By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 16, 2006
The sheen that gave the Washington Redskins a playoff-bound luminance, born from a taste of the postseason and a heavy-spending free agent period, is weekly losing its brilliance. In its place exists a sobering loss of entitlement, as well as the hard recognition that perhaps they are not the football team they had been forecast, and for the last several months had forecast themselves.
After a humbling 25-22 loss to the Tennessee Titans yesterday at FedEx Field, the fans Coach Joe Gibbs consistently praises and about whom assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said would dictate the Redskins' on-field energy level turned on them.
Fans spent much of the second half booing an offense that over eight second-half possessions produced five punts, gave up a safety on a blocked punt, and produced a sudden, game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion before succumbing to a game-ending interception. Afterward, players took an unvarnished look at their situation.
"Success? Success?" said Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs, who made his season debut yesterday after missing two months with an abdominal tear that kept him out of action since the first preseason game in August. "That's the NFL. It's year-to-year. We haven't had any success. We're an average team. People are running through us. We haven't done anything to make people fear us. Hell, what success?"
The Redskins are 2-4 with a difficult game at Indianapolis waiting Sunday before their bye week, and in the frustration of losing did not want to be saved by the cliche that the winless Titans were a formidable enough opponent, regardless of their 0-5 record. Titans rookie quarterback Vince Young, the third pick in the April draft, completed 13 of 25 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. The Redskins, who over the past two seasons had developed something of a reputation for rattling young quarterbacks, could not shake Young.
Gibbs used an "On Any Given Sunday" defense immediately following the game, but it was hardly accepted by his players.
"What's more disappointing? Losing to an 0-5 team," Springs said. "People say, 'Oh yeah, this is the NFL, and anything can happen.' Nah, nah. It's not supposed to be like that. We're supposed to beat that team at home, if we want to be the team we want to be. I mean, you gotta beat that team.
"I think Vince is going to be a great player. I got to hang out with him at the ESPYs, and he's going to be a phenomenal player, but not yet. Not against us," Springs said. "And when more people get that attitude, like 'We should have whipped them,' then we'll be winning."
The loss did not simply put the Redskins two games behind all three of their NFC East division rivals but revealed a team that appears to have lost its hard-won identity.
Since last season's win streak created a stir of excitement being challenged by their current record, the Redskins had crafted an offensive reputation built on muscle, power and punishment. Victories this season against Jacksonville and Houston were highlighted by a run offense breaking the will of a tired defense, buttressed by a bruising defense that created confusion and battered opponents.
But yesterday's nadir featured neither, even though after taking a 22-14 lead, the Titans committed so many mental mistakes and penalties over the final period and a half that the Redskins players still believed they would steal a victory.
Young overcame a 14-3 first-half deficit by weakening the defense with long, backbreaking drives -- Tennessee was 4 for 15 on third down but produced three drives of 10 plays or more. Meanwhile, the offense faced a Tennessee run defense that entered the game yielding 172 yards per game but gave its complementary runners -- Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El, Mike Sellers, Mark Brunell and Ladell Betts -- nearly as many carries as its workhorse, Clinton Portis, who rushed 14 times for 58 yards.
"We're [upset]. We go through a week of work, banging around, going through all this stuff, to lose this game? No, I don't think so," said Sellers, who assessed the Titans' defensive players as "average guys."
"Some guys have to sit back and look in the mirror and figure out if this is something they want to do, or if they're in it for a paycheck," Sellers said.
The Titans won the time of possession battle over the final three quarters. In the second half, Tennessee held the ball for 19 minutes 24 seconds.
"We have a lot of pride, and the fans booed us, and that was the most disheartening thing," said defensive lineman Renaldo Wynn. "I've never heard that in five years here. I think it was something where they don't think we're playing up to our standards. I think everybody on this team heard it. And that's something that should definitely inspire each and every guy here."
Unlike the last two seasons in which the Redskins' defense was virtually unassailable, the boos also were reserved for a unit that allowed the previously winless Titans to pile up 344 yards of total offense. That came one week after the New York Giants had 411 in a 19-3 victory over the Redskins last Sunday. In that game, running back Tiki Barber ran for 123 yards. Yesterday, the Redskins played without starting interior defensive linemen Joe Salave'a and Cornelius Griffin, and running back Travis Henry rushed 32 times for a career-best 178 yards and a touchdown.
The fans recognized what the players were sensing on the field, and after the game, many players spoke with an unfiltered anger. The Redskins' elevation into that elite group of NFL teams at this point has become nothing more than at least an offseason illusion.
"We've got a lot of football left, but what killed us is ourselves," said defensive end Andre Carter, who notched his second sack of the season. "Right now, we're our own worst enemies."