Sometimes you just know.
You know what’s going to happen when the Capitals play host to a Game 7.
You know what’s going to happen when the Wizards manage to get all their starters healthy.
And you know what’s going to happen in the rare circumstance that the Redskins have a fourth quarter lead.
So when the Redskins scored 17 straight points to take a 23-14 lead on the archrival Cowboys on the first snap of the fourth quarter yesterday, I wasn’t thinking, “Wow, finally a happy locker room for the first time in seven weeks.”
Not with these Redskins. The name Clint Longley immediately popped into my mind. The obscure Longley was thrust into action when Washington defensive tackle Diron Talbert kayoed Cowboys superstar quarterback Roger Staubach on Thanksgiving Day 1974. Dallas trailing 16-3, rallied to win 24-23 on two long touchdown passes by Longley, the second one in the final minute. Longley was barely heard of again, but he still etched his name into the lore of what was once America’s Rivalry.
Washington, despite its six straight defeats, had begun yesterday with some confidence after overcoming seven turnovers to come within inches of winning the previous Sunday in Atlanta. The Redskins also wanted to win for retiring captain London Fletcher and to ruin the Cowboys’ playoff hopes which had been damaged by an epic meltdown the previous Sunday against visiting Green Bay.
After their NFL-worst punt coverage team was embarrassed yet again to set up Dallas’ first easy touchdown, the Redskins held the Cowboys to just seven points over the next 48 minutes. With just 9:06 to go, Dallas trailed 23-14 and faced fourth-and-6 at the Washington 40-yard line. But once Tony Romo spotted wide-open receiver Cole Beasley for 20 yards to set up Dan Bailey’s field goal, you knew how this one was going to end.
Dallas’ horrid defense, which had surrendered points on 12 straight second half series over three games, limited Washington to 19 yards, forcing a punt. The Cowboys were 87 yards from victory with 3:39 left.
Four plays later, on second-and-10 from the Washington 28, Josh Wilson — the cornerback who had been burned on the decisive 77-yard touchdown catch by the New York Giants’ Victor Cruz in the Redskins’ only NFC East defeat during their division-winning 2012 season – slipped and Terrance Williams got behind him for a 51-yard grab to the Washington 21.
Heroic efforts by linebacker Perry Riley, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and safety Reed Doughty turned first-and-goal at the 4 into fourth-and-goal at the 10. But with Redskins top pass rusher Brian Orakpo having exited with a groin injury, Romo was able to buy time with his feet and find DeMarco Murray before Hall could prevent the running back from crossing the goal line with just 1:08 to play. Bailey’s extra point made the final score a Longleyesque Cowboys 24, Redskins 23.
With only Sunday’s finale at the Giants remaining, the Redskins are 3-12, a loss from matching the 1994 rebuilding project of rookie coach Norv Turner for the most defeats in franchise history. But that ugly season was expected after the collapse in 1993 under one-year had man Richie Petitbon. This one has come after last year’s 10-6 NFC East title campaign and with all the wanted starters back for two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Shanahan.
The Redskins can point to the one-point defeats the past two weeks as progress since they hadn’t been very competitive during much of the previous four games. Shanahan can say that his players haven’t quit. But Washington’s only victories have come over: 4-11 Oakland – after falling behind the injury-riddled Raiders 14-0; Chicago, which was clobbered 54-11 last night with the NFC North crown its for the taking; and San Diego, thanks to a goal-line stand in the final minute.
The Redskins conjured up some special chemistry to go on the 7-0 tear that won the NFC East last December. But that streak was the exception that proves the rule. Washington is 17-39 otherwise under Shanahan, 78-129 (minus the 7-0 run and similar 5-0 and 4-0 spurts that produced wild card berths in 2005 and 2007 under Joe Gibbs) following Dan Snyder’s 14 full offseasons as its owner.
Washington was a team that found a way to win during its glory days for Hall of Fame coaches George Allen (1971-77) and Gibbs (1981-92). Washington won five NFC championships and three Super Bowls during those 22 seasons. In 21 seasons since, they’ve won two playoff games.
For more than a generation now, the Redskins have been a team that finds a way to lose, as they demonstrated yet again yesterday.
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.