Those three riveting victories to open the season are an afterthought now, with losses mounting by the week. The optimism of September has made way for a November in which the playoff outlook grows grimmer with each defeat.
Again the Washington Redskins (5-5) played a game that was not decided until the final seconds, and, for the second straight week, came up short, losing, 16-13, to Oakland at sold-out FedEx Field. The hallmarks of Washington's 2-5 slide -- matching its worst stretch of 2004 -- crept up again, with three more turnovers, a defense unable to pressure the passer and yielding untimely big plays, and the Redskins again bemoaning a controversial officiating decision that went against them. All of those factors have taken a team that was atop the NFC East just a few weeks ago to one now trailing the postseason pack by two games.
"We shouldn't have lost the game, but we lost it," linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "We've got to deal with it. This team has got to cross over from being close to winning games to understanding that we can win."
The Redskins lost at home yesterday for the first time in five games this season despite outplaying the Raiders for large stretches. Turnovers hurt -- Washington is minus-13 in turnover margin for the season -- and an offense once brimming with confidence descended to last year's form, failing to score a touchdown. Quarterback Mark Brunell completed 14 of 32 passes with a 58.7 passer rating and was lacking a deep presence with primary receiver Santana Moss neutralized for a fourth straight week.
Oakland managed only 50 rushing yards, averaging 1.7 yards per carry, gave up a touchdown to Washington's defense and amassed 101 yards in penalties, yet still won for Coach Norv Turner, who returned to Washington for the first time since being fired by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder on Dec. 4, 2000. At times the game was unsightly, with neither offense hitting its stride, but Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins struck on a 49-yard touchdown to Jerry Porter, a Washington native, to open the second half, set up the game-tying field goal with a 37-yard pass in the fourth quarter and used running back LaMont Jordan (a Suitland native and former Maryland player) on the game-winning drive, spoiling an otherwise solid outing by Washington's defense.
"We give up just enough to lose," end Phillip Daniels said. "We've got to eliminate those long throws."
It had all begun well for Washington. Linebacker Chris Clemons hit Collins as he passed on the Raiders' opening drive; linebacker Lemar Marshall easily intercepted the rerouted pass and walked into the end zone with his teammates for a 7-0 lead. It was Washington's first defensive score of the season and just its second in two seasons.
Then running back Clinton Portis (22 carries for 92 yards), who had not fumbled all season, committed the first of his two fumbles; the Raiders took over at the Washington 15-yard line and it was quickly 7-3. A penalty-marred 44-yard drive, consuming 7 minutes 34 seconds, resulted in John Hall's first field goal, and the Redskins still led, 10-3, when they took over again at the 35 with 2:39 left in the half. They had been moving the ball well against the NFL's 24th-ranked defense and Portis opened the sequence with a four-yard run. The players then watched 30 seconds come off the clock with Coach Joe Gibbs not calling another play until the two-minute warning.
"It'd be hard for me to reconstruct that," Gibbs said. "We're trying to make the best decisions we could there."
The Redskins moved to the 48, the clock stopped on an incomplete pass with 1:22 seconds left and Gibbs called timeout. They got to the 34, and Gibbs used his final timeout with 34 seconds left. The Redskins settled for a 45-yard field goal, their last points of the game. Washington gained only 94 yards in the second half (with Gibbs calling only eight rushing plays); the Raiders dropped a safety deep to prevent long passes, jammed Washington's smallish wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, and double-covered Moss, holding the NFL's second-leading receiver to 53 yards.
"Our primary guys weren't there," said Brunell, who attempted only one long throw. "Our passing game really struggled today."
The Redskins had only three healthy wide receivers for much of the game after James Thrash hurt his hamstring just before the half. Those three included rookie Rich Parson, a practice-squad grad in his first NFL game and Taylor Jacobs, who replaced the injured David Patten in the starting lineup. "Taylor Jacobs is going to have to step up to the plate," said Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense. "It's time for him to start playing football because Moss being double-covered is going to be an everyday thing."
Oakland's offense, meantime, exploded to start the second half. Porter lined up in the slot, and the Raiders attacked a front in which a linebacker would have to cover him. Porter sprinted from the line unimpeded and caught a pass from Collins over his left shoulder, with Marshall a step behind. "You would like a jam [at the line], but regardless of that I have to go out there and make that play," Marshall said
The Raiders tied the game at 13 in the fourth quarter. Porter, who finished with six receptions for 142 yards, ran a crossing route for a 25-yard gain on third down, bouncing up from a massive hit by safety Sean Taylor on a rare occasion when Washington blitzed heavily. Like many opponents recently, Oakland used additional players to "max-protect" the passer, sending only one or two receivers into many patterns and taking their chances downfield.
"What can you do, man?" end Renaldo Wynn said. "Look at the film, and I'm sure everybody on the D-line is getting double-teamed."
On the next play reserve wide receiver Doug Gabriel caught a 37-yard pass down to the 12, his first catch of the game; Taylor looked inside at the slant receiver, leaving Gabriel wide open on the right sideline behind cornerback Shawn Springs. Sebastian Janikowski made a 25-yard field goal to tie it, then Oakland took its first and only lead with 68 seconds left in regulation.
The Raiders drove 50 yards for the win, with Jordan (89 combined yards) involved in seven straight plays including a first-down rush from the 1 for no gain. Jordan was ruled down by contact before the ball squirted away and was recovered by the Redskins, who believe officials incorrectly awarded Tampa a game-winning two-point conversion last week. A down-by-contact ruling can not be challenged, however, and Oakland retained possession, with Janikowski's 19-yard chip shot holding up.
"You would hope that we'd be getting those calls right," Gibbs said.
The game ended with Brunell being sacked at midfield. The quarterback threw seven straight incompletions in the fourth quarter and finished the afternoon in a 2-for-10 funk, symbolizing a season gone awry.
"You try to keep a positive attitude, which is going to be tough," Brunell said, "We're not pleased with where we're at."