More than the game’s 16 punts or 26 incompletions, what caused so many viewers to voice alarm via social media about the NFL’s Thanksgiving nightcap between the Washington Redskins and New York Giants was the threadbare condition of the playing surface at FedEx Field.
Captured by aerial cameras, the field appeared more dirt than grass, with a charred, brown streak running the length of its heavily traveled middle third. And when quarterback Kirk Cousins threw his lone interception while leading the Redskins to a 20-10 victory over their foundering NFC East rival, it appeared that he had gotten a foot snagged in what passed for turf.
Coach Jay Gruden acknowledged Friday that Cousins’ foot-slip “very well could have” played a part in the turnover. But the coach made clear he saw nothing amiss about the field and had no vantage point for gauging, noting, “I’m not out there with cleats on,” and saying he was content to leave field conditions to the grounds crew.
But the NFL Players Association “will take a look at the matter,” according to a source familiar with the situation.
“That turf has been an issue off and on for some time,” the person said, speaking on a condition of anonymity because no formal inquiry by the league or union had been announced.
The Redskins asked The Washington Post on Friday to send its inquiry about the field via email. In response to seven questions — about the type of turf, the date of its last re-sodding and plans for future re-sodding, among other issues — Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie called it “a non-issue.”
“Our field was in good condition last night, although a recent freeze made the Bermuda grass turn brown between the numbers,” said Wyllie, Redskins senior vice president of communications, explaining the team would offer no further details.
Among the viewers jarred by the roughness of the field was former Redskins offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus, now retired, who also played for Denver, Seattle and Atlanta during an eight-year NFL career.
“Having played on the Redskins field for 4 years, it blows my mind that they haven’t switched to turf…” Polumbus tweeted midgame.
On Friday morning, in response to follow-up questions on social media, Polumbus tweeted: “The field is a joke and a danger. Just go to artificial turf. Been this way forever.”
The NFL, however, saw nothing amiss with the field Thursday night and received no complaints about it, according to Michael Signora, the league’s vice president of football communications. In an email exchange Friday, Signora wrote that the league was aware that the Redskins had re-sodded the field, referring a question about the date to the team, which declined to answer.
According to Signora, the field complied with NFL standards when it was tested as part of their league’s mandatory field practices. “NFL Football Operations personnel at the game observed no issues with the quality of the field,” Signora wrote, “and we have received no complaints about the surface, either yesterday or today.”
In terms of aesthetics, however, the field looked neglected and served as a squalid stage for a nationally televised NFL game hosted by the league’s fourth-most valuable franchise. According to Forbes magazine’s 2017 valuation of sports franchises, the Redskins are worth $3.1 billion — trailing only the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and New York Giants.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and his partners bought the team in 1999 for roughly $800 million. Snyder also owns FedEx Field, which is expected to be replaced in the next decade.
Speaking on 106.7 the Fan’s “Grant and Danny Show” on Friday, Cousins conceded that FedEx Field “probably doesn’t look like a professional NFL field should, first of all.”
Cousins predicted it would pose “a bigger challenge” in the two remaining home games, Dec. 17 and 24, as winter weather intensifies.
“I don’t know why it is that way or what causes it,” Cousins said. “I’ve kind of learned to accept it and understand it’s part of the deal. Playing here on the field has never been that great in the second half of the season for whatever the reason.”
The condition of the Redskins’ home field has been a source of controversy and late-season unsightliness for years.
A 2015 ranking of NFL fields by Sports Illustrated, compiled with experts in field quality and construction, ranked the FedEx surface 26th among the league’s teams.
“The warm-weather [Bermuda] turf has turned to nearly all hard dirt during past winters, a process easily navigated through with money allocated for re-sodding,” Sports Illustrated wrote. “A wealth of turf farms in the area should mean that Washington has a better natural field, but the fact they don’t is on the ownership.”
The article also cited the catastrophic knee injury suffered by former Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III in a January 2013 playoff loss to Seattle. A Seahawks defender tore his anterior cruciate ligament on the same surface, and speculation turned to the turf’s role in both injuries.
“It’s a horrible field,” Seattle Coach Pete Carroll told a Seattle radio station the next day. “It’s as bad as a field can get for being dry. And it’s too bad. It’s really too bad, and we deserve better. . . . It just was worn out. And there was a lot of slipping and all that kind of stuff.”
Griffin, who was never quite the same quarterback after the injury, was asked about the condition of the surface after the game and said, with a smile: “It’s just part of our home-field advantage.”
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