“I totally missed Paul. He was wide open, and I just totally missed him,” Keenum said in a somber tone after a humbling 31-21 loss, a second consecutive NFC East setback that underscored a glaring problem for the Redskins to open the season: an inability to generate big plays.
Washington had just two plays of 20 yards or more Sunday, both of which belonged to rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin, and now the Redskins are searching for other playmakers to step forward for an injury-prone unit that was outgunned against the muscular Cowboys at FedEx Field.
“It was frustrating,” Richardson said, shaking his head.
“We have to reload our shells and come back firing,” Keenum added, although it remains unclear who is going to do the firing when the Chicago Bears visit for “Monday Night Football” next week.
With much of its offensive firepower sidelined indefinitely — Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams is still holding out, running back Derrius Guice is on injured reserve with a torn meniscus, and tight end Jordan Reed missed a second consecutive game while in concussion protocol — McLaurin has arguably been the only bright spot. He hauled in a late touchdown and finished with the offense’s longest play of the day — a 27-yard reception — as part of an impressive 10-catch, 187-yard, two-touchdown start to his NFL career, which is just two games old. But beyond McLaurin, there are questions as to where this unit will find a spark next week, let alone for the next 14 games.
“I don’t know. It’s hard to kind of call it right now,” running back Adrian Peterson said of the offense’s struggles.
Keenum was underwhelming. Peterson rushed for just 25 yards on 10 carries. Richardson caught a nine-yard touchdown pass but was targeted just three times. A cast of other contributors struggled to make plays: Backup running back Chris Thompson was used mostly on checkdowns, catching five passes for 46 yards, and Keenum threw behind him on a crucial fourth and three at the Dallas 46-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Washington also worked to incorporate speedy rookie wide receiver Steven Sims Jr., who received more carries (three for 16 yards) than targets (one catch for one yard).
“We definitely feel that we have to go make a play,” Sims said.
Washington’s lack of big plays was magnified by Dallas’s collection of talent, which after a slow start electrified a crowd that was overwhelmingly full of blue-and-white jerseys. It wasn’t just quarterback Dak Prescott, who completed his final 18 passes and threw for 269 yards and three touchdowns — including a third-quarter strike to wide receiver Amari Cooper.
It wasn’t just Cooper commanding constant attention from Washington’s secondary, nor was it just running back Ezekiel Elliott posting 111 yards and a bruising late touchdown. It was also the lesser-known wide receivers who complemented those stars: Michael Gallup led the way with six catches, and Devin Smith torched Redskins cornerback Josh Norman for a 51-yard touchdown catch in the first half.
Washington, despite all of its speed with McLaurin, Richardson and even Sims, rarely took shots down the field with Keenum on Sunday. The most glaring miss came when Keenum didn’t see a wide-open Richardson on the aforementioned third down early in the fourth quarter. Washington went just 2 for 9 on third down and committed a string of crucial holding penalties.
“We want to put the ball in the air so we can make plays,” Richardson said. “We know that it’s possible.”
Washington wants to move the ball on the ground, too, and Peterson noted how important it would be to quickly revive the offense before Chicago’s daunting defense visits next week. Peterson smiled a few times during his postgame interview session while answering questions about a milestone Sunday: He scored a one-yard touchdown in the first half to pass Jim Brown for fifth on the NFL’s all-time rushing touchdowns list. But he could hardly celebrate it, because Washington’s ineptitude on offense had returned.
It will take much more than Peterson to get back on track. Keenum said that he needs to call the plays quicker, and the “offense needs to communicate better.” He also faced questions about improving his timing with his receivers during this early part of his first season in Washington, which has already been mired by an 0-2 start in which the Redskins haven’t come close to matching the playmaking of two divisional opponents.
“That’s what the NFL season is about,” Keenum said. “It is about progressing and finding what you do well, to be better at it.”