Sacked, blitzed and beaten again by Dallas, the Washington Redskins faced a sad truth last night: nine weeks after their first loss to the Cowboys, they haven't changed.
They didn't lose as badly -- just 13-7 this time before a record crowd of 55,750 at RFK Stadium, compared with 44-14 Sept. 9 -- but they fell just as hard.
Again, their passing game was inoperative. They didn't create even one turnover. They couldn't score when they had to. Their fans are grumbling. Again.
Said Gary Clark, who had the Redskins' only touchdown on an 11-yard reception with 13:29 remaining in the game: "All we need is to make that great drive.
"We didn't make it."
Except, perhaps, for a batted pass here or there, one step too few by a defensive back or a tightened right hamstring, the Redskins might not have fallen to 5-5, two games behind Dallas and New York (both 7-3) in the NFC East with six games remaining.
But, for every break that didn't go the Redskins' way, there also was a mind-bending mistake. There were 17 penalties in the game for a total of 125 yards, one more than the Washington running game gained yesterday.
The Redskins, usually so well-behaved, had six of the penalties, and five of those were killers: nullifying a first- or second-down gain and putting the Redskins more than 10 yards away from a first down.
"That's hard for me to understand," said Coach Joe Gibbs.
Certainly, this loss was not nearly as embarrassing as the defeat in Dallas. But it served as a microcosm of the Redskins' problems of 1985; if it has happened this season, it happened in this game.
Beleaguered quarterback Joe Theismann was sacked six times and intercepted three times, giving him 16 interceptions for the season, already more than in his three previous seasons.
Dallas right defensive end Jim Jeffcoat sacked him five times, a Cowboys record.
Washington left offensive tackle Dan McQuaid, replacing all-pro Joe Jacoby, who has a sprained right knee, played opposite Jeffcoat.
"He really went to the bull rush," McQuaid said. "I haven't seen him do that this year. He went straight ahead, stuck his head into my chest.
"It was a bad day."
The Cowboys -- "playing as great as I've seen them play," Theismann said -- took a 13-0 lead into the fourth quarter on field goals of 40 and 36 yards by Rafael Septien and Tony Dorsett's 48-yard touchdown catch.
The Redskins mysteriously found their offense for eight plays across the third and fourth quarters, ending in Clark's touchdown, and then -- poof -- it was gone again.
Theismann completed just 14 of 31 passes for 195 yards. On the Redskins' first drive, from their 29 to the Dallas 23, he appeared to underthrow Art Monk in the end zone as blitzing safety Michael Downs flailed his arms in Theismann's face. Theismann said his hand was hit when he threw.
The result was an interception by cornerback Ron Fellows, who was a step in front of Monk.
"That's a long drive to come away without points," said Gibbs.
The Redskins are a much better team when they are ahead and able to run at will.
They never were ahead yesterday.
The Cowboys quickly drove to their first field goal, converting three consecutive second- or third-and-long plays along the way. They reached the Washington five before quarterback Danny White fumbled when he was sacked by Redskins rookie Dean Hamel. But guard Kurt Petersen fell on the ball as defensive end Dexter Manley overran it, apparently trying to pick it up.
Septien hit a 45-yard field goal on Dallas' next drive midway through the second quarter, but, that time, the Cowboys made a mistake. Tackle Phil Pozderac was spotted lining up in the backfield in an illegal formation, and Septien missed the resulting 50-yard attempt.
What happened next was downright strange. The Redskins had the ball for 10 plays and, four times, a pass Theismann threw was deflected at the line, including a final, fourth-and-two attempt at the Dallas 37.
Ed (Too Tall) Jones lived up to his name with two of them.
"When he threw his arms up, he was 7-foot-3," said Clark. "He was another Kareem out there."
These were "hitch" passes, the quick passes the Redskins were trying to use to counter the blitz.
"The biggest part of the passing game they took away were the hitches," Gibbs said. "That was a big part of what we wanted to do . . . and that was frustrating."
Things only got worse for the Redskins in the third quarter. One of those Jeffcoat sacks actually was a result of Theismann tripping over McQuaid's feet as he fought Jeffcoat. Theismann didn't complete a pass to a Redskin until the last minute of the third period. (He was intercepted by cornerback Everson Walls when he tried to throw deep to Clark.)
Then, finally, the Redskins' defense caved in, albeit briefly. Starting from the Washington 49 after Steve Cox punted from the end zone, Dorsett gained one yard, then White threw incomplete.
On third and nine at the 48, the Cowboys called "63 A Takeoff." Dorsett is the A-back. He lines up as a slot back, hesitates at the line, and then takes off.
The Redskins, said free safety Curtis Jordan, were playing a nickel defense, the only nickel defense they play that "hangs (Dorsett) out to dry."
A cornerback watched receiver Tony Hill, while Jordan helped there. That left the middle of the field open for Dorsett.
"The only play that's going to beat us in that situation, and they call it," said Jordan. "It's that kind of day."
Coverage went to linebacker Monte Coleman, who had just returned after six weeks on the injured reserve list with a strained right hamstring. On Dallas' last play of the first half, an offensive lineman ran into Coleman's leg.
"It felt tight in the second half," Coleman said. "I wanted to continue playing, and I asked the coaches and they said it was okay."
Dorsett raced Coleman in a 48-yard dash, and Dorsett won. He caught White's pass at the 15 and ran untouched into the end zone for the 13-0 lead with 5:12 remaining in the third quarter.
"I didn't have my speed," Coleman said.
Finally, several minutes later, the Redskins answered in eight plays, including a 44-yard pass to Monk, when Theismann caught Clark cutting in from the left sideline in the end zone.
The Redskins were rolling. Kind of. They forced a punt and had the ball at their 11 with 8:41 to play. This game could still be won. On a daring fourth-down call at the 20 with 7:12 left, John Riggins came in cold from the bench (he played the first half, sat the second) and gained six yards.
But there was another sack and then another punt and Dallas had the ball again.
Yet, there was to be a final, desperation drive with 46 seconds left and 74 yards to go.
It didn't work. The Redskins gained just 17 yards. Theismann was sacked two more times.
And an interception ended the game.