Thomas Boswell Comments on the Washington Redskins' Loss to the Dallas Cowboys
Confidence and doubt are the constant fickle companions of every NFL team. The mounting hopes of September can become the nagging fears of November. Where do you end in December? Will you play in January?
All the questions, and all the emotions, are back on the table for the Redskins after their second straight loss at home -- this time 14-10 on Sunday night to the despised Cowboys -- and their fifth consecutive lackluster game.
A couple of early wins on the road in Dallas and Philadelphia can make a team dream of anything. What gumption, what a knack for pulling out close games. And that rookie coach Jim Zorn, he's got a few new tricks to teach the league, doesn't he?
But a pair of losses to start November, when the mean Steelers and now the previously discombobulated Cowboys come into your own stadium and give you a thumping, storm your quarterback off his feet and twist your offense into knots, that alters the feeling. And the season.
You could see that conflict in the Redskins' faces after they squandered a fourth-quarter lead, were outgained 315 to 228 in total yards and surrendered 153 yards rushing and receiving to Marion Barber in white-towel-waving FedEx Field. In the Redskins' words, the two emotions fought for control. There was pride in their 6-4 record, but plenty of concern and maybe some confusion, too.
"There's a lot to be done at work tomorrow to access the situation. We'll challenge our players," said Zorn, who resorted to a quick short-passing game out of necessity. "It was our best opportunity to keep our quarterback upright. When your primary concern is just keeping your quarterback vertical, winning football games gets hard. If we could just get a little more time, there were some big things open down the field. But we didn't give Jason [Campbell] time to get them there."
A kind of wistfulness, odd in pro football, hung around Zorn and several of his team leaders. Maybe it was the midnight hour or the certainty that, like all their games this season, except their losses to the Giants and Steelers, either team might have won.
"Now is the time we are really playing for our season. It's a battle," said Campbell, who constantly dodged rushers, called audibles or scrambled to complete 22 of 34 passes for only 162 yards, one two-yard touchdown flip to Mike Sellers and one interception. "Tonight would have been a huge win for us. We could have really put Dallas in a hole. Now they're 6-4, too.
"The Giants have nine wins, Carolina eight and we could have had seven along with Tampa Bay. We'd have been one of the top four teams [in the NFC]."
Instead, the Redskins are back in the scrum with almost too many teams to mention. "Now we have to hope things bounce our way," said Campbell. "And we've got to get on a winning streak."
Just as the first five games started to paint a pretty portrait, the last five games have scribbled a mustache on the Mona Lisa. After being beaten by the lousy Rams (2-8) at home, the Redskins barely topped the Browns (3-6) by a field goal at home. After struggling to put away the awful Lions (0-9), the Redskins got crunched by the Steelers, 23-6. And now this -- being beaten in almost the same fashion, with the Cowboys in control of both lines of scrimmage, in which they won in Dallas seven weeks ago.
"We didn't stop the run as well as we usually do," said linebacker London Fletcher. "They didn't wear us down. But the last two times they had the ball, we didn't execute the way the defense was called."