The Washington Times - November 20, 2011, 10:33PM

Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 27-24 overtime loss to Dallas on Sunday:

I believe in the adage that there are no moral victories in the NFL. It’s an unforgiving, cutthroat business where winning is everything and the only thing. That said, this is an exception to that rule.

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This was a major moral victory for the offense, one that’s worth relishing because of how low they sank over the last three weeks. They were not competitive and pretty much as bad as it gets in the NFL. They needed to show some progress in order for those in the locker room to maintain some sanity and to release some of the tension that was building at Redskins Park and in the city, in general.

You don’t have to be an NFL player to know how disheartening it is for hard work to be unrewarded. Confidence is an intangible element, but it is important. People on that side of the ball, especially offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and QB Rex Grossman, should be encouraged by the progress. They didn’t make enough plays to win, but they made enough to be competitive, and that’s an important accomplishment despite the final result.

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And let me add this from a selfish perspective: It’s not easy for us writers to repeatedly ask players on offense the same questions about failing, and it’s even tougher for them to answer it. It’s tense, it’s awkward and, fairly or unfairly, it fosters resentment. For all of our sakes, Sunday’s 24-point output was necessary.

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QB Rex Grossman proved again on Sunday that he’s a solid backup option for next season. Nobody should change their mind about the Redskins’ quarterback situation regardless of what happens over the final six games. Washington needs a top quarterback prospect to help Mike Shanahan realize the vision for this offense and this team. But Grossman knows the offense and is capable of moving the ball well enough to hold the place while a rookie gets ready or to fill in if necessary.

His throw to WR Jabar Gaffney for Washington’s first touchdown resulted from brilliant anticipation. He knew Gaffney would be open after faking the corner route to get inside FS Gerald Sensabaugh. Grossman’s throw was on time and just over top of LB Sean Lee. He made several quality throws such as that one. Grossman has established himself over time as a streaky passer, and he was on the positive side Sunday.

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Twelve days after the Redskins waived WR Donté Stallworth, he catches the game-tying touchdown in the final seconds. (And what a catch with him dragging his foot on the fade.) I’m not sure whether that says more about the narrow margin between those who are on NFL rosters and those who are cut or the Redskins’ decision to waive him in the first place. Regardless, Stallworth was reliable at the X receiver position in place of Anthony Armstrong.

Overall, Armstrong’s impact was minimal: two targets, no catches. He appeared positioned for a 22-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter but didn’t complete the play in the end zone with CB Alan Ball in pursuit. Armstrong also was the intended target of Grossman’s interception in the fourth quarter. In other words, Armstrong didn’t give the Redskins what they were looking for from their starting X.

Perhaps Stallworth earned a start next week, provided WR Santana Moss doesn’t return from a broken hand. On first glance, he got separation on his routes and caught what came his way.

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A huge reason for the Redskins’ offensive breakout was their 100 percent conversion rate in the red zone. They scored touchdowns on all three of their drives inside the Cowboys’ 20. The line protected Grossman down there, and Washington didn’t commit the holding or false start penalties that have stopped drives all season.

And it helps when Redskins coaches come up with a super play call such as Grossman’s 4-yard draw for a touchdown. It was well designed and well executed.

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I don’t believe TE Fred Davis fumbled on the Redskins’ first drive. The replay shows he had possession when his knee was down. I have no idea what the referees saw when reviewing this play. Of course, Davis did not secure the ball close to his body after the catch. My guess is that he was worried about the defender draped on his back, but it’s worth following up on.

The Cowboys scored their first touchdown three plays later.

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This stat courtesy of 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen: Since RB Ryan Torain ran for 135 yards against St. Louis in Week 4, he has 36 carries for 57 yards.

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The irony in this defeat is how the defense’s collapse negated the offense’s breakout. Twenty-four points is more than the Redskins surrendered in all but one game entering Sunday’s. With this defense, Mike Shanahan would take 24 points just about every week.

But there were too many breakdowns. FS Oshiomogho Atogwe said he had “bad technique” in getting over late on WR Dez Bryant’s touchdown.

TE Jason Witten’s 59-yard touchdown was a blown coverage. “It was Cover-2 zone, and somebody dropped him, CB DeAngelo Hall said. “Somebody should have been running with him through the whole course of the play. It’s probably one of the one plays Fletch missed because he was cramping up a little bit, but the next guy that comes in has got to make that play.”

For the record, ILB Perry Riley was trailing that play. Perhaps that’s the price of playing young players.

And Hall slipped on the third-and-15 conversion that extended the Cowboys’ winning drive in overtime.

If you haven’t read Hall’s comments trashing himself for that play, go here.

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Those breakdowns offset a quality effort limiting rookie RB DeMarco Murray to 73 yards on 25 carries (2.9 yards per carry). OLBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan generally did well setting the edge and containing Murray. ILBs London Fletcher, Perry Riley and SS DeJon Gomes did well in their run fits. Fletcher, Gomes and Riley each had at least 10 tackles, so you know the scheme was working.

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K Graham Gano’s season has taken a major turn for the worse the last two weeks. Mike Shanahan reiterated his faith in Gano after the game, and 49- and 52-yard attempts aren’t gimmies, but as RT Jammal Brown put it: “If we made one or two field goals we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Gano is a smart player who hyper-analyzes his misses. His mental toughness will help determine whether he rebounds from this slump.

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RS Brandon Banks finally got untracked in the return game. Credit special teams coach Danny Smith for deducing the best way to block against the Cowboys’ unbalanced punt coverage front. Banks’ teammates, including WR Terrence Austin and TE Logan Paulsen delivered key blocks on his 55-yard punt return in the third quarter. It was a spark that significantly helped the Redskins’ offense. Finally.

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I’m eager to see how new LG Tyler Polumbus did when I re-watch the game. On first glance, he was better than Maurice Hurt, but he did surrender some pressures. He pulled quite a bit in the running game, seemingly more than the Redskins usually pull their guards.

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Let’s end on a positive note. NT Barry Cofield said the offense was “better than they played all year. There’s definitely a lot to look forward to and a lot to build on.”