Robert Royal stood at his locker, eyes red and moist, wishing he could turn back time on an afternoon he'll never care to revisit.
Royal had four passes thrown to him in yesterday's 23-17 overtime loss to the Chargers and dropped three, including two in the fourth quarter that prevented the Redskins from grinding time off the clock while maintaining a one-touchdown lead.
His personal turmoil was emblematic of a larger and more destructive Redskins malady yesterday. For the second straight week, the defense gave up less than 17 points in regulation, but the offense could not mount a drive when it mattered most.
The crucial sequence came with 1 minute 12 seconds remaining in a 17-17 game.
On a second and 20 from the Chargers 30, quarterback Drew Brees threw to his right. Linebacker Marcus Washington tipped the pass, and Shawn Springs intercepted it. The Redskins had the ball on the Chargers 31 with 1:04 remaining.
The celebration seemed imminent. Clinton Portis ran behind right tackle for six yards to the Chargers 25. But after Portis was stopped for no gain, Casey Rabach was called for holding with 55 seconds remaining. The 10-yard penalty represented the difference between a 42-yard field goal and a 52-yarder.
"That was a gift, getting that in point-blank range, in field goal range. Unfortunately, having a penalty got us out of that field goal range," quarterback Mark Brunell said. "If you get the ball on the 30-yard line, John Hall is going to nail that thing. Then you have the game. The penalty hurt us. It's a tough one."
Two more plays resulted in no gain, and Hall missed wide right.
"We knock it down in there and get called for a holding penalty," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "I think it was crucial at that point. What we were trying to do was move it and get a few more yards for the field goal and end up getting a holding penalty."
Royal and Rabach were the most visible, but trouble permeated the entire offense. There were key opportunities for the offense to make plays and keep the ball from the dangerous Chargers offense. In the fourth quarter, the Redskins were 1 for 6 on third-down conversions. (Over their past three games, the Redskins are 2 of 14 on third down.) Of their five possessions in the final period, three went three plays and punt.
On their first three possessions of the fourth quarter, the Redskins were nursing a 17-10 lead. On third and five from the Redskins 30, Brunell dropped back in the shotgun and saw Royal running across the field, well ahead of the first-down marker. Brunell threw, and Royal dropped the pass. Royal muttered to himself, trotting off the field.
On their second possession, on third and two from the Washington 22 with 9:49 remaining, Brunell lined up again in the shotgun and, because of miscommunication with wide receiver Taylor Jacobs, threw a pass deep downfield. Jacobs had cut off his route and was standing alone while the ball sailed over his head.
With 6:20 left in the fourth, Brunell scrambled to his left and found Royal, who dropped what would have been a sure first down.
San Diego got the ball back after the Redskins punted, and LaDainian Tomlinson scored on a 32-yard touchdown run with 3:37 remaining to tie the game at 17.
Near tears, Royal took the brunt of the pain.
"No one really said anything to me," he said. "I said a lot of things to myself. All of it [ticked] me off. It's just not supposed to happen. The only thing you can do is realize it was a bad day, and you still have some games to play."
Royal did not cost the Redskins the game by himself, but the inability of the offense to extend drives and take time off the clock put the Redskins' defense in the position of having to log extensive minutes and shut down a potent San Diego offense.
"We had some situations out there where we should have made plays, and we didn't make them," said left tackle Chris Samuels. "Late in the game we had a couple of dropped passes. We can't do that. We're a better team than that."