The Washington Redskins dearly missed three of their most valued possessions today in the gloom of another divisional loss, this one by 17-3 to the New York Giants:
Left tackle Joe Jacoby.
Wide receiver Art Monk.
A consistent offense.
Due to the surprising severity of injuries to Jacoby's right knee and Monk's left shoulder, neither Pro Bowl player was used today in a game in which both were desperately needed.
Because of those injuries, as well as other reasons, Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was intercepted three times, twice in the Giants' end zone, as the offense again struggled -- nearly halfway through the season -- to find "smoothness and confidence," in the words of Coach Joe Gibbs.
Yet, due to the self-destructive tendencies of every NFC East team, the Redskins (3-4) lost no ground to Dallas (5-2) in what has become a five-team race, with three teams tied for third one game behind the 4-3 Giants.
You figure it out.
"I don't know if we're back to the Chicago situation (a 45-10 loss precipitated five roster moves in a week), but a lot of tough things happened to us today," Gibbs said. "Tough plays going the wrong way for us, players not being able to play . . . We couldn't overcome that against the Giants."
The Giants made it look easy, overcoming three interceptions of their own with tight end Mark Bavaro's 29-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, George Adams' two-yard scoring run in the third and former Maryland kicker Jess Atkinson's 47-yard field goal in the fourth.
Mark Moseley kicked a 47-yard field goal with 4 1/2 minutes remaining in the game to avoid what would have been the first shutout in Gibbs' five years as coach.
Clearly, Monk, the team's leading receiver, was sorely missed. The decision to keep him out of the game with a sprained shoulder took shape Saturday, Gibbs said, after Monk bumped his shoulder on the last play of Friday's practice.
There was some confusion about the severity of the injury, which occurred in the victory over Detroit last week. The Redskins listed Monk Wednesday as probable for the game and a spokesman said Monk was fine after Friday's practice.
And, although Gibbs indicated he had no plans to use Monk at all this afternoon, Monk said he had thought he would be used "sporadically."
"I didn't think I would not play at all," Monk said. "It's hard watching from the sidelines, especially when the team is not doing too well. I told them I'd give it a shot . . . but they wanted to let me sit out this week."
Monk went through some pregame passing drills, but that was it. Jacoby got as far as pregame drills, too, but discovered he couldn't push off on his right leg.
Jacoby strained his knee when he twisted it on the artificial turf at Redskin Park Wednesday and missed two days of practice. He, too, was listed as probable for the game.
"That went right up to game time," said Gibbs.
Left guard Russ Grimm moved to tackle to replace Jacoby, and center Jeff Bostic, who came off injured reserve Saturday, played almost the entire game at Grimm's guard spot. They both drew praise from their coaches and teammates, but things just weren't the same.
"It's hard to put into words," Gibbs said. "You do lose continuity . . . "
Nowhere was that more evident than the running game, which was averaging 183 yards per game but got only 69 yards today, mainly due to the pass-and-a-prayer offense the Redskins had to employ trying to catch up.
Instances arose throughout the game when one could have pictured Monk -- not Calvin Muhammad or Gary Clark or Malcolm Barnwell -- trying to make a catch the Redskins badly needed. It's more difficult to paint Jacoby into such a scene because of the nature of line play, but it's certainly easy to wonder if there would have been seven sacks with Jacoby in the game.
At the end of a scoreless first quarter, after the first interception of Phil Simms, the Redskins moved to the New York eight-yard line with third and six. It was the closest they got to the end zone all game.
Theismann took the snap and looked the same place he looked a week ago in a similar situation -- to Clark at the goal line. Against Detroit, Clark made a leaping catch to set up John Riggins' first touchdown.
Already in this game, Clark had caught passes of 21 and 55 yards, the latter on a perfectly executed fly pattern to the Giants' 12.
Clark cut in front of the coverage and the ball arrived at his shoulder as he neared the goal line. But it glanced off as he was hit by Perry Williams and fell into the hands of cornerback Herb Welch, who wisely downed the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Clark, hands on hips, walked alone toward the corner of Giants Stadium as most of the crowd of 74,389 cheered.
"Art Monk would have caught that ball," Clark said. "I missed the ball. I accept the blame. We could have hit the big play and had the big write-up. Instead, we had a big bust."
Clark ended up with a game-leading 11 receptions for 193 yards, the finest game for a Redskins receiver this season. He was playing Monk's Z position, not the X position he learned this year. Muhammad, who caught his first pass in three weeks today, started in Clark's X spot.
"We threw guys into situations they're not used to," Monk said, although Theismann refused to blame that for the problems passing.
Theismann's third interception was another crushing setback for the Redskins. At the end of the third quarter, on first down from the New York 25, on a play designed to go to tight end Clint Didier, Theismann was forced to scramble and saw Muhammad alone in the corner of the end zone, behind free safety Terry Kinard.
Theismann threw deep and thought Muhammad would come back for the ball. Muhammad thought the ball would come to him and waited. Kinard ran under the pass and had the interception, infuriating Theismann.
"I threw an interception," he said of his rage. "I was angry."
Said Gibbs: "Sometimes scrambles like that can be the greatest plays. This one was typical of the way things have been happening for us."
The Giants' first touchdown relied on some of that bad luck. Linebacker Mel Kaufman, who has had trouble with a pinched nerve in his neck this season, left the game early in the second quarter with the Giants driving in Redskins territory.
Two plays later, Chris Keating, the man who replaced Kaufman at left linebacker, was beaten by Bavaro for a score.