By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 17, 2008
There was a silence inside FedEx Field last night. It was the kind of silence 90,830 people can make when the euphoria drains from the season and a hated rival is running off the field with arms raised, shouting into the evening chill.
The kind of silence that comes later in a locker room, not from the players' mouths but from the hollow glaze in their eyes, the slumped shoulders and the raised eyebrows that says they worry something could be amiss, that a season could be falling apart and they aren't quite sure how to get it back.
"It's hard to differentiate types of disappointment," Washington Redskins guard Pete Kendall said after his team lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 14-10.
Three weeks ago the Redskins were 6-2 and appeared certain to make the playoffs. Now after two losses at home, they are 6-4 and are in a two-team tie for the National Football Conference's final postseason spot.
But it wasn't these facts that seemed to discourage the Washington players late yesterday evening. It was the sense that they are missing something they can't quite define. Coach Jim Zorn worried about his offensive line's inability to give quarterback Jason Campbell enough time to throw. Linebacker London Fletcher talked about the team's failure to stretch out leads earlier in the game. Kendall fretted that the Redskins have tumbled into a quagmire of other potential playoff teams -- one from which they might not untangle themselves.
After talking to his players following the game, Zorn strode down a hallway toward his postgame news conference. As he walked, a team official handed him a book of statistics from the game. Zorn held the sheets of paper a good two feet in front of him as he walked, staring intently at the list of numbers that seemed to confirm his frustration. He furrowed his eyebrows. Then he shook his head disgustedly.
He opened the door to the conference room, stepped up behind a lectern and let out a long, deep sigh.
He said the players will be as discouraged as he when they watch the game film this week and see how many long passes were open to Campbell -- some perhaps for touchdowns -- if only he could have had the time to see the plays develop.
Instead their game plan simply became trying to keep Campbell "upright," Zorn said. This was how aggressive Dallas's defense was last night.
It is not as if the Redskins are unaccustomed to defeat. Last year, they had to win their final four games to make the playoffs. They have been in far worse situations than this one. There are, after all, more perilous things for a National Football League team to be than 6-4 with games remaining against three of the worst teams in the league, including Seattle, which Washington plays next weekend. But there was an anxiety after this game that the Redskins have lost two in a row at home against playoff-type teams in Pittsburgh and Dallas. More significantly they have lost two games in a row that they appeared to dominate and yet could not pull off.
The Pittsburgh loss they could have written off as an odd occurrence. What seemed like a third of the stadium's stands were filled with Steelers fans waving their signature yellow Terrible Towels, forcing the Redskins to employ what is called a silent count when snapping the ball to the quarterback because his teammates could not hear him. Such measures are almost only used by visiting teams in hostile stadiums, never by home teams in their home field.
But last night FedEx Field seemed to belong to the Redskins again. The vast majority was cheering for the home team, and the towels that waved in the night air were ones handed out by stadium employees at each gate and came with the Redskins' insignia printed across the front. And the fans roared with delight when Zorn chose not to attempt a field goal on a fourth and one from the Cowboys 11-yard line but rather give the ball to his star running back Clinton Portis, whose sprained knee had threatened to keep him out of this game. Portis bulled nine yards ahead to set up a touchdown that came seconds later to give Washington a 7-0 lead.
Yet it was the only touchdown the Redskins were to score. And in the fourth quarter it was Dallas that pulled away, with a touchdown pass from quarterback Tony Romo to tight end Martellus Bennett. This left Cowboys linebacker Zach Thomas to later stand at his locker and say: "Hopefully we'll get our swagger back."
Just as it seems the Redskins have lost theirs.
It was a night in which the Redskins absolutely didn't want to lose, given the despised Cowboys were in town and given that the stadium was alive with the electricity such a game often brings. More than an hour before kickoff the sidelines were filled with people, including Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin and what appeared to be the character who plays the caveman in the Geico commercials. Both wore Redskins jerseys.
Then Cowboys owner Jerry Jones strode from the tunnel wearing a black overcoat and clutching a Sharpie pen and he walked a gauntlet of Cowboys and Redskins fans signing caps, jerseys, T-shirts and anything people thrust in front of him. Soon he had made his way to a place in front of the Dallas bench, where he took a few steps out onto the field and let Cowboys officials bring fans to him to pose for photographs with him.
Jones smiled. He laughed. The fans laughed.
Somehow this was fitting, given the way that four hours later the night would belong to them.