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Initial Thoughts and Observations: Cowboys 31, Redskins 16

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ANALYSIS/OPINION

ARLINGTON, Texas — Back to reality. The Redskins could bask in their win at Oakland for two weeks, but they couldn’t translate those things that made their comeback win on Sept. 29 possible.

And so a chance to scratch back into the NFC East title chase went by the wayside on Sunday night in a 31-16 loss to Dallas. And at 1-4, Washington’s playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. It’s right back where it was before the Oakland game – three games under .500 – but without an immediate chance to make up ground in the division with head-to-head games.

Up next is a home game with Chicago (4-2) and then a road game at Denver (6-0). Both are formidable challenges. Even then the Redskins see San Diego (2-3) at home and then Minnesota (1-4) on a short week. That’s four games before they see Philadelphia (3-3) on Nov. 17. That’s the next NFC East game. The Eagles and Cowboys (3-3) play next week in Philadelphia for first place.

Washington can’t worry about that now. Someone in the division will be 4-3 after next week and – if they have any hope of staying relevant – the Redskins must beat the Bears to keep pace.

“Right now, we’re 1-4. It’s not pretty, but we’re not giving up on our season, our aspirations,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “We’ve got a lot of games left to be played. We got a game next week against a really good Chicago Bears football team.

Later Fletcher acknowledged: “Sure. We’d be 2-3 at that point in time had we won this ballgame, feeling a lot better about ourselves, closer to the Eagles still with the opportunity to play them and a lot of football to be played.”

But they aren’t and for a team sure it had the talent to defend its division title, that stings. Players sensed the missed opportunity on Sunday in a game where the defense gave Washington a chance to win and the offense again showed some progress. Then special teams went ahead and sunk their battleship. It’s been that kind of season.

***

Injuries haven’t yet crippled the Redskins. That’s not really an excuse they can fall back on. But they are starting to pile up. Special teams ace Bryan Kehl felt a pop in his knee on the punt return for a touchdown by Dallas’ Dwayne Harris. Kehl walked around the locker room afterwards with a pronounced limp. He’ll have to wait until an MRI on Monday to find out the exact damage. Kehl is hoping for the best, but what was deemed a sprained left knee could be far worse.

Not really sure what Washington does if one of its best special teams players is out for any length of time. Even with Kehl the Redskins were a disaster on Sunday. He did note, though, that he brought down Harris on the second kickoff to Dallas. Harris tried to bring the ball out from deep inside his end zone and was tackled by Kehl at the 16.

Kehl was positive, too, that he had the angle to bring Harris down on the punt return late in the second quarter that changed the game. But “then the sniper got me from the rafters.” Kehl’s knee injury came when he planted to adjust to Harris’ sudden change of direction and fell to the turf.

“It’s easy for me to say that now, but I think I would have got him,” Kehl said. “And then it sucked because he ran it all the way back.”

And Kehl later had to watch helpless from the locker room as Harris went 90 yards early in the third quarter on a kick return. That set up a 15-yard Tony Romo touchdown pass. What was a 14-9 game and well within reach was quickly 21-9 and in doubt again.

***

Also a concern for Washington is the status of long snapper Nick Sundberg, who suffered a right knee injury in the third quarter during punt coverage and will have an MRI on Monday to assess the damage. That, too, didn’t sound particularly promising, but we’ll see. Will Montgomery, the team’s starting center, took over for Sundberg, who has held that long snapper position since 2010.

Montgomery’s snap appeared fine when kicker Kai Forbath smacked a 49-yard field goal attempt wide in the third quarter. It was a tough chance in Forbath’s first game back since the season opener on Sept. 9 thanks to a groin injury.

Still, that would have cut the lead to 21-19 if he hit it. In the end it was far from the difference in the game. And it probably ranks like 15th on the list of special teams miscues on Sunday anyway. But Forbath missed just one kick last season in 18 tries. He’s 3-for-5 this season in limited action.

***

Looked like a clean hit that knocked rookie corner David Amerson from the game. Shocker – it occurred on a special teams play. Find me one good thing that happened for that unit on Sunday save Forbath’s three made field goals. I mean – the special teams coach, Keith Burns, was whistled for a bench penalty. THE SPECIAL TEAMS COACH!!!

Amerson was drilled on the long kick return by Harris. He sustained a concussion and did not return to the game. Will have to wait until practice on Wednesday to see if Amerson is progressing or still presenting symptoms.

***

Penalties have hurt the Redskins all season. Five of them on Sunday night came on special teams, which colleague Nathan Fenno tackles in his story here. But they had others – 12 in all for 104 yards, seven during regular play. That’s not acceptable.

“Penalties, we kind of hurt ourselves with that,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “We got to limit the penalties. Those are really huge when you got a back-and-forth game like that.”

Chris Chester had an offensive hold that cost teammate Leonard Hankerson a 21-yard reception in the second quarter. The most costly? How about two when down 24-16 – one score – with 10:36 left in the game. The opportunity was still there.

On a 2nd-and-4 at the 26, running back Alfred Morris was whistled for a false start. Then left guard Kory Lichtensteiger committed a holding penalty. Suddenly it was 2nd-and 19 at the 11 and quarterback Robert Griffin III was under the gun. Dallas got to him on the next play. Reserve linebacker Kyle Wilber hit him and stripped the ball. He pounced on it and set up the Cowboys at the 3. They punched the ball into the end zone two plays later and sealed the win.

***

He’s still not ROBERT GRIFFIN III!!!!…but you see week-by-week some of the explosiveness coming back for Washington’s quarterback. Griffin had 77 rushing yards. That’s more than he had in the first four games combined (72).

There was the 15-yard scramble around left end on Washington’s opening scoring drive. He ran up the middle on a designed quarterback draw – don’t believe we’ve seen that yet this season – and came up just shy of the touchdown. Forbath had to bang home a field goal from the 2 to make it 7-3 Dallas. That would have been a big one.

Griffin would exploit the middle of the field early in the third quarter for 26 yards and took a punch to the face for his troubles when he cut towards the sidelines. That earned Dallas free safety Barry Church a 15-yard personal foul penalty.

But that drive, too, stalled just outside the red zone and Washington settled for another Forbath field goal. In a game where the Redskins were giving points away like candy on special teams, they couldn’t really afford to leave some on the board. And yet…here we are.

“I just think we had the opportunity and we took advantage of it,” said Griffin, who also admitted he’s begun leaving his knee brace off during warm-ups because…well, because he can, I guess. “I saw a couple of holes in the passing game, too. We got some good yardage that way as well. The opportunity arose and we took full advantage of it.”

***

Okay, seriously, that’s it for tonight. It’s 4 a.m. Central Standard Time and I have a flight home at 7:25 a.m. This is what we call a bad situation. It’s like 3rd-and-27 for me right now. Do I sleep for an hour? Do I suck it up and head for the airport? I believe it’s 72 miles from the Hertz Rent-a-Car center to the terminals at DFW. That’s an estimate. I think it’s accurate. Pretty sure.

Anyway, plenty more in the morning when I’m back in not-so-sunny D.C. Mike Shanahan gave his players the morning off, but will speak with the media at 3 p.m. at Redskins Park.

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