Six turnovers vex Redskins' playmakers in loss to Giants

The Washington Redskins hopes for the playoffs evaporate as they are crushed by the New York Giants.
By Sally Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2010; 9:06 PM

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.Y. - The Washington Redskins have been plagued all season by a shortage of playmakers. But in their 31-7 loss Sunday to the New York Giants, the few they have made the wrong kind of plays. With six turnovers, as well as a blocked punt, fully half of the Redskins' 14 offensive possessions ended in disaster.

What made the performance most baffling was that the assortment of miscues came from players whom the Redskins normally can rely on.

Drive after drive was squandered, with four fumbles and two interceptions, including three of their four possessions in the fourth quarter, to smother any chance of a comeback from a 21-0 halftime deficit at New Meadowlands Stadium. Some were freak accidents and some were simply mistakes.

"I felt all game we had opportunities moving the ball, moving the chains, getting ourselves in position, and it was a lost ball," said quarterback Donovan McNabb, who is the least intercepted quarterback per attempt in the NFL, but contributed three of the turnovers.

The most perplexing giveaway came with 7 minutes 50 seconds left in the third quarter, when McNabb tried to slide at the end of a three-yard scramble, and instead got stuck upright. As he dropped to the turf, he loosened his grasp, and let the ball go.

"I thought I was down," he said. Instead, Corey Webster fell on the ball, recovering it for the Giants.

But perhaps the most uncharacteristic fumble of the game came with 4:41 to go, when tight end Chris Cooley caught a seven-yard pass over the middle from McNabb at the Giants' 31 and turned upfield, seeking extra yardage, only to lose the ball when safety Deon Grant knocked it loose. Afterwards, Cooley spent a long moment on the field, resting on one knee and radiating frustration and disgust. Before Sunday, Cooley had just ten fumbles in his career and had lost only three, none since 2008.

"It absolutely drove us crazy," Cooley said. "I mean, if you look at the fumbles, they're unreal. Look at Donovan's slide, look at my fumble. I'm trying to run and the guy hits the ball. It compounded to become absolute (expletive) by the end of the day. I don't know what else to say."

With their playoff hopes effectively ended at 5-7, the Redskins locker room was virtually silent, save for the occasional profanity, as players searched to explain such a performance with their playoff hopes on the line. Their offense has operated in fits and starts all season, for some good reasons: McNabb has had to absorb Coach Mike Shanahan's new offense, and injuries and a thin roster have reduced the Redskins to looking for playmakers from among undrafted players such as running back Keiland Williams and wide receiver Anthony Armstrong.

Both players have obliged with surprising contributions. Armstrong caught the only scoring pass of the day, a wide open 33-yarder from McNabb with with 4:35 left in the third quarter. But each also contributed a fumble. In some cases, it was a question of trying too hard to make something happen, "trying to take a shot at the end of the game, trying to make a play," McNabb said.

But after 12 games, the Redskins no longer accept lack of depth or a steep learning curve as excuses. "Some days we look like we're doing something, and some days we don't" said wide receiver Santana Moss. "I can't even find an excuse to tell you."

According to McNabb, it may simply be a matter of needing another offseason in order to get the coaching staff and new players attuned to one another. He offered some historical perspective: In 1999, as a rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles, he went 5-11.

"It was somewhat of a similar situation where we found ourselves in ballgames, we just weren't able to pull it out. It was a young team, a team that was trying to jell together that just didn't understand about winning. And the next year, guys spent time in the offseason with each other, communicating, working well with each other." The Eagles went 11-5 in his second season, he noted.

McNabb could point to one positive: when the Redskins weren't giving the ball away, they actually moved it fairly well, with 338 yards of total offense, showing glimpses of what a rhythmic Redskins offense might look like.

For the time being, it was all the Redskins had in the way of encouragement. With a miraculous playoff run probably out of the question, they can only spend the remainder of the schedule playing to make next season a better one.

"You got to put your pride on the line,"McNabb said. "I think for all the guys, this is kind of the test in which you find out who you really are. I think when you're in that locker room and guys are preparing themselves and spending extra time and communicating with each other to try to get this thing changed, that's kind of when you find out what kind of person you have on your team."

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