Even if Dan Miller had not missed two field-goal attempts tonight, the Redskins still would have lost to Cincinnati.
But that won't help him much Saturday when the coaches evaluate the films of this 28-21 defeat at Riverfront Stadium, which completed an 0-4 preseason for the Redskins.
Going into the game, Miller was even, if not slightly ahead, of veteran Mark Moseley. Coming out, after failures from 45 and 37 yards, Miller's only hope is that Coach Joe Gibbs decides to carry two kickers on the 49-man roster, with Miller part of the four-man taxi squad.
Gibbs, however, said tonight he would prefer "not to have two kickers, if possible, because that takes up an extra roster space we need. But this is something we will talk about the next two days before we reach any conclusion."
The Redskins had been trying to trade Moseley, but put those talks on hold until after this game, just in case Miller did not perform up to expectations. Obviously, their caution was well taken, although the coaches still believe Miller has a promising future in the National Football League. That future just may not be now.
"I kicked the ball well, but some nights you do that and they still don't go between the poles," Miller said. "It's obvious I didn't help myself with this team very much tonight. But I still have confidence in myself. I just wish I had done better."
Gibbs also will have to wrestle with some other problems.
He said he was "extremely disturbed" by his team's poor pass defense, which appeared unable to cover the Bengals' corps of talented receivers.
One of his own receivers, Terry Metcalf, played only three downs, plus special teams, after sitting out the previous three games. Now the staff must evaluate his future off that limited amount of work. He got good enough games from receiver Charlie Brown (four receptions) and tight end Clint Didier (one touchdown catch) to tighten the competition at those positions.
Gibbs also was delighted with the play of Wilbur Jackson, who carried 26 times for 78 yards with nary a fumble, and rookie quarterback Bob Holly, who turned his first pro game into more than a learning experience by tossing the scoring pass to Didier.
The Redskins secondary coverage continues to be below previous standards. Bengal quarterback Ken Anderson had an even easier time passing than Buffalo's Joe Ferguson. Anderson completed 23 of 32 passes for 307 yards and four touchdowns, including a five-yarder to Isaac Curtis in the fourth quarter that broke a 21-21 tie.
It wasn't just the completions that bothered Gibbs. It was how open the Bengal receivers seemed to be. On Anderson's first three touchdown passes, there were no defenders near his intended receivers.
"Just blown coverages, pure and simple," said safety Tony Peters. "They are mental mistakes, not physical, so they can be corrected. A couple of patterns we hadn't seen before and we didn't adjust to them very well. There is no reason to panic. We can watch the films and get it straightened out before Philadelphia (the season opener) next week."
Gibbs: "I was extremely disturbed that they were able to take the ball and keep it for those long periods of time. Quite a few of their guys were wide open. We have to figure out if it was an individual breakdown or our schemes.
"We didn't want to be 0-4. Last week we played hard and couldn't win. This week, we chose to keep some people out (John Riggins) and play some others on a limited basis (Joe Theismann, Art Monk). But somewhere in there, you feel like you have to win some games."
The Redskins played the Bengals fairly even, although Cincinnati went with first-stringers, including Anderson, late into the fourth quarter, while Washington was experimenting at a half-dozen positions.
With 3:54 left and Holly at quarterback, the Redskins capitalized on a Mike Clark fumble recovery to take over at midfield. A 15-yard pass to rookie tight end Mike Williams was good for a first down at the 35, but that's where the threat to send the game into overtime ended.
On first down, tight end Rich Caster couldn't hold a pass that bounced off his chest. On second and third downs, Holly overthrew Alvin Garrett. On fourth down, Holly was sacked.
Earlier, he had fared better. On the Redskins' first possession of the second half, he drove them 75 yards for the tying touchdown, ending with the 37-yard pass to Didier, who ran over Bengal Bryan Hicks at the five. Anderson quickly rallied the Bengals for the winning score, which came on Curtis' eighth reception of the game.
"I was very impressed with Bob," said Gibbs of Holly, who once threw for 500 yards in one game at Princeton. "He's improved steadily, faster than any player I've been around. He stood in there and showed a lot of poise. I had a gut feeling about him, the way he kept standing out in practice. That was one reason we made the decision to let Tom Flick out."
Holly completed nine of 19 passes for 118 yards. At one point he was four of five for 67 yards. With this performance, he almost certainly earned a roster spot, probably on the taxi squad, since he is the only young quarterback under contract.
Before he was replaced late in the first half, Theismann also was finding his rhythm. He failed on only two of nine passes and accounted for 140 yards. He also had to scramble five times, for 29 yards, to avoid constant pressure.
His offensive line, which also had difficulty holding out Buffalo's front three, was more impressive blocking for Jackson, who carried 14 times for 58 yards in the first quarter.
The Redskins should have known it wasn't their night on the first series. They used a 23-yard reception by Brown to move to the Cincinnati 17, where a third-down incompletion brought on Miller. He never got off the 34-yard kick because Theismann couldn't handle Russ Grimm's bouncing snap. Theismann was tackled two yards short of a first down.
That set up the Anderson Show. In eight plays, he had his first touchdown pass, a 17-yarder to Curtis, who easily had beaten Monte Coleman and Jeris White. The Redskins came back to tie it on three Theismann completions and the running of Jackson, who carried four straight times from the 18, including the last three.
A 38-yard Anderson-to-Cris Collinsworth pass gave Cincinnati a 21-14 lead with 1:23 left in the half. The Redskins threatened with time running out, but Miller ruined that bid by hooking a 37-yarder.
"We missed some scoring opportunities, but it was our best offensive showing of the preseason," Theismann said. "I'm encouraged by that."
And Anderson was equally encouraged by Cincinnati's offensive output.
"We kept getting guys really open," he said. "On that touchdown to Collinsworth, I almost blew it. He was so open, I just kept thinking there had to be a Redskin sneaking around somewhere, so I hesitated. I'm glad I threw the ball."