TEMPE, Ariz., Nov. 5 In the somber locker room afterward, the signs of frustration were everywhere.
Washington Redskins quarterback Jeff George sat in front of his stall in the basement of Sun Devil Stadium cradling his head in his hands. Wide receiver Albert Connell said nothing. Everyone shouldered a share of the blame and there was plenty to go around today after the Redskins lost, 16-15, to the Arizona Cardinals, the worst team in the NFC East and one of the weakest teams in the NFL.
Redskins quarterback Jeff George, No. 3, is caught going in the wrong direction trying to tackle Aeneas Williams, who returned fumble 103 yards for a touchdown.
(Joel Richardson - The Washington Post)
The Redskins, expected by many to win the NFC East, were stunned to find themselves 6-4--1 1/2 games behind the division-leading New York Giants entering a bye week that no doubt will include much soul-searching.
A nine-point favorite entering the game, the Redskins dominated the Cardinals by almost every measure this afternoon. They gained 431 yards of offense to the Cardinals' 178. And they controlled the ball for 37 minutes 26 seconds. But for the second consecutive week, they gave away the game with mistakes on offense and special teams.
"I can't explain how frustrating it is," left guard Keith Sims said. "This is two weeks in a row we gave a team points. We missed field goals. We can't tackle properly. We run the ball successfully, then we get two or three yards. We can't protect [injured quarterback] Brad [Johnson] or Jeff successfully. We all need to play better. . . . We've really given ourselves an uphill climb to accomplish what we want to accomplish."
Running back Stephen Davis fumbled at the goal line on the Redskins' first possession, and his stunned teammates watched cornerback Aeneas Williams run it back 103 yards for the second-longest fumble return in NFL history.
And in a plot all too familiar to Redskins fans, the special-teams unit had a horrendous outing, contributing to 10 of the Cardinals' points. Kris Heppner missed two field goal attempts, including a 33-yard try that might have won the game. A botched snap prevented his extra-point attempt after the Redskins' only touchdown. And the kickoff coverage unit gave up 183 yards on five returns (MarTay Jenkins' 71-yarder set up a third-quarter touchdown).
"I think we had every opportunity," said tight end Stephen Alexander. "We pretty much gave it to them. We fumbled on the goal line, we missed some field goals. We've just got to play better on offense."
Coach Norv Turner sought to stress the positives in the loss, but flatly admitted: "You can't make those mistakes and win a football game."
Said George, who made his first start for the Redskins, taking over for Johnson: "Guys have to step up and make plays. I have to make plays. What more could you ask from the defense? . . . The bottom line is: I started today. I lost."
Of George, who completed 20 of 39 throws for 276 yards and was intercepted twice (once on a desperation heave as the first half expired), Turner said: "I thought Jeff did a lot of good things, considering he hadn't played. He gave our guys opportunities at times. He missed some guys that I think if he had been playing and been in a normal rhythm, he would not have missed. But again, that's what happens when you jump into a game and haven't played."
The smoke had barely cleared from the pregame fireworks when the Redskins found themselves trailing 10-0.
The offense marched 67 yards to the Arizona 1 in just six plays. But Davis, who hit big gains early, fumbled at the goal line on a hit by linebacker Mark Maddox, and Williams streaked the length of the field for the touchdown.
George's next throw proved costly. Intended for Alexander, the ball landed in the hands of Williams, who returned it 26 yards to the Washington 19. Cary Blanchard kicked a 30-yard field goal to extend Arizona's lead to 10-0, just 7:32 into the game.