By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
The story line of the Washington Redskins' loss in Green Bay was a typical one for the team. The Redskins arrived in Green Bay riding a 34-3 thrashing of Detroit and dominated the Packers in the first half. Then, on a misty day and a slick field, the offense failed in the second half and the Redskins lost, 17-14.
Twice this season, the Redskins (3-2) have made statements of intent with victories over NFC opponents, only to blow second-half leads the following week and lose games they might have won.
Since Coach Joe Gibbs and his staff took over in 2004, the Redskins have just two stretches of three wins or more -- a three-game run to open the 2005 season and a five-game streak to close out 2005. They seemed poised for a third such streak last month, opening 2-0 and leading the then-winless New York Giants, 17-3, at home at the half. But they were outscored 21-0 in the second half. The Redskins rebounded against Detroit, then relapsed at Green Bay.
For players and coaches, the outcomes have become far too familiar, but there is no simple solution to the pattern, they say. Gibbs and the coaches continue to emphasize the importance of each game -- Sunday's game against the wounded Arizona Cardinals being no exception -- and attempt to steel the team against letdowns. Still, the tendency to falter after each triumph persists.
"We can't afford to give games away and not make plays in crucial situations like we did Sunday," said tailback Ladell Betts, a 2002 draft pick. "We're just not at that level where we can afford to do that, and until we learn that, we're going to continue to go up and down. There's a fine line between being good and being great, and I think right now we're a good team that's trying to learn how to be great."
During Gibbs's second tenure, the Redskins are 24-29 in 53 regular season games, with eight victories coming during two winning streaks in 2005. In the other 45 games, the Redskins have won back-to-back games just twice (the first two games of 2007 and in the third and fourth weeks of the 2006 season). Frequently, the loss came because the team let leads slip away: The Redskins have lost 12 games despite having a halftime lead since 2004, most in the NFL. They have lost six of the last nine games they led at halftime, dating from last October.
"In general, we all knew what was at stake [Sunday], just like this coming week," Gibbs said. "This is what we try to do. We say, 'Hey, this is how important this is,' and I think our guys knew it. And you always look at it, 'Hey, you have a big win one week,' and that's always my concern: Everybody brags on you for a week and everything, how does that affect you? But going into Green Bay, I don't think there's any way we could have said" any more.
In Gibbs's first game in his return to the team, the Redskins beat Tampa Bay, 16-10, in September 2004. The next week, the Redskins committed seven turnovers and lost, 20-14, at Giants Stadium. That December, the Redskins pounded those same Giants, 31-7, at FedEx Field, a victory that marked the first time the Redskins topped 20 points that season. They dominated Philadelphia statistically the following week but lost, 17-14, committing 12 penalties.
In October 2005, the Redskins hammered San Francisco, 52-17, then lost, 36-0, to New York the following week. That November, the Redskins topped Philadelphia, 17-10, and seemed ready to start a playoff march, then fell 36-35 at Tampa Bay the next week, losing on a two-point conversion despite holding the ball for nearly 34 minutes and amassing nearly 400 yards of offense.
"The finishing aspect is the most frustrating thing," said linebacker Khary Campbell, who has been with the team since 2004. "When you're close to feeling a victory and then it doesn't happen, I think that's the most frustrating part about it. Everyone is working hard and trying to take our team to the next level -- and I think the whole team has that intention of wining games and being a contender in the league -- but we're not finishing it all the way to the end. You know you can do it, but then again it's just not getting done."
In 2006, the Redskins beat a strong Jacksonville team to pull to 2-2, then fell, 19-3, to the reeling Giants, who had given up 92 points in their previous three games and seemed on the verge of mutiny. That November, the Redskins beat Dallas, 22-19, to remain in the playoff hunt at 3-5, then were blown out the next week by a Philadelphia team that had lost three straight games. On Nov. 26, the Redskins' pass defense shut down Steve Smith, Carolina's star wide receiver, and quarterback Jason Campbell earned his first NFL win in a 17-13 victory over the Panthers; seven days later, the Redskins wasted a halftime lead at home against sputtering Atlanta, and the Falcons snapped a four-game losing streak at Washington's expense.
Last December, the Redskins earned their biggest victory of the season at New Orleans, derailing a surging Saints team that would go on to the NFC championship game. A week later, they blew a halftime lead at St. Louis, gave up 398 yards after the half and fell, 37-31, in overtime.
"Whenever we decide that we want to finish guys off, and actually do it in a professional manner and not kill ourselves, we'll be good," injured guard Randy Thomas said. "We need to get over that hump. We've got to put a streak together, no matter what it takes."