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Washington Keeps Dropping the Ball

The Browns seemed like the perfect opponent for a team trying to regain its self-assurance. Cleveland was without seven starters because of injuries, and the Browns' offense was one of the league's worst.

"We've got the coaches, we've got the players, it's just not there right now," Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot said. The Redskins converted only 1 of 11 third-down plays Sunday, but the offense's main problem once again was its running game. Portis was one of the league's top tailbacks with Denver, becoming only the third rusher in NFL history to amass at least 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons. But Portis has been mediocre since his first carry as a Redskin went for a 64-yard touchdown in the season opener. Time after time Sunday, Redskins players said, the Browns yelled out Washington's run schemes before stuffing Portis near the line of scrimmage. "We're changing plays every week," Portis said, "but for teams to know where we're going before we get there is tough. That's a disadvantage. Somehow they knew everything we were doing."

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)

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Around the Washington area Sunday afternoon, the mood among Redskins fans was somber as they contemplated how their team could have lost again and wondered whether things are all that different, after all, than they were under Steve Spurrier the previous two years, and Marty Schottenheimer, Norv Turner and Richie Petitbon before then.

Although some were reminded that the Redskins started 0-5 in Gibbs's rookie season as a coach in 1981, only to win the Super Bowl the following year, the disappointment after the team's first four games this year was palpable.

"There was just so much excitement that when he came back he was going to turn everything around," said Sanford Hoffman, 39, an insurance salesman from Germantown. "But he just can't get the team together."

"I'm not going to cheer for the Redskins anymore because they don't merit being cheered for," said Amy Smith, 23, an Annapolis resident who works for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "They lose every game."

Patrick Delaney, the bartender at Park Bench Pub in Cleveland Park, said he rarely hears the team's name mentioned now without an expletive modifying it. "There is just such disappointment," he said.

Fans watching the game at Bedrock Billiards in Adams-Morgan said the initial expectations created by Gibbs's coming out of retirement made Sunday's loss all the more painful.

"This low would just be an average low if it were any other coach," said Erica Hoffmann, 35, an Adams-Morgan resident who works at a used book store and wore an oversized Redskins jersey for the Browns game. "But because it's Gibbs, it feels like plummeting down a cliff."

Hoffman took a swig of beer and deep drag on her cigarette, and added: "The bloom is off the rose."

Washington Post staff writer Amit R. Paley in Washington contributed to this report.

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