By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 18, 2006
IRVING, Tex., Sept. 17 -- Nobody in the Washington Redskins' locker room knew how to explain why they were heading home winless after being thoroughly beaten, 27-10, on Sunday night by the Dallas Cowboys. They did not know what the specific problems were, certain only in what they were not.
On a night when quarterback Mark Brunell was sacked six times and threw the crucial interception that changed the momentum of what was a tense, albeit flawed, game, wide receiver Santana Moss said the problem was not his quarterback.
"I'm still confident. I'm confident in everything we're doing," he said of Brunell, who completed 18 of 33 passes for 197 yards. "It's not him. I'm sure of that. Maybe it's me. Maybe I have to help him more."
Defensive end Renaldo Wynn did not think there was a problem with a defense that had become the dominant personality of the Redskins. But in last week's opener against the Minnesota Vikings and again against the Cowboys, it gave up huge, drive-sustaining plays on third down, committed costly personal fouls and, except for one instance in the third quarter Sunday, was unable to sack Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
"Everything we need is still here in this room. I believe that," Wynn said. "That magic isn't here the way it was last year, but we can get back to that. This is not the time to panic. We're down, looking up at the rest of the division right now, but we have to turn this around. And it starts in practice."
Nor did Coach Joe Gibbs believe there was one specific deficiency that caused the Redskins to lose last week in the final seconds and Sunday night find themselves overwhelmed by a Cowboys team that sputtered through a malaise of dropped passes and drive-killing penalties only to seize control during a crucial sequence in the final four minutes of the third quarter.
The factors that contributed to the whole were not insignificant. Playing again without starting running back Clinton Portis on offense and starting left cornerback Shawn Springs, the Redskins found themselves in a 10-0 hole and teetering on the verge of being blown out early.
The inability of the offense -- Washington spent heavily on wide receivers yet did not attempt deep passes with any frequency -- to convert third downs has left it largely unable to gain momentum. Six times out of 14 possessions the Redskins went three-and-out. After being shut out last week, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd caught one pass for six yards. Antwaan Randle El caught two passes for eight yards.
"We need to figure out how to get first downs," said right tackle Jon Jansen. "We've got to stay on the field. We've got to keep our defense off the field."
Defensively, for the second straight week an opposing offense mastered the combination of pass protection against the Redskins' front four while attacking a secondary that has proven itself seriously vulnerable. Like Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson, Bledsoe had time to throw and went after cornerbacks Carlos Rogers, Mike Rumph and Kenny Wright, all of whom were called for penalties in covering wide receivers Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens, who broke his finger and will miss two to four weeks. In the game, the Redskins were flagged 11 times for 117 yards.
In the first half the Redskins stole the game's momentum back by virtue of the defense pummeling the Dallas skill players and with Rock Cartwright's 100-yard kickoff return that turned a 17-3 score into a close game. However, the deciding sequence began with the Cowboys leading 17-10 with 4 minutes 32 seconds left in the third quarter, when Dallas running back Julius Jones was stripped of the ball by Redskins safety Sean Taylor at the Dallas 42. Linebacker Marcus Washington recovered the fumble and took it to the Dallas 39.
For a defense frustrated last week by its failure to take advantage of opportunities, Washington's recovery represented the first game-changing play of the season. It also marked a pivotal moment as the Redskins had begun to assert themselves physically.
Moreover, the play was vindication for a defense that last week was unable to make a play as the Vikings took the ball downfield for the winning score.
But on third and nine from the Dallas 21 -- already in field goal range -- Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell lofted a pass toward the left end of the goal line for tight end Chris Cooley. Dallas safety Roy Williams -- the same Williams who was burned last year by two Santana Moss touchdowns that gave the Redskins an improbable victory in Week 2 -- drifted to the corner and intercepted the ball at the 1.
The game was decided on the next series, when the Cowboys -- aided by a pass interference call on Rogers and a 15-yard personal foul on Wright -- went 99 yards, culminating in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Bledsoe to Glenn on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"That was the difference," said defensive end Phillip Daniels. "At that point, if we could have scored, it's a different ballgame. But then we go and give it right back to them and let them drive it. We have to prevent them from driving the ball."
The remaining 14 minutes represented the mandate neither team could achieve for the previous three quarters. Brunell was sacked four times in the final quarter, and the Redskins were left to ponder next Sunday's critical game in Houston.
"I'm disappointed," said Jansen of the Redskins' front line protection. "As an offense, we just didn't produce."