WASHINGTON -- If this had been a baseball game, there would have been no confusion. Assessing blame is always a breeze in baseball. A guy drops a fly ball, everyone knows he blew it. A guy gets picked off first base, everyone knows he blew it. In football, however, rarely is it that simple.
In football, when a team loses a game because, say, it allows some long passes, assessing the blame becomes a matter for the sharpest of sleuths. The jargon swirls round and round the lTC losing locker room until your eyes cross and the only thing about which you are certain is that you have no idea what happened.
"Well," the players say in these authoritative voices, "we were in a double-hex cross zone with half-man sets and they threw a zeke route at us and there was a hole in the seam and the guy just stitched in there and we got caught in transition. Simple."
Right, simple. So who blew it?
"Well, it's hard to say exactly. It was a combination of things."
It's all positively Nixonian, or, for those of a more modern generation, positively Iran-contrarian. That, in the language of the street, means it's a coverup. Everyone has an idea what went wrong, see, but no one wants to point a finger. It is a Basic Football Truth: He who points always gets pointed at later. So, another Basic Football Truth: When in doubt, go Byzantine. Quote the playbook and go long. No one will understand.
Such was the climate in the Redskins' locker room yesterday after their 24-20 loss to the Giants, during which they outplayed the New Yorkers but lost because of three long passes. One resulted in a touchdown and the other two set up touchdowns, constituting the whole of the Giants' attack, and the assessing of blame was, as always, an impossible business.
The Redskins' head coach, Joe Gibbs, said he didn't know what happened on any of the plays. (A very bad start, setting the tone.) One cornerback, Darrell Green, also said he didn't know what happened, but that "we'll get to the bottom of it."
How? Two safeties, Alvin Walton and Todd Bowles, weren't talking. Another safety, Brad Edwards, said "different things happened on different plays," but he "wasn't sure which of the things had gone wrong." Got that straight? Welcome to Blame Land, the place where nothing is clear.
The plays were all similar, short passes in the middle of the field that turned into long gains. But that is where the similarity stopped. The first went from quarterback Phil Simms to a split end, Stephen Baker. The second went to a tight end, Mark Bavaro. The third went to a fullback, Maurice Carthon.
On the first, Baker ran all the way across the field and criss-crossed with another receiver. The original defender was cornerback Brian Davis, and, much as what happens in basketball, Davis got screened off when the receivers criss-crossed. So it was his fault, right?
"Well, we were in a combination of zone and man-to-man coverage," said Edwards, a safety. "It shouldn't have been a long gainer like that. It was a last check-down kind of deal."
Right . . . what?
"They just took a gamble," he said. "It was a great play." (This clue in from the Giants' locker room. Simms' analysis of the first touchdown: "We sent five receivers out and I threw to the guy who was open. It was that simple.")
The pass to Bavaro certainly looked simple. Bavaro took off downfield and Walton, the safety assigned to him, let him run past unchecked. Walton's fault, right? You'd think so, but why did Walton let Bavaro run by without turning to run with him? He must have thought there was someone else behind him. So, did someone else forget the coverage?
"I don't know if someone slipped down or missed him," Edwards said. "I couldn't really tell."
Darrell Green, who dragged Bavaro down from behind, said, "It wouldn't really be fair for me to comment. I was playing outside, which means it wasn't my man."
Walton said: "." (Author's note: This can be construed as an admission of guilt.)
The third long pass, to Carthon, is a real doozy of a who-blown-it. It was a first down and the Redskins had three safeties and only one cornerback on the field, so there may have some confusion on the sidelines as well as the field. (The phrase "may have been" is big here in Blame Land.) Carthon was all alone when he caught the ball. A linebacker -- some linebacker, we have no idea -- missed the coverage. Edwards missed a tackle.
"We were playing a zone," Edwards said. "I was kind of keying the outside man because [Carthon] hasn't caught many balls. Next thing I know, he's coming upfield."
Said Green: "There was a lot of 'You take him' and 'I'll take him' going on out there. We were playing a lot of defenses. I don't really remember which one we were in on that play. I was on the outside."
So what went wrong?
"We just, on all of the plays, we just didn't do what we were supposed to do."
"I don't know. Somebody does."
And that is . . .
"We'll look at the films," Gibbs said.