Redskins Suffer Chilling Defeat
By Richard Justice
Washington Redskins quarterback Gus Frerotte could take no more, not on this miserable afternoon of mistakes and frustration and pain. His interception had sealed a 20-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and as the few remaining fans booed him and a bone-chilling rain swirled through Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, Frerotte could not take another step.
Almost alone on his sideline, Fre rotte dropped to one knee and cried. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, teammate Jeff Hostetler wrapped an arm around him and whispered a few words. Tight end Jamie Asher did the same.
Frerotte needed only a moment to gather himself and make his way inside, but his show of emotion spoke volumes about what the Redskins were thinking and feeling on an afternoon when they broke down in so many areas, when they looked like a team going nowhere in 1997.
"Our guys fought, and they'll continue to fight," Coach Norv Turner said. "Everyone in our locker room knows this was a winnable game. We just need to make more plays."
The defeat was their third in four games and dropped them to 4-4. They're still in the thick of the NFC East race, where the Giants are 6-3, and the Eagles and Cowboys also are 4-4. But six NFC teams, including the Giants, have better records than the Redskins. And with only six NFC teams going to the playoffs, the Redskins once again look like the longest of longshots in a season when optimism ran so high.
The Ravens (4-4) did not simply beat them. They beat them badly. They dominated their decimated defense, with running back Bam Morris gaining 176 yards on 36 carries. Morris was the reason the Ravens had the ball for a numbing 35 minutes, showing the entire NFL that if a team can muster some strength between the tackles, it can defeat the Redskins.
"We knew they were going to run, and they did it," defensive tackle Marc Boutte said. "It's very discouraging. We talked all week about stopping the run, and we couldn't do it. Bam is a load, but this is going to happen every week until we stop it. We've just got to play better."
The Redskins began the game with a weak defensive line, and when it ended, they were in even worse shape. Two of their healthy defensive ends, Jamal Duff and Rich Owens, left with injuries, forcing coaches to use rookie linebacker Greg Jones at defensive end for much of the afternoon.
No matter how well the linebackers or defensive backs play, the Redskins showed once more that they can't survive with this defensive line. Sources said management presented unsigned defensive tackle Sean Gilbert with a sweetened proposal in the past few days, and pressure surely will increase to sweeten it even more this week.
Then again, if the offense doesn't get going, Gilbert won't make much difference. Even with Morris pounding out big yards all afternoon, the Redskins could have won if they had produced almost anything in the passing game.
Frerotte will take a lot of the blame for completing just 17 of 33 passes for 199 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He deserves the blame became he missed a variety of open receivers-eight by one count.
Asked the standard question about still having confidence in Frerotte, Turner responded with an abrupt: "Yes."
If Turner is considering making a change, he certainly wasn't going to say so in the emotional aftermath of a loss. Yet, he also realizes Frerotte had plenty of company. Wide receiver Henry Ellard dropped two passes. Leslie Shepherd and Asher also appeared to let catchable balls get away. And offensive tackle Darryl Ashmore, subbing for injured Ed Simmons, was flagged for two costly penalties late in the game.
In 11 possessions, the Redskins were held to one first down or less six times. They took the opening kickoff and crisply drove 46 yards, then had only one drive that long the rest of the afternoon. Brian Mitchell's 61-yard kickoff return set up their first touchdown-a 15-yard pass to Shepherd-and until late in the third quarter, it was their only touchdown.
Even Turner appeared to lose his nerve late in the game. His team trailed 20-14 with 6 minutes 42 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. The Redskins had gotten a chance to take the lead at 9:25 when Jones forced a fumble by Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde at the Baltimore 25-yard line.
The Redskins drove to the 7-yard line. On fourth and two, Turner decided to go for the first down. But when the Ravens called timeout, Turner changed his mind and sent Scott Blanton in to kick a 26-yard field goal that made it 20-17.
"We were going to run a play," Frerotte said. "We had them outnumbered on a certain side. When they called timeout, it gave them time to figure it out."
The Redskins got the ball back with 3:20 remaining. Three plays later, they were at their 5-yard line and were forced to punt.
Baltimore ran three plays and punted it back to the Redskins with 1:52 left, giving Frerotte and the offense a final chance. Frerotte opened with a 21-yard pass to Ellard. Then Ellard dropped a throw at midfield. Mitchell gained seven on a screen pass, then Ashmore was called for holding rookie linebacker Peter Boulware.
Frerotte missed Asher on third down, then Mitchell took a Frerotte throw and bulled his way for the first down with 46 seconds left.
Then came Frerotte's final throw. Hoping to get the ball to Mitchell, he found Baltimore safety Bennie Thompson, who tipped the ball in the air. Linebacker Ray Lewis intercepted at the 50 and returned it 18 yards.
For a long time, it didn't look like it would come down to the fourth quarter. The Ravens turned their first possession into a 13-yard touchdown pass from Testaverde to Derrick Alexander. The Redskins answered with Frerotte's touchdown pass to Shepherd.
Then the Ravens got the ball back and kept it for more than 11 minutes, time enough for Morris to carry it 11 times for 54 yards. His final run of the drive was a four-yard touchdown play that gave Baltimore a 14-7 lead.
Baltimore's Matt Stover kicked a 34-yard field goal early in the second half, giving the Ravens a 17-7 lead. The Redskins got back in the game with a 60-yard drive that ended with Frerotte's six-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell. Morris led another scoring drive, this one ending with Stover's 28-yard field goal that made it 20-14.
Blanton's kick got the Redskins within three points, but for the third time in four weeks, they were unable to make enough plays to close it out. The loss was the first in their new home.
"This is the NFL," Redskins cornerback Darrell Green said. "It doesn't always go well. You have to stay focused. We'll show up Wednesday and forget this one."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company