson's status as a restricted free agent and the presence of '07 first-round pick Brady Quinn on the roster, the question is whether the third-year quarterback has played his last game with Cleveland, period (my guess: probably not). "That's out of my control right now," he said. "But it's obviously a possibility. When that time comes, we'll deal with it. But I love this team. It's a great bunch of guys."
• Congratulations to the Houston Texans, who completed the best season in their six-year history, scoring a team-record 42 points in a two-touchdown victory over the playoff-bound (and not especially engaged) Jacksonville Jaguars. It was the first division victory for the Texans (8-8) in six attempts this season. Given that Houston went 7-3 outside the AFC South, it's likely the Texans could have mounted a playoff run from six of the league's other seven divisions – the exception being the NFC East, which like the AFC South, sent the maximum three teams to the playoffs.
• Another team that was excited to finish 8-8: the Arizona Cardinals, whose 48-19 victory over the Rams completed only their third non-losing season in 19 years in the desert and gave first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt a nice boost heading into what should be an interesting offseason. (First question: Who's the presumed starter heading into '08 – Kurt Warner or Matt Leinart?)
• That was a nice touch by Panthers coach John Fox, sending Vinny Testaverde in for the game-ending kneel-down in Sunday's 31-23 victory over the Bucs in Tampa Bay, on what will likely be the final play of the 44-year-old quarterback's 21-year career. The only thing cooler would have been if Testaverde, who spent his first six seasons with the Buccaneers, could've first slipped on one of those Creamsicle-orange jerseys.
• Speaking of great uniform stunts, I have one word for whomever compelled the Lakers to play the first half of their game against the Celtics Sunday night in throwback butt-hugging short-shorts: Genius.
• I've commented on the Patriots' apparent joylessness during their shredding of opponents this season, so it was nice to see the genuine excitement displayed by Tom Brady in Saturday's 38-35 victory over the Giants that completed an unprecedented 16-0 regular season. Regardless of how easy he and his teammates sometimes make it look, they worked hard for this achievement, and the fact that the Giants showed up in such an impressive manner – subdued only after the Pats came through with a typically flawless fourth quarter – made it even cooler. I could question some of the Pats' mouthiness and over-the-line antics (how was Vince Wilfork not penalized for sticking his finger through Brandon Jacobs' facemask?), but from now on they'll be judged solely on their ability to complete what could rank as the most impressive season in NFL history. If they pull it off, the relentlessly driven quarterback will be the biggest reason why.
• Yet another reason why Jon Gruden cracks me up: Defending his decision to rest seven starters against the Panthers (and basically tank a second consecutive game after having clinched the NFC South) to reporters after Sunday's defeat, the Bucs' coach said bluntly, "If we were playing New England on a national televised game, we might have taken a different approach." My guess is that even Gruden was bored by Sunday's matchup with Carolina.
• They played in one of the most awful divisions known to sport, but that shouldn't keep us from giving credit to the San Diego Chargers, who were floating along at 5-5 with massive locker room discontent in their first season under coach Norv Turner. They responded by rediscovering their power running game and closing the regular season with six consecutive victories. A single playoff triumph over the Titans wouldn't necessarily trump last season – all that would do is get San Diego back to the divisional round, which is as far as it advanced in '06 – but it would at least seem like progress. And if the Chargers can get even farther, a lot of us will have to start reevaluating our opinions about Turner's head coaching aptitude.
• Hi, I'm Reggie Wayne, and here's my line against the Titans Sunday night: 24-plus minutes, 12 receptions (for 104 on the season) and the NFL lead in receiving yards with 1,510. Thank you very much, and I'll see you in two weeks.
• Receiving stud of the future: Brandon Marshall, who completed an eye-opening season for the Broncos in their 22-19 overtime victory over the Vikings Sunday with 10 catches for 114 yards and a very impressive touchdown. He has reason to strut. However, I could do without the exaggerated first-down signals and other showboating from Denver's tight ends, Tony Scheffler and Chad Mustard. Dudes, I know you just caught the ball, but your team is 7-9. And Mr. Mustard, have you stopped to consider that hot-dogging is a tad obvious given your surname?
• Lastly, congratulations to retiring Bills general manager Marv Levy, already in the Hall of Fame for his coaching exploits, on ending his career and to new UCLA coach (and former Ravens offensive coordinator) Rick Neuheisel for getting a chance to revive his.
… YOU AIN'T CAUSE YOU'RE NOT
• I know the games didn't mean much to the players in question, even if they claimed otherwise going in, so I'm going to try not to read too much into the collective defensive meltdowns by the third-seeded Seahawks (44-41 losers to the Falcons, Atlanta's highest offensive total in nine years), fourth-seeded Bucs (31 points allowed to the Panthers!) and fifth-seeded Giants (38 points allowed, but at least it was to the Patriots). Still, it sure makes the Redskins seem that much more dangerous heading into the playoffs.
• The Jets and Chiefs were tied at 10 at the end of regulation, and it was cold and dark at Giants Stadium. At that point, did we really need overtime? Shouldn't there be a mechanism by which Roger Goodell can step in and euthanize the game?
• Whoa, Browns fans: Some of you seemed just a bit too excited to see Brady Quinn jogging onto the field after Anderson hurt his finger. Anderson, remember, is the guy who brought meaning to your last four months by playing mostly terrific football, and he represents by far your best chance to win in '08. I realize Quinn is the future, but try to show some respect.
• Am I going to have to dredge up those "Don't Kick To Hester" lyrics for Sean Payton, too? Nah, because I'm pretty sure the New Orleans coach was as aghast as I was when punter Steven Weatherford boomed one inbounds to the Bears' unparalleled return threat early in the third quarter of Chicago's 33-25 victory Sunday – yet another frustrating mistake in a Saints season full of them. Hester, with his sixth combined kick/punt returns for touchdown in '07, broke the NFL's single-season record he set as a rookie last season and also hauled in a 55-yard touchdown reception. New Orleans (7-9) had to settle for a single-season completion record by quarterback Drew Brees (443, eclipsing the 418 by Rich Gannon for the Raiders in '02) and the disappointment of having regressed after last season's heart-warming march to the NFC Championship game. Payton will regroup and get it right in '08, though.
• After all their stress, it turns out that, given the defeats by the Saints and Vikings (8-8), the Redskins could've lost to Dallas and still made the playoffs. Despite the fact that Minnesota, after winning five consecutive games to put itself on the verge of a playoff berth, suffered a pair of season-ending setbacks, Vikings fans can take solace in second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson's impressive efforts Sunday in rallying his team from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime. Maybe the kid is a player, after all. As for the less thrilling developments … star halfback Adrian Peterson was benched for the first series after being late for a team bus ride (AD, who carried just 11 times for 36 yards, still became the first rookie to lead the NFC in rushing since Barry Sanders in 1989) … Peterson's fellow halfback, Chester Taylor, lost a pair of brutally costly fumbles … wideout Troy Williamson dropped two passes, including a potential 72-yard touchdown … and Jackson got stripped on a sack in overtime to set up Jason Elam's game-winning field goal for Denver.
• When Taylor, trying to stretch the ball across the pylon at the end of a first-quarter run, let go of the ball a split-second too early and surrendered possession to Denver on a touchback, it was yet another reminder that frantically stretching for the end zone is often a horrible idea. Simply put, it puts the ball in a highly vulnerable position, and the reward is not worth the risk. This is a bad habit that coaches of all teams should spend time working to correct over the offseason.
• If the Dolphins had gone 0-16, at least they'd have been memorable. But 1-15, which puts them in the company of eight other atrocious and forgettable teams? That's just worthless. It'll be fun watching Bill Parcells blow up the roster, though I hope he keeps an open mind about shifty scatback Lorenzo Booker, a third-round draft pick in '07. The kid has ankle-breaking moves, and he's tougher than any 5-foot-10, 191-pounder has a right to be.
TWO THINGS I CAN'T COMPREHEND
1. How I can step onto a basketball court with my 66-year-old father and eight-year-old son, compete in various games involving shooting accuracy and be utterly embarrassed by both of them.
2. How Titans kick returner Chris Henry got up and walked off the field after that insanely hellacious hit from the Colts' 288-pound Darrell Reid – and then continued playing for the rest of the second half.
OVER-THE-TOP, EPHEDRINE-LACED DIATRIBE AT 4:19 A.M.
I love our TV networks. I really do. They held an unquestioned chokehold over the airwaves for decades, and even now, as multi-million-dollar broadcast partners with the NFL, they hold the key to so much of our collective Sunday enjoyment. But do I really need to get bombarded with their press releases proclaiming that more people watched network X's telecast than network Y's, as if announcing teams, production values or anything other than the matchup and its accompanying drama had anything to do with the ratings in question? On Sunday CBS hit a new low, bragging that more people watched its broadcast of the previous night's Patriots-Giants game than NBC's or the NFL Network's. Wow, how impressive – even though all three broadcasts were identical. In fact, they all featured the same NFL Network feed, right down to the halftime show. The only difference was the commercials, which I'm sure many viewers spent a lot of time scrutinizing before aiming the remote and settling on a home. NBC is no better, shamelessly proclaiming at the start of "Football Night in America" that next Saturday's Jaguars-Steelers game was clearly the marquee matchup of wild-card weekend. Oh, really? What's clear is that NBC got to choose which of the four games it would broadcast in next Saturday night's slot, and it picked Jacksonville at Pittsburgh over the other "non-marquee" matchups. Gee, I wonder if there's a correlation?
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"This is the third email I will have written you in three weeks, and this is a positive one for change. After your statements regarding the Seahawks and their fans and your belief Marcus Trufant (Go Cougs!) shouldn't start the Pro Bowl, this article is much needed. I believe the Seahawks can do anything in the playoffs; whether it be go all the way or choke in the first round. If they come out and play like the way they did against the Cardinals or Ravens, I think they can go to the Super Bowl. OK, thanks again for the article, and let me hear your bird call."
I don't know what that means, but if I cover the playoff opener in Seattle, I have a feeling I'll come to loathe it.
"Hey bozo. The Seahawks have to play the Redskins before they can entertain any thoughts of playing the GB Packers. Are you dreaming? The Seahawks are a bunch of coo coo birds. …"
San Francisco, Calif.
Two questions: How did you manage to sneak onto your parents' computer, and how long did it take you to type that witty email?
"The way you make it sound is that the 'Hawks have great potentchoal to make it to the Super Bowl but they will lose. Seattle is one of the best teams in the NFL that havent won a Super Bowl. We got cheated out of it two years ago and we want to wwwiiinnn the Super Bowl so bad that we will do almost any thing to win. My main topic is that SportsCenter and every other sport shows just say that the 'Hawks are nothing but a lucky team in a crappy division. Yea, we are in a crappy division but weve come from a horrid team to an awsome team and i believe that we will win the Super Bowl."
You'll do almost anything to win? Does that include learning how to spell "potential?"
"Don't think all of us Seahawk fans have not noticed that your favorite team the Arizona Cardinals missed the playoffs again. How many times are we gonna go through the disrespect of the four-time division champions?"
Al Qut, Iraq
Until the Cardinals manage to dethrone them, evidently.
"I liked seeing the Matt Hasselbeck article. He is easily the most-underrated quarterback in the NFL. When explained, his comments about scoring on the initial possesion of overtime don't seem so idiotic. Oh, also, thanks for calling attention to poor grammar and spelling. The Internet needs more people like you. Please feel free to point out any errors in my comments, otherwise I'll never learn."
I don't know what would "possess" me to do so, but I'm going to let it go.
"Michael, Michael, Michael … Once again, you (ahd the rest of the intellectually hcallenged sports-boobs) buy into the concept that both Dallas and Green Bay are unbeatable, ergo destined to challenge each other for the right to show up in the Super Bowl. Why don't you pull your head(s) from your collective arses and see who/what has been played the last few games? GB got thoroughly spanked by a bruised and battered Bears team. Meanwhile, the plowboys and Tony 'Mr Jessica' Romo got beat up, eaten up and spit out at the hands of Philly. Guess what … the Skins will do the same. Neither of these teams is great. They are decent … but not great. They have given up a ton more points than Seattle … but I guess it doesn't matter to you since your thought is to outscore the opponent. That can work against you. But how would you know? I doubt if you have ever played a down of football in your life."
I may not have played a down in the NFL. But I've also gone an entire career without using the word "ergo."
So sorry to have failed in my attempt to serve you, Joe Pellington. Would you like me to come to your house and wipe down your keyboard for you as well?
"Your a goofy looking bozo."
You're a lovely human being for caring so much.
Gull Lake, Canada
Ah, another metrosexual reader heard from …
"Your a tool."
My editor keeps telling me to give up – that a large proportion of readers will never figure out the distinction between "your" and "you're" – and I keep clinging to the faint hope that he's wrong.
"Your a deity!"
As promised, I didn't make fun of your spelling/grammar.
"You're the biggest dayitee ever."
"Mike, I don't think calling you a deity would do you justice. Your name shall be Wonderful (Sportswriter), Counselor (to those whose teams have losing records), the Mighty Mike, the Everlasting Diatriber, the Prince of Trippin'. If this happens to make your column, I'm glad my mother doesn't read your column (Blaspheming so soon after Christmas!). I'm not so sure about my minister. Maybe I should change my city and state to 'Location Unknown.' Oh well."
Tell your minister and your mom that the Prince of Trippin' will come to Music City and make everything alright.
"It seems that Korea might be a good place to move, they sure love you there. We also like you in Africa, even if it's just in my household. Question : Will the Tuna draft a QB with the No. 1 pick or do something about the OL?"
Pretoria, South Africa
Given Parcells' history, I'd say to think big: as in a big, strong lineman, probably on the defensive side. That is, assuming he resists the temptation to trade down and keeps the No. 1 pick.
"You must be either going soft on grammar errors, or becoming indifferent faced with the continual onslaught. Today we see this from Iowan, Marcus Brooks: 'Can you name any Pro Bowl (2006) quarterback, still active, with 10 or less touchdown passes …' Now, the gentleman from Des Moines not using the term 'fewer' might be understandable since one hears that mistake somewhat frequently in common conversation in Iowa, and many other English speaking locales. And, too, Mr. Brooks doesn't declare himself to be an English teacher in China, as does the purveyor of the second instance of mistaken usage of less versus fewer. From Chris Bellman, self-proclaimed English teacher, offers this example of a misapplication of the word 'less': 'Most Chinese children make less grammatical errors etc. … than many of the readers you hammered …' One might surmise that Maxwell's 'Silver' hammer was, in this glaring opportunity, graciously kept in the tool shed in order to not embarrass the English teacher. It is conceivable there might be a few Chinese transfer students who will be understandably peeved when apprised of the less-fewer difference in an U.S. university classroom at a future date. Me? I'm a carpenter, not an English teacher. And fewer of us are working these days, and for less money, given the U.S. housing collapse. But I'm ready to retire, so no panic this time around."
Rancho Bernardo, Calif.
Metaphorically, you just built a door and slammed it shut on those emailers.
"As a devoted Reading Royals fan, I appreciate that you've decided to follow the most exciting team in the Premiership. Reading epitomizes 'never say die' more than any team I've seen in any sport. I'm even more impressed with how quickly you've adapted to the lingo. It took me about two months to stop calling them 'the Spurs.' Keep it up!"
Thanks. I'm not sure about this terminology, but Spurs put up a six-pack on our boys Saturday. Ouch.
"Brilliant interpretation of My Generation."
If this were really you, Pete, I'd be doing leaping air-guitar windmills all day long.
TEXT/IM/EMAIL OF THE WEEK
"Wishing u a Wonderful Christmas. I thank God for the gift of ur friendship. In all the craziness of the day don't forget 2 thank God 4 ur greatest gift: JESUS!"
"Merry Xmas to u and your Fam and make Big Money in the New Year."
Back-to-back texts, four minutes apart on the morning of Dec. 25, from Kurt Warner and rap legend Luke Campbell.