How many years have this area’s loyal legions schlepped to this stadium in Landover with the sincere belief things have changed, that a perfect prime time fall night just like Thursday would finally mean the rebirth of their NFL team?
And how many years do they keep shuffling dejectedly toward the exits at the beginning of the fourth quarter, gut-punched by the reality their overflowing bandwagon simply doesn’t have enough airbags?
The vehicle carrying the new and true believers of Kirk Cousins careened into a Prince George’s County embankment Thursday night, and the wreckage was total and complete: four good-night interceptions in nine second-half pass attempts.
The defense Jim Haslett designed to pin its ears back and rattle Eli Manning almost needed air-sick bags after surrendering 449 yards .
When this mismatch was done, the stadium’s lower bowl was ringed by Giants fans in their big-blue jerseys. The home crowd could not take the sight of such a miserable beatdown, and, really, who could blame the fans for beating traffic back to Virginia, Maryland, the District and all the depressed hamlets teased before and bludgeoned by this franchise again?
“I’ll tell ya, this game was pretty ugly, a total butt-kickin’ — offense, defense, special teams,” Jay Gruden said following a 45-14 loss that left his team 1-3 in his first year as a head coach.
This entire waste of an evening for Dan Snyder and his employees would be more remarkably bad if it hadn’t happened before.
In prime time.
On national television.
And at the exact moment when hope seemed so within grasp.
Remember Nov. 15, 2010, the night Michael Vick and Philadelphia dropped a 59-28 eyesore on Mike Shanahan, a rout that effectively ended that season? That’s what this felt like, give or take two more touchdowns.
This organization is now 0-6 in its last six prime time games and 0-4 at home. Washington fell to 3-9 in night games on national TV since 2010, many of them on this very plot of land.
For the record: Of the 11 worst home losses in franchise history, four have come under the stewardship of Snyder, and we only point that out because he seems to be the only constant to these inexplicable blowouts.
There was such a broken-record feel to it all, wasn’t there?
Rain clouds cleared the way for a mild fall evening. The stadium teemed with adrenaline at 8:25 p.m. And why not? The quarterback was moving the ball, putting up yards and points the last couple of weeks.
And there was all this real and intimate bonding of fans tired of so much negativity nationally around the name issue. With banners denouncing CBS analyst Phil Simms, who had said he would try not to use the team’s name during the broadcast, and Snyder actually high-fiving supportive fans in the tunnel leading to the locker room before the game, the stadium became one large cocoon for the loyalists to be as loud and proud as they could.
And it all disintegrated so quickly, vaporized by Manning’s flawless direction of a no-huddle offense and Cousins receiving dreadful protection from his own offensive line.
By halftime it was already 24-7, punctuated by about the most frightening play of the half. Niles Paul went down in a heap and appeared to go unconscious after a helmet-to-helmet hit by the Giants’ Quintin Demps. The Giants’ other safety, Antrel Rolle, also was in on the collision.
Paul finally was able to sit up, but inexplicably a motorized cart never showed up on the field and he was literally walked off as if he were Joe Frazier going back to his corner after the 13th vicious round in Manila, basically out on his feet.
It would be easy to say that that collision was part of the game, and there was nothing either side could do about it. But it wouldn’t be true.
Cousins lofted a pass into a zone coverage scheme known as “cover-two.” This is a no-no, because it often makes receivers vulnerable as hard-charging cornerbacks and safeties converge on a floating football in space, and the receiver tries to cradle that ball.
Cousins wasn’t solely responsible for Paul being knocked out. But with all the interceptions he threw, that completion to Paul was one of the worst decisions he made all night.
Gruden would not put the loss on Cousins, saying his team was so outplayed in every phase — “abysmal” was the word he used — that it almost was wrong to focus on a quarterback who never got in a rhythm after halftime.
That seemed fair. Cousins didn’t give up 449 yards of offense to New York, including 300 yards and four touchdowns to Manning.
In many ways, you wondered why Washington didn’t run nearly the same offense as New York. The Giants looked like the Patriots, turning their quick-strike passing game into an alternate running game, making their offensive line less vulnerable by ensuring Manning dumped off passes to receivers who made sure they gained big yards after catching the ball.
Moreover, you wondered how a blitz- and blitz-some-more defense could not get more pressure on Manning, who was sacked just once and really wasn’t in any danger of getting hit for long stretches.
The NFL knows Washington has a banged-up and much-maligned secondary that has trouble tacking, covering and containing. The only way defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s unit could be effective was to get more pressure on the quarterback and somewhat thwart the running game.
Now the season is 25 percent over, and Washington stands at a woeful 1-3. Seattle and Arizona , the class of the NFC at the moment, are up next.
It’s just September, but doesn’t it feel like it’s already getting late this season? Doesn’t it feel like it’s always getting late on these promising fall nights that keep dissolving into nothing after kickoff.
Two conclusions from this one: Prime time is not a good scheduling option for this franchise. And whatever you want to say about Robert Griffin III, a healthy vestige of his memory was greatly missed Thursday night.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
More on the Redskins and NFL :
The Takeaway: With big shoes to fill, Cousins stumbles
Game summary: Giants 45, Redskins 14