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Elfin: Miscues Cost Skins Game, But Outlook Still Bright

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Remember that old television commercial in which the key line was “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” before she caused a storm to happen?

Too bad that DeAngelo Hall’s too young to have seen it because Washington’s cornerback messed with the football gods by talking smack last week about how he was going to try to further injure the ailing Dallas players.

After keeping the banged-up Dez Bryant under control all night, Hall was not only beaten for 30 yards on 3rd-and-21 from the Dallas 30 with time running down, he facemasked the younger receiver for another 15 yards. Three short runs set up rookie Dan Bailey’s sixth field goal of the night before Washington’s Rex Grossman fumbled five plays later when hit from behind by Anthony Spencer. Ballgame: Cowboys 18, Redskins 16.

Hall’s bulletin board trash talk followed his getting toasted by Larry Fitzgerald on the 73-yard bomb that almost cost the Redskins a loss before they rallied to edge the visiting Arizona Cardinals in Week 2.

But the battered Cowboys exposed other Redskins deficiencies beyond Hall’s emotional nature and Grossman’s penchant for fumbles (which is eerily similar to that of predecessor once removed Jason Campbell).

After playing the run well for the first six quarters, Washington was trampled by Arizona’s Beanie Wells after halftime last week and ripped for three long gainers by Dallas’ ailing Felix Jones in the second half last night. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, his staff and his players need to do a much better job of reacting to the opponents’ halftime adjustments.

Then there’s Washington’s own ground attack which went nowhere in the opening victory against the New York Giants and repeated that futility last night. That’s part of the problem with the red zone offense, which was 1-for-3 last night after going 2-for-7 against the Cardinals. Three-for-10 is a fine average for a baseball hitter, but it’s a lousy percentage for an NFL team inside its opponents’ 20-yard line.

Special teams don’t get off scot-free either. In Week 1, Graham Gano missed a 39-yard field goal try. In Week 2, poor protection caused a 30-yarder to be blocked. Last night, holder Sav Rocca dropped the snap on a 36-yarder. If Gano had made that kick, the Cowboys would have had to go for the touchdown, not the field goal, in the final minutes. In any case, that’s three straight flawed weeks for the field goal unit which has to be driving always-manic special teams coach Danny Smith even crazier.

In sum, after getting lucky to beat the Cardinals as coach Mike Shanahan admitted, the Redskins deservedly failed to get to 3-0 for the first time in six years. Now instead of remaining alone atop the NFC East, they’re in a three-way tie with Cowboys and Giantsm a game ahead of the defending division champion Philadelphia “Dream Team” Eagles.

Look, it comes down to this for the Redskins. They’re playing much better than almost everyone expected, but fellow Cinderellas Buffalo (vs. New England for crying out loud) and Detroit managed to  come from behind to win to get to 3-0. That’s what teams having charmed seasons or true champions – defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay is also 3-0 – do. Washington came close but didn’t.

Next up is a very winnable game at St. Louis against the Rams, who were crushed by Baltimore on Sunday. But it’s a short week after a Monday nighter on the road against a team that beat Washington the past two years and will be motivated to make up for the embarrassment against the Ravens.

And after the following week’s bye, the Redskins face 12 weeks without a break against the likes of the Patriots, Jets, Eagles (twice), Cowboys, Giants (on the road) and the obviously much-improved Bills. If Washington beats St. Louis but goes 2-5 against this sturdy group of foes — a distinct possibility —  it’ll need to sweep lesser lights Carolina, San Francisco, Seattle and Minnesota to likely have a playoff shot at 10-6.

But the fact that we’re even talking postseason heading into Week 4 is good news for the Redskins and their long-suffering fans.

David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.

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