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Once-struggling Rams humiliate the currently struggling Redskins

The Redskins fall behind early, come back to take the lead in the third quarter, but fade down the stretch in a 30-16 loss to the Rams.

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By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 27, 2010; 1:17 AM

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When DeAngelo Hall fell on his tuchis in the fourth quarter, it was the Jell-O salad on the buffet of humiliations served up by the St. Louis Rams on Sunday afternoon.

Well, no, the final embarrassment was a 30-16 loss to a previously winless team in a game the Washington Redskins really, really needed to win, sandwiched as it is between last weekend's wrenching overtime loss to Houston and next week's Armageddon-style trip to division rival Philadelphia for the Donovan McNabb vs. Michael Vick cage match.

Hall's slip and fall was like one of those old LifeCall commercial: "I've fallen and I can't get up!" The Redskins need to buy those things in bulk, because they have fallen, no doubt. Just two weeks after winning their opener against Dallas in dramatic fashion, the Redskins are 1-2 and reeling.

"I think we didn't play good as a football team in any phase of the game," London Fletcher said. "They outplayed us in every facet: offense, defense and special teams."

The offense is still struggling; the injury to Trent Williams is partially to blame, but the problems seem to go deeper than that. The defense is a sieve, giving up few big plays but dying a death by a thousand cuts, especially on third down.

(Special teams had its ups and downs, literally, the biggest "up" being Phillip Daniels's block of a 21-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half, and the "down" being punter Josh Bidwell's injury during pregame warmups and a resulting blocked punt in the first quarter. After that, Graham Gano did a more than capable job of replacing Bidwell, who was able to hold for Gano on field goals.)

Without Williams, and with Derrick Dockery and Kory Lichtensteiger fighting for the left guard job, the offensive line has yet to jell. By the end of the day it seemed Lichtensteiger had gained the upper hand, and Dockery sat at the end of a bench by himself. But center Casey Rabach said the lack of a healthy lineup featuring the same five guys is not the issue.

"The Dock-Kory thing hasn't been a problem," Rabach said. "I've had a ton of reps with both of them. Everybody needs to get more familiar with this offense and understanding it."

That seems to be a larger, scarier problem: After all the organized team activities and camps and the preseason, the offense is still apparently a work in progress. It shows in a variety of ways, but none more apparent that Sunday's running back shuffle. Clinton Portis had his strongest first-half performance of the season, with six carries for 45 yards, including a long run in the first quarter of 27 yards (which inexplicably ended when he fell down untouched.

In the second half, he got one carry for minus-1 yard. (The team had 115 rushing yards in the first half and one in the second half.) Portis mostly watched from the sideline, holding his helmet.

After the game, Coach Mike Shanahan said that the plan was for Ryan Torain to play on first and second downs and Portis to play in passing situations. That seemed to be news to Portis, although he took the high road in the quiet locker room afterward, saying, "I can't question it," "This is a team playing team ball," and "A loss is a loss" when pressed for a reaction. Despite the platitudes, however, he looked a little shell-shocked.

Asked about his lack of playing time in the second half, he also said, "I'm not really surprised by much."

If that's true, then he might be the luckiest man in Washington, where I'm guessing a lot of people are very surprised at Sunday's performance by the Redskins, especially in two areas: red zone production, or lack thereof, and the defense's inability to get a stop on third down.

The Rams, who are clearly a better team than they were a year ago, converted seven of 16 third downs behind a rookie quarterback and without their starting running back for much of the game. (Heck, they were 2 for 2 on fourth down.)

The Redskins converted just once on third down, and were 0 for 3 in the red zone.

"Kicking field goals is not what we want to be doing down there, obviously," Rabach said. "That's just not us. That's not what this offense is built to do."

We saw glimpses last Sunday of what the offense is built to do, but this team has yet to build any consistency on the line, in the backfield and even at quarterback. McNabb had his least impressive performance of the season (19 for 32, one touchdown, one interception, and a 79.7 passer rating), and as he goes, so go the Redskins' fortunes.

"It's just about being on the same page," he said afterward of the red zone struggles. "There were a lot of miscues. . . . Everything [bad] collectively happened in the red zone."

What remains to be seen is what this game means in the larger picture. In the past few seasons, the Rams have become a bellwether for the local outfit. In 2008, the Rams stunned the Redskins, 19-17, at FedEx Field. St. Louis won just one other game that season. The Redskins, who had won on the road the previous two weeks against Dallas and Philadelphia, spent the second half of that season folding like a rickety card table.

Last year, the Redskins eked out a 9-7 victory over the Rams in Week 2, and while it was a victory, it felt more like a defeat. By the end of that game, fans at FedEx Field were booing their team's first win of the season, and so began the first faint drumbeats calling for then-Coach Jim Zorn's head, or failing that, his job.

And now comes this setback. Can the Redskins make the adjustments necessary to fix their problems? With Philadelphia looming, they'll need to work fast.


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