As promised, though hardly in the manner they intended, the Redskins have been exciting and inventive this season. Each week they find new ways to lose.
That isn't quite fair. There has been one consistent problem, a pattern to Washington's woes these opening three weeks: special teams. For years an arrogant and reckless team cornerstone, they have gone from the Wild Bunch to the Mild Bunch to the Defiled Bunch.
If ever there was a worse performance by kickers, kick returners and men paid well to keep the opposition's special teams common than today, Wayne Sevier does not want to hear about it. He is the Redskin special teams coach, and his hair was mostly gray before these St. Louis blues.
"No way to get around it," he said, not trying to, "we gave up 14 points and lost by 10. It'll be a long week."
It's already been a long, nightmarish three weeks for Sevier. His charges have gotten progressively worse, from the costly fumbled punt against Dallas to the fumbled punt and partially blocked punt against the Giants to today's cardinal sins against the Cardinals: allowing a punt return for one touchdown and punter Mike Connell bobbling a snap from center that led to another.
The 50-yard punt return Stump Mitchell broke began the moment the ball left Connell's foot. It only went 35 yards from the line of scrimmage.
"Not quite a shank," Connell said, "but not good."
Sevier takes it from there:
"A fundamental error," he said. "It wasn't that the players weren't playing hard. He (Mitchell) split us instead of us breaking (him and the blockers) down. We had him surrounded, but instead of getting under control when he started moving with the ball we ran too hard, let him split us.
"We tell our guys: 'When he (the returner) plants himself (after the catch), get under control and make the play.' "
That was in the second quarter, and allowed the Cards to increase a two-point lead to nine. Only center Jeff Bostic and Clarence Harmon even touched Mitchell, or perhaps even saw him. At 5 feet 9, he is an NFL midget.
Dreadful as that was, Connell's mistake early in the fourth quarter was worse. He turned a perfectly placed snap into a 13-yard touchdown drive that lifted the Cardinals' advantage to 23 points.
"Took my eye off the ball for a split second," he said of the bobble that led to his being tackled at the Washington 13. "I didn't look it into my hands. You catch thousands of snaps like that; you take catching it for granted. Guess that's when you drop it."
Those were the worst blunders, though hardly the only. For the others we drift about the dressing room and inquire about:
* Terry Metcalf and Mike Nelms colliding on a kickoff return. "No communication," Metcalf said. "Bad on my part."
* Moseley missing an extra point. "Just missed it," he said. "No excuses. But that was a sign of the day."
Indeed it was, the ultimate shame for a collection of special teamers that were excellent as recently as a month ago.
"I would have bet money we would have had the best special teams ever (in Washington) after the preseason," Moseley said. Considering the quality of kickers and headhunters the Redskins have employed the last decade, that would have been a gaudy goal. But not unrealistic.
"We were phenomenal," he said. "Knocking people down. Covering. Making things happen. I've been here a long time, but this is the first time I've seen this situation. I feel for the coach."
To Redskin fans perhaps developing a lynch mob mentality, the easy target is Sevier (yes, it's pronounced sa-VERE, as in severe punishment). It is not close to entirely his fault. Part of the trouble is the injuries that have demanded the promotion of special-teamers to regulars; part of it is new players manning unfamiliar positions; part of it is decent players simply acting dumb.
"Mel Kaufman was one of our better players in preseason," Sevier said. "But we couldn't use him at all today, because he was playing defense (with linebacker Monte Coleman out with an injury) and nicked. He was playing defense hurt, so we couldn't use him.
"(Kevin) Turner and (Mike) Clark are new since training camp. They're good, but it'll take them a while. In all, we've had a 20 to 30 percent turnover on the teams, three or four guys. And that takes its toll."
Sevier knows he will take most of the public blame, in fact accepts it.
"It's the nature of special teams," he said. "You're supposed to make no errors, and make something happen. But we've got to remember all the good things we did in preseason; there's no reason we can't do them again. Mostly, this has been individual, good athletes temporarily making mistakes."
No, regularly making them.
Coach Joe Gibbs promised a reevaluation. That was a few minutes after the game, when he still was in shock over the embarrassment. We'll excuse the implication that a reevaluation of special teams did not begin when the first cracks appeared. Within the team, nobody works harder than Sevier.
"He looks at each individual on each (special teams) play and grades him," said Dave Butz. "Do you know how long that takes? He also scouts the opposition the same way, each player on each play. He tells each of our players exactly what to expect in a game, and it usually works out that way.
"By no means can you blame the coach."
Fingers will be pointing toward every Redskin corner this week, including the coaches. Theirs is said to be among the most handsomely paid staffs in the NFL. Most of them were hired from very successful teams; all now realize that very good, healthy players make them seem brilliant and several marginal, wounded ones make them seem bumbling.