Redskins' Playoff Hopes Grow More Distant With Loss to Ravens

Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El is wrapped up by Ravens cornerback Corey Ivy. The Redskins lost for the fourth time in five games.
Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El is wrapped up by Ravens cornerback Corey Ivy. The Redskins lost for the fourth time in five games. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 8, 2008

BALTIMORE, Dec. 7 -- When November began, there was reason for optimism among Washington's football players and their fans. The first half of the Redskins' season brought a glimpse of a first-year coach, Jim Zorn, who seemed to have a knack for calling the right play at the right time. The defense appeared stout enough to hold up as the weather turned frigid.

Sunday night, though, brought events that made those joyous times seem even more remote. The Baltimore Ravens all but bullied the Redskins in a 24-10 victory, Washington's fourth loss in five games. In each of those defeats, Zorn's offense has seemed to step back instead of move forward, and Sunday's effort yielded only one touchdown, a fourth-quarter score set up by a Baltimore turnover that was just about the Redskins' only true threat on a frigid night.

Thus, with each of these losses, the playoffs -- which at midseason seemed all but certain for the Redskins, who started 6-2 -- appear less and less likely. At 7-6, they are in last place in the National Football Conference East division, and while winning their remaining three games would bring an improvement over last year's record, it would ensure nothing regarding the postseason.

"You look at it: We were 6-2," said quarterback Jason Campbell, who threw two interceptions Sunday night. "And now we're 7-6. You find that hard to believe."

A year ago, the Redskins, under Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, endured the slaying of star safety Sean Taylor and ran off four straight December wins to reach the playoffs. But these Redskins -- who are having trouble sustaining and finishing drives -- failed to draw even with Dallas and Atlanta, who after losing Sunday are both 8-5, and also fell behind Philadelphia (7-5-1) in the race for the postseason.

With either Tampa Bay or Carolina likely to gain one of two wild-card playoff berths in the NFC -- the NFC South rivals stand at 9-3 and face each other Monday night -- the Redskins are essentially facing a three-week finish in which they must sweep Cincinnati, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Even with such a run, they need help from other teams if they are to reach the playoffs again.

"Our backs are up against the wall," offensive lineman Pete Kendall said. "I think we're in a position where we have to win out, and we may need some help. It's less than ideal, the way things are trending at this point."

The trend now includes injuries, and the Redskins will await word Monday on such key players as tackles Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen and safety Chris Horton, all of whom were forced to leave Sunday's game. They will also have to deal with running back Clinton Portis, who was held to 32 yards on 11 carries -- only one after halftime -- and fumbled on what turned out to be the key play of the game. Baltimore safety Ed Reed scooped up the ball and ran for a 22-yard touchdown that gave the Ravens a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into the game. Portis appeared frustrated as he came off the field following the game, mentioning being "benched" in favor of backup Ladell Betts.

"We just felt like we wanted to give Clinton a bit of a rest, and then get him back in," Zorn said. "I let our running back coach kind of regulate who was getting reps there."

The Redskins, though, have larger issues than who is carrying the ball.

"It's tough, man," offensive lineman Randy Thomas said. "You got to look at yourself in the mirror and say, 'Are you doing enough to get the job done?' Personally, I don't think I am. I hope other guys feel the same way."

It is now left to Zorn, the 55-year-old Californian who is in his first year as a head coach at any level, to deliver the message to each of his players, to hold this group together. He found the first step in that process -- his postgame speech -- jarring.

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