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Washington Keeps Dropping the Ball

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 4, 2004; Page A01

CLEVELAND, Oct. 3 -- The Washington Redskins sure aren't resembling a team coached by Joe Gibbs.

The Redskins again were haunted by a lack of offensive execution, turnovers and penalties on Sunday as they lost, 17-13, to a struggling Cleveland Browns team and dropped to 1-3 with a quarter of the season in the history books.


Quarterback Mark Brunell and the rest of the Washington Redskins are left searching for answers after a 17-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

Game Day: Browns 17, Redskins 13
 Brunell
Fumbles by Clinton Portis and Laveranues Coles prove costly and the Redskins fall to 1-3 for the season.
Michael Wilbon: It's going to take Joe Gibbs a while.
News Graphic: Anemic offensive numbers tell the story so far.
Gibbs is alarmed by the propensity for turnovers and penalties.
Ground game fails to click, with Clinton Portis held to 58 yards.
News Graphic: Offensive numbers only slightly better than last season.
Lee Suggs's return takes the pressure off Cleveland's Jeff Garcia.
Notebook: Kick returner Chad Morton held out of Sunday.
Play of the Game: Coles fumbles late, sealing Redskins' fate.
Best & Worst

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_____  Week 4 Results _____
Cleveland 17, Washington 13
Pittsburgh 28, Cincinnati 17
New England 31, Buffalo 17
Houston 31, Oakland 17
Indianapolis 24, Jacksonville 17
Philadelphia 19, Chicago 9
N.Y. Giants 14, Green Bay 7
Arizona 34, New Orleans 10
Atlanta 27, Carolina 10
Denver 16, Tampa Bay 13
N.Y. Jets 17, Miami 9
San Diego 38, Tennessee 17
St. Louis 24, San Francisco 14
Monday
Kansas City 27, Baltimore 24
Open Date
Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Seattle

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_____Broncos Basics_____
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It is an improbable start for a team with the highest payroll in National Football League history being led by a Hall of Fame coach whose return in January after an 11-year absence was heralded as just the shot in the arm a once-proud franchise needed to return to glory.

When Gibbs guided the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles between 1981 and 1992, his teams were known for their precision and smart play. While the Redskins' defense has exceeded expectations so far this season, the offense has been sluggish, with only workmanlike production from quarterback Mark Brunell and sub-par performances from running back Clinton Portis, who finished with 58 yards on 20 carries, his third straight game with less than 100 yards.

The Redskins incurred seven penalties, including five in the first quarter, plus two costly turnovers on lost fumbles by Portis -- his third of the season after losing only one all last year with the Denver Broncos -- and wide receiver Laveranues Coles.

"The biggest thing here is we all have to hang together and try and work our way out of it," said Gibbs, still wearing his sunglasses at his postgame news conference. "It's a tough situation for us, but hey, I think a bunch of us have been in tough situations before. Right now, it's penalties, mistakes and turnovers. We hurt ourselves."

The Redskins scored first and led 10-3 at halftime and 13-10 less than a minute into the fourth quarter before surrendering the lead to Cleveland for good with about seven minutes left.

The Redskins still had a chance to pull the game out with about two minutes left on second and 10 from their 27-yard line. Brunell whipped a pass that Coles went high to snag for a 12-yard reception. But Coles was hit hard by linebacker Kevin Bentley and the ball popped loose. Cleveland defensive back Earl Little pounced on the football, eliciting a roar from the crowd of 73,348.

"Guys like myself, the team depends on to make plays," Coles said. "Right now I'm not doing it. I've dropped balls. I've fumbled the ball. Now, I just need to evaluate myself and try to get better."

The Redskins locker room was funereal after the game as players changed into their clothes. Defensive tackle Joe Salave'a, wearing an ice pack on his right elbow, sat for several minutes staring at the ground. Tackle Chris Samuels wore a black shirt, black slacks and black leather shoes to capture the mood.

Virtually every player was stumped when asked to explain Washington's woes -- they cited the intense preparation the Redskins have gone through since Gibbs's first minicamp in March.

"Nobody believes we're a 1-3 team. If you go up and down our roster, you won't believe we're 1-3," Portis said. "But we have to find some way to get the job done. We're stinking it up. The offense has to contribute."

Portis, with Brunell, was the team's biggest offseason acquisition as the Redskins spent more than $70 million in signing bonuses to assemble a lineup in Gibbs's image. The total payroll is more than $110 million, breaking the record of $102 million spent by the Denver Broncos in 2001, according to the NFL Players Association.

Washington started off the season in good form, winning its opener, 16-10, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But Washington lost, 20-14, to the New York Giants the following week, committing seven turnovers, and 21-18 last Monday night to the Dallas Cowboys in a game marred by poor clock management and several miscues.


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