The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Too many near-misses doom the Redskins in a frustrating loss to the Cowboys

Redskins quarterback Case Keenum was left lamenting the throws he couldn’t convert in a loss to the Cowboys. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Sunday’s first play was supposed to be a run, but it was changed the night before by Washington Redskins Coach Jay Gruden to be a long pass down the middle to Terry McLaurin, the rookie wide receiver who has become the team’s most dynamic offensive player. For a moment the play looked open, but by the time Case Keenum’s pass reached McLaurin, Dallas’s Byron Jones had arrived. The ball was knocked away.

Maybe if the throw had been a little more to the right . . .

Maybe if McLaurin was another step ahead of Jones . . .

Maybe the day would have turned out differently.

“That would have been nice,” Gruden said with a sad shake of his head after the ­Redskins’ 31-21 loss to the Cowboys at FedEx Field.

Instead, it was the first miss in a day of misses in what is becoming a season of misses. Missed throws. Missed star players. Missed tackles. The Redskins insist that they have the talent to be good, that they are just around the corner from the victory that will inspire the turnaround that will keep this season from careening into disaster.

But two games in, Washington is 0-2. It has been trampled by division rivals Philadelphia and Dallas, who have plowed through its defense in the middle and end of games with terrifying efficiency. “Drove it down our throats” was the phrase Gruden used to describe the way Dallas ran for 213 yards and put up 474 yards of total offense Sunday.

The key moments from Redskins’ 31-21 loss to the Cowboys in home opener

The coaches and players don’t think they are getting things wrong. They still believe the defense is very good when completely healthy. They are sure the game plan is solid based on the openings players such as McLaurin are getting. They are certain they can go against potential playoff teams such as the Eagles and Cowboys and stop key players such as DeSean Jackson and Ezekiel Elliott, who have torn them apart in the first two weeks. If not for the misses . . .

They talk a lot about what they miss on offense without star tight end Jordan Reed, still out with a concussion, and running back Derrius Guice, who will miss at least half the season with a torn meniscus. They talk about what they have lost in defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, out since early in the first game with a knee injury, and Allen’s backup, Caleb Brantley, who is on injured reserve. They say they miss cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau, out Sunday as well. And they express frustration at the circumstance that has left them signing players such as cornerback Aaron Colvin, who was added late Friday afternoon.

Gruden has been eager to get Reed back on the field, and he said after last week’s game that the losses of Allen and Brantley caused the rest of the defensive players to wear down, allowing the Eagles to run over them in the second half of the season opener.

“This week was a little bit harder,” Gruden said Sunday. “You’re talking about your fourth defensive back [who] we just signed [Friday]. . . . We’re a little shorthanded back there. Once we get our guys back, I’ll feel a little better about our secondary.”

But he added: “We can’t give up 200 yards rushing to anybody. Anytime. Anyplace. Anywhere. So that’s something we’ve got to hone in on.”

There’s a lot to focus on, however. Just like the first game, the Redskins played well early, putting together a powerful drive at the end of the first quarter that led to an Adrian Peterson touchdown at the start of the second. And then their defense was flattened. Dallas scored on five straight possessions, during which it rolled for a demoralizing 377 yards, four touchdowns and a field goal that turned a 7-0 Redskins lead into a 31-14 Cowboys advantage late in the fourth quarter. A McLaurin touchdown catch with 2:17 left made the game look much closer than it was.

“It’s part of overcoming adversity,” defensive tackle Tim Settle, Allen’s replacement, said after the game. “When your name is called, you got to be able to step up. That’s a part of being in this league. You got to be able to play. You got to be able to step up. You got to be able to make something happen when you step on the field.”

In the end, there were too many misses. Not only did Keenum miss hitting McLaurin at the start of the game, he missed seeing a wide open Paul Richardson Jr., who had nothing but green turf between him and the end zone early in the fourth quarter. A touchdown would have brought the Redskins to within three points. Instead, Keenum forced a pass to Trey Quinn that was almost intercepted and threw wide of running back Chris Thompson on fourth and three on the next play.

“I totally missed Paul,” Keenum later lamented after also blaming himself for another long throw to an open McLaurin that sailed out of McLaurin’s reach.

Complete those passes, and maybe it would have been a different game. Ultimately, they turned out to be more blown chances on an afternoon full of them.

The Redskins tried to stay positive afterward. They said the same things about how the season is not over and how this is a young team that is regularly using seven rookies, started its No. 3 tight end and is still trying to survive offensively during left tackle Trent Williams’s holdout.

“We’ve got to find the [way] to overcome this and make things happen,” safety Landon Collins said.

Still, the season is in danger of slipping away after two ugly losses within the division. If something is going to change, it will have to be fast.

Read more on the Washington Redskins:

Three takeaways from Redskins’ 31-21 loss to the Cowboys

The key moments from Redskins’ 31-21 loss to the Cowboys in home opener

Terry McLaurin spent his college days preparing for the unexpected. In the NFL, it’s paid off.