Reporting David Elfin
The Redskins are like one of Picasso’s Cubist period paintings, a very valuable property but one whose elements are out of whack. The difference is that while Picasso wanted his art to look disjointed, the Redskins’ ongoing failure to put their pieces together has produced a 1-4 record and serious trouble in Washington.
Consider the last two games. While the special teams had their second punt blocked for a touchdown and the offense generated only a field goal during the first 42 minutes in Week 4 at Oakland, the previously historically porous defense produced seven sacks and a touchdown while holding the Raiders over the final 48 minutes of a 24-14 victory.
Last night, the defense rose up, allowing just 213 yards, its fewest in 32 games since Week 4 of 2011 and the high-octane Cowboys’ fewest in 45 games since Week 9 of 2010. However, Washington’s special teams allowed an 86-yard punt return touchdown and a 90-yard kickoff return that set up another score. The offense gained 433 yards but lost a fumble deep in its own territory and settled for field goals on all three of its penetrations of host Dallas’ red zone as the Redskins fell 31-16.
Washington, which had two weeks to prepare for Dallas because of last week’s bye and was only missing backup nose tackle Chris Neild, could have moved within a half game of first place in the NFC Least with a victory. Instead, the Redskins sank to 0-2 in the division, 0-4 in the conference a year after going 5-1 in the former and 8-4 in the latter.
Receiver Santana Moss, the longest-tenured Redskin after nine years in Washington, said he was “disgusted” with how the visitors virtually handed Dallas 21 points via special teams and the fumble. Otherwise, the Redskins outscored the Cowboys 16-10.
Or as cornerback Josh Wilson said, “Right now we need to get out of our own way. We’re stopping ourselves, we’re beating ourselves, and we have to figure out how to stop doing that.”
The Redskins figured out how to stop a Cowboys offense that had passed for 506 yards a week earlier, prompting outside linebacker Brian Orakpo to use the word “phenomenal” to describe the defensive effort. After an opening 80-yard touchdown drive, Dallas gained just 133 yards the rest of the night.
Washington’s offense converted eight third downs, its most during the Robert Griffin III era, but points are what ultimately matter.
“We’re close on offense, but close doesn’t do it,” said the second-year quarterback whose unit has been outscored 88-16 before halftime.
As for the special teams, which might have lost Pro Bowl coverage ace Lorenzo Alexander’s replacement, Bryan Kehl, and snapper Nick Sundberg to serious knee injuries, Niles Paul termed their play, “a meltdown, worst special teams performance I’ve been a part of.”
Or as Darrel Young said, “We found the enemy tonight. It was us.”
So there you have it. On a night that Washington’s defense just about made Dez Bryant and Jason Witten disappear during a sensational performance, its offense went up and down the field but couldn’t get in the end zone and its special teams were just awful. And don’t forget the 12 penalties for 104 yards, including a 15-yarder on special teams coach Keith Burns for accidentally impeding an official. That was a new one. The Redskins can’t get out of their own way or of the zebras.
Welcome to Team Disjointed.
“In order to win on the road, you have to play a complete game,” said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. “I thought we did some great things on defense. [But] any time you’re 0-for-3 in the red zone, you [commit] a couple of turnovers to their one [and allow] a couple of big plays on special teams, you’re not going to win. Had too many penalties as well.”
A year ago, the Redskins headed into their bye week three games below .500 at 3-6 after three consecutive defeats. Last night, they came out of their bye week with a loss that dropped them to three games below .500 for the first time since.
Washington certainly rose to the challenge last year, winning its final seven games, including two triumphs over Dallas, another over the then-defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants and another over soon-to-be Super Bowl champion Baltimore to capture its first NFC East title since 1999.
Five of Washington’s 11 remaining games this season are against currently-playoff bound Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City and San Francisco. Losses in all of those games and a sweep of the other six would produce a 7-9 record, one that could still win the NFC Least, the only division that doesn’t have a winning team. That’s a pretty thin hope to cling to, but that’s still hope.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.