For Redskins, a Dead Giveaway

Playoff Hopes All but Vanish With Loss to Lowly Bengals

In a game they all but had to win to maintain a realistic shot at making the playoffs, the Redskins hit perhaps their lowest point of the season with an ugly loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 15, 2008; Page E01

CINCINNATI, Dec. 14 -- It was the worst moment of a once-promising season that many players said they feared was all but over. As they walked from the field to the locker room Sunday, the Washington Redskins struggled with the reality of a 20-13 loss to the lowly Cincinnati Bengals.

Disbelief set in along the sideline when they faced a 17-point first-half deficit against the NFL's least-productive offense, but the Redskins still thought they could salvage their playoff hopes with a strong second-half push. What occurred, however, was another disappointing finish for a team that has fallen apart in the second half of its schedule and might be on the verge of a major makeover.

"You don't want to say you're in shock, you don't want to say that you're stunned, but what else can you really say when you walk away from something like that?" safety LaRon Landry said. "You can't really say that we belonged to be in the playoffs and we're shocked we're not going now. The season is what we made it, but I'm disappointed that we're not going to the playoffs. I'm just disappointed about a lot of things, and this is real hard to take."

The Bengals (2-11-1) became the most recent team to outperform the Redskins (7-7) during their 1-5 slide that includes a three-game losing streak. Cincinnati -- last in the league in scoring with an average of 11.8 points through its first 13 games -- took control early and held off Washington's sputtering offense in front of an announced crowd of 63,996 at Paul Brown Stadium.

Even after briefly coming together in scoring 10 straight points to pull within a touchdown of the Bengals at halftime, the Redskins again lacked the finishing kick they displayed during an unexpectedly impressive start that has become a distant memory. Needing one yard for a touchdown and subsequent point-after attempt that would have tied the score on their opening drive of the second half, fullback Mike Sellers fumbled into the end zone, Cincinnati came up with the ball for a touchback and Washington never recovered.

Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis challenged a ruling that Sellers had scored on a rush into the middle of the line on the previous play, and the touchdown was reversed on review. "We didn't think he got in," Lewis said. "I thought his progress was stopped prior to scoring."

The Redskins gave the ball to Sellers again on third down, and he fumbled. Head coach and play-caller Jim Zorn threw his challenge flag about 20 yards, but the play stood as called, and the Redskins left the field in frustration.

Running back Clinton Portis rushed six times on the drive but did not touch the ball on the final three plays. "They had a great push," Sellers said of Cincinnati's defensive front. "By the time I got to the line of scrimmage, I pretty much had nowhere to go."

Said Zorn, "That play right there, that little drive that kept us from going in and tying the ballgame up, created a major flip" in momentum.

In the fourth quarter, the Bengals went on a 16-play, 41-yard drive -- place kicker Shayne Graham's 45-yard field goal extended the lead to 20-10 -- as Washington's defensive problems continued. In losses to Dallas and Baltimore during the 1-5 stretch, Washington's defense was ineffective on key drives in the final quarter.

Against the Bengals, Shaun Suisham kicked a 36-yard field goal for the Redskins in the final two minutes, but they failed to recover his onside kick, the ball bouncing out of bounds along the right sideline. Cincinnati quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (209 yards, one touchdown pass) kneeled three times to run out the clock and push the Redskins to the brink of elimination from playoff contention.

Although the Redskins mathematically still are in the hunt for an NFC wild-card berth, qualifying for the postseason no longer is their focus. Just ending a late-season slide and playing with pride in their final two games tops the team's revised to-do list, some players said, even though their new reality is painful to accept.

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