By Thomas Boswell
Monday, December 7, 2009
At some point, the Redskins had to play one game that absolutely epitomized everything both right and wrong with them. And, of course, that meant they had to lose in a brutal and bizarre manner, yet not know quite how it happened, what it meant, how to feel about it or what to do next.
In other words, in the last two minutes of regulation and the first series of overtime, the Redskins had to give five separate examples of why they have one of the league's worst records, 3-9, after a 33-30 loss to undefeated New Orleans to add to their misery bracelet. Yet by every NFL measure except the final score, they also were the virtual equal of a Saints team that is now 12-0.
The Redskins can't stop thinking about how close they have come to consecutive wins over the Broncos, Cowboys, Eagles and Saints -- who might all make the playoffs. In fact, they did outscore the four of them combined in the last month, despite a wave of injuries.
"If we just win those [past] three, we're 6-6, and our season is entirely different," said Jason Campbell, who dueled Saints superstar Drew Brees to a virtual draw with Brees throwing for more yards (419 to 367) but fewer touchdowns (two to Campbell's three). "This one stung the most."
But as pros, the Redskins also know the hard NFL truth. "Close" is for losers. As safety Reed Doughty said, "Really good teams find a way to win games. And we're not that right now."
The Redskins, despite injuries, have heart. There's no disputing it. However, the flip side of this reality-check coin it that the Redskins have a rotten record built on a consistent pattern of playing down to awful teams (and often losing), while playing up to good teams (yet usually losing).
Asked if his team had learned the habit of losing, Coach Jim Zorn said, "No. I think each game is unique. There are no superstitions going on, there's no [psychological] stuff going on. We'll find our way."
However, if you come across a bankrupt grandmother who can no longer afford her season tickets and she's holding a Redskin doll with nine hatpins through it, ask her to stop. Enough is enough. They're just a football team, not a rogue state.
For now, however, the Redskins' self-inflicted curse is in full and spectacular force, producing breathtaking blunders:
-- If, in order to lose, the Redskins need to intercept a pass yet somehow let the other team score a touchdown on the same play, they can do it. For years, we'll see replays of Robert Meachem stealing the ball from interceptor Kareem Moore and returning it untouched for a 44-yard touchdown with 22 seconds left in the half.
-- If the Redskins have to miss a 23-yard field goal for a 33-23 lead to virtually ice the game with 1 minute 52 seconds to play, then they can miss it wide to the right, true Masters of Disaster style. The kick was not blocked, mind you. It wasn't a fumbled snap. The Redskins can top that: They missed the equivalent of a high school extra point on a dry day on their own field to blow perhaps the biggest NFL upset of the year.
After the obligatory but sincere mea culpa, Suisham said, "Gee, I sure wish there was something I could do . . . Kind of wish we could get back out there."
-- If, to preserve their lead, the Redskins need to stop the Saints from driving 80 yards to tie the score at 30, then their defense turns to cotton candy and lets Brees complete the drive in a ridiculous 33 seconds. Like a grateful house guest, Brees left 79 seconds on the clock after his 53-yard scoring bomb over LaRon Landry, who, week after week, takes the "safe" out of safety.
"In that situation," Doughty said. "You can't give 'em one big chunk."
The Redskins gave 'em the whole pizza.
-- Oh, there's more. Campbell, on the verge of the best game of his career, threw only one interception in 42 passes. But when did it come? With 35 seconds to play, the score tied and the ball on the New Orleans 45-yard line -- just one good completion from field goal range -- and, worst of all, on first down. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma jumped a predictable "out" route, Campbell threw the ball right to him, and a chance was lost.
"I guess he's faster than I thought," Campbell said.
-- Finally, on the first possession of overtime, Campbell threw a simple swing pass to 275-pound Mike Sellers, who looks like you couldn't knock a football out of his hands with an 18-wheeler. But, when flipped on a tackle, he dropped it. New Orleans recovered at the Redskins 37-yard line. Instead of the Redskins facing third and one at their 39 with a possible winning drive still in progress, can you say, "Ballgame over"?
Brees drove to the one-foot line as if the Redskins were using a nine-man defense. The Saints didn't miss their 18-yard field goal.
On a day when Devin Thomas had his first 100-yard receiving game and Campbell wasn't the least flustered by a Gregg Williams-coached defense, in a game when Brees didn't truly run wild, "only" generating 16 points in the first 58 minutes, the Redskins can take some solace. Provided they build on the past four weeks, instead of using them as an excuse to do what they swear they want to avoid most: pack it in.
"Not going to happen," defensive end Andre Carter said.
In the Redskins' long history, they have seldom lost a more freakish or dispiriting game. "Yes, the most strangest game I've been a part of," Campbell said. It's virtually certain the Redskins have never found a way to lose three straight games in more infuriating fashion.
"We feel like the last three weeks . . . on those days, we believe we beat the teams we played," said Campbell.
The Redskins still have a month left to prove that the last four weeks have been evidence of progress. Instead of being yet more evidence that this is how a losing franchise reinforces its identity.