Once again, the Washington Redskins did not measure up when the team standing across the field was their equal. They suffered an across-the-board meltdown yesterday at Redskins Stadium and lost to the Buffalo Bills, 34-17, before a generally disgruntled crowd of 78,721.
From the defense's inability to corral Bills quarterback Doug Flutie to the offense's decline following a brilliant opening drive to the short, fluttering punts of Matt Turk, it was a team defeat for the Redskins (5-3). It left those in their locker room wondering whether demanding owner Daniel M. Snyder will make changes now, but sources close to the situation said last night it is unlikely that any coaches will be fired.
Still, Snyder and virtually everyone else in the organization were left to figure out why the Redskins, who fell into a first-place tie with the idle New York Giants in the NFC East, have failed to rise to the occasion this season whenever they have faced a quality opponent.
Defense continued to be the main problem for the Redskins as Buffalo controlled the ball for 41 minutes. Flutie made the big play whenever Buffalo needed it, throwing for 211 yards and running for 40 more. He had a pair of touchdown passes and left Redskins defenders grasping at air as he turned potential sacks into productive plays for the Bills.
"It's like trying to tackle Barry Sanders one-on-one in the open field," Redskins defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said.
Running backs Jonathan Linton and Antowain Smith combined for 164 rushing yards and two touchdowns for the Bills. Buffalo amassed 413 yards, 204 of them on the ground, and produced four touchdowns and a field goal on its first six possessions of the game.
The Redskins' offense couldn't keep pace after its fast start. Brad Johnson completed 11 of his 14 first-half passes for 125 yards, but went 8 for 23 after halftime. Stephen Davis rushed for only 33 yards on nine carries, and the Redskins were held to their lowest point total of the season.
"We didn't step to the plate as a whole--not as an offense, not as a defense, not on special teams," Johnson said. "We knew what was at stake. We just didn't get it done."
Said defensive end Kenard Lang: "Guys played hard. We just have to play better. It's embarrassing to me. We play good one week, and the next week we don't. We haven't won a big game yet. That's the truth."
The Redskins took the opening kickoff and marched down the field, with tailback Davis's eight-yard touchdown run giving them a 7-0 lead. But the Bills (6-3) took command soon thereafter. They scored 21 straight points to turn a 10-10 tie in the second quarter into a 31-10 advantage late in the third quarter.
Turk returned to the lineup yesterday after being on the team's inactive list the past two games and was booed loudly by the crowd after punts of 32 and 29 yards.
"I thought we had to play our best football to have an opportunity to win," Redskins Coach Norv Turner said. "Obviously we were far from that."
Wide receiver Michael Westbrook said: "With the few [offensive] opportunities we did have, we should have made the most of them. . . . The defense, they didn't help at all. We were just bad on both sides of the ball."
The Redskins' victories this season have come over the New York Giants, New York Jets, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears, with the Giants being the only team with a winning record. After their 38-20 loss at Dallas two weeks ago, the Redskins vowed to play with more fire and precision in their next game against a playoff contender. It didn't happen yesterday against Buffalo.
"It was a devastating day for us in terms of execution across the board," veteran cornerback Darrell Green said.
The day actually began well for the Redskins, who drove 66 yards for a touchdown on their first possession. A Johnson-to-Westbrook completion went for 23 yards. Westbrook ran for 11 yards on a reverse, and Davis went 21 yards with a screen pass. The running back finished off the drive by easing into the end zone behind solid blocking.
But the Redskins didn't get another touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter, on a 19-yard pass from Johnson to wideout Albert Connell. In between, the Redskins produced three points in six possessions. Place kicker Brett Conway sent a 55-yard field goal attempt, with the wind at his back, wide left to finish the Redskins' second drive. Conway connected from 41 yards on their next possession. But a two-play drive at the end of the first half concluded with an incompletion by Johnson, and the Redskins went three plays and out on their first two possessions of the second half.
"We just didn't step up our game," Johnson said. "The first half was good enough. The second half wasn't. The game got sloppy. . . . We just never got in a groove in the second half."
The Bills welcomed back wide receiver Eric Moulds, who had missed two games because of a pulled hamstring muscle, but Flutie was the difference. He had thrown eight interceptions in Buffalo's three previous games but none yesterday.
The Bills' first drive ended with a 23-yard field goal by Steve Christie. Their second drive, which included a 13-yard run by Flutie on third and four, concluded with a six-yard touchdown pass from Flutie to tight end Bobby Collins that put them in front 10-7. On Buffalo's next possession, Flutie threw 34 yards to Jay Riemersma to get Buffalo in position at the Redskins 28-yard line. Coach Wade Phillips eschewed a field goal try into the wind on fourth and five from the 23, and Flutie made Stubblefield and safety Sam Shade miss en route to an eight-yard scamper for a first down. Smith provided a one-yard touchdown run 21 seconds before intermission and the Bills never looked back.
"I felt we had guys in position to make plays on Flutie," Turner said. "We've got to find a way to do that. We put so much emphasis on Flutie--containing him--we had some guys who looked tentative. . . . Maybe we coached guys too hard. We didn't go after him. That's what I said at halftime: 'If you're going to miss him, at least miss him going 100 miles an hour.' "
A 14-yard scramble by Flutie and Smith's 10-yard touchdown run capped Buffalo's 75-yard drive on its second possession of the third quarter, and Flutie made it 31-10 in the final minute of the period with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Moulds.
"We're having breakdowns that are killing us," Stubblefield said. "It's a big setback [but] we've got to keep our heads up. We're still in the hunt."