LANDOVER, Md. — On a miserable, cold and rainy day at FedEx Field, an up-and-coming Arizona Cardinals team exposed the Washington Redskins’ one gaping hole.
His name is Tony Banks and he is the weakest link.
Sure, the Redskins won 20-17 and finished an admirable 8-8 after starting the season 0-5. Sure, running back Stephen Davis is the man. The Redskins’ human bulldozer moved the Arizona defense back for 148 yards on a season-high 38 carries en route to breaking his own single-season Redskins’ rushing record of 1,405 yards set in 1999.
And yes, the Redskins defense is a stout bunch, limiting the Cardinals to no points in the second half and only 142 passing yards for the game, even with star linebacker LaVar Arrington missing all of the fourth quarter with a sprained knee.
However, not even 74-first half yards from Davis could hide the fact that Banks struggled in Marty Schottenheimer’s run-first offense. With quarterbacks David Carr of Fresno State, Joey Harrington of Oregon and Ken Dorsey of Miami in this year’s NFL draft and a sturdy backup in Kent Graham waiting in the wings, Banks’ days may be numbered as a starter for the Redskins.
Three examples of Banks’ ineptitude stood out from the first half, where the Redskins scored just six points on two Brett Conway field goals: First, on third-and-eight near midfield, Arizona Cardinals defensive back Adrian Wilson stepped in front of Michael Westbrook, picked off a telegraphed pass by Banks and galloped untouched for a 61-yard touchdown giving Arizona a 7-0 lead.
Example two came with Washington driving down the field midway through the second quarter. With Rod Gardner standing wide open on a deep curl pattern, Banks opted for a short first-down out attempt to Westbrook. While the play went for a first down, it was clearly an oversight by Banks. Gardner was jumping up and down waving for the pass with no one in the Arizona zone defense within five yards of him.
The final example came later in the drive when another pass to Westbrook fell harmlessly short on a simple curl pattern at the 10-yard line. It was an easy play to execute and Banks still one-hopped the ball into Westbrook’s arms.
The Redskins had to settle for their second field goal, cutting the deficit to 14-6 with 3:51 left in the half.
The fate of Banks, a free agent, may also apply to little-used Westbrook, who ironically caught a team-high five passes for 62 yards and was thrown to on four other occasions. One of those came on a deflected pass when Banks threw the ball up for grabs and Westbrook happened to be in the right place at the right time.
By bringing in a proven winner in Schottenheimer this year, the Redskins had high expectations, especially after a lackluster 2000 campaign where they finished 7-9 in what was supposed to be a Super Bowl-contending year.
Instead of immediate success, the Redskins stumbled out of the gate, losing five straight in pathetic fashion. Granted, not all of those losses can be put on Banks’ shoulders.
However, after righting their ship with five straight wins, four of them with Banks starting, the Redskins lost three of their next five games, all of them at home.
During that stretch, Banks simply didn’t make enough things happen to complement Davis’ running.
At a post-game press conference, Schottenheimer said he was extremely proud of Banks and that this team had as much heart as any he’s coached. However, he also said we “need a player here and a player there” to achieve his primary goal, which is winning the Super Bowl. In an offense so clearly geared around Davis, one can’t help but wonder whether Banks is actually a player the Redskins need in 2002.
So as the Redskins’ tumultuous 2001 season came to a close, maybe it was appropriate that Banks was sidelined with a sprained knee in the Redskins’ game-winning drive. Like so many other games this year, Davis has had to carry the load, with or without the help of Banks.