- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2000

"Monday Night Football" kinda fizzled at FedEx Field earlier this season. (Dallas 27, Washington 21 remember?) But the Redskins got a second chance last night against the Tennessee Titans, the defending AFC champs. Surely this time the Best Team Money Can Buy would get it right.

The Redskins were, after all, riding a five-game winning streak and beginning to look like the team they were cracked up to be. The possibility of reaching the bye week with an 8-2 record unthinkable back in training camp was out there for them. All they had to do was beat the best team in the other conference.

And for about a quarter, the Redskins looked up to the task. Their first series was a thing of beauty, as first series often have been this year. Brad Johnson threw to everybody but the peanut vendor James Thrash, Larry Centers, Albert Connell, Stephen Alexander and finally Mike Sellers for the touchdown in a 15-play, 84-yard march through Tennessee's formidable defense.

But after that … the horror. The Redskins just handed the game to the Titans. Gave it away every way imaginable. You want a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown? Tennessee's Derrick Mason had a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown. You want a bad snap to the punter that leads to a field goal? The Redskins had a bad snap to the punter that led to a Titans field goal.

But they saved the worst for last. On the last play of the first half, with the Redskins hurrying to get into field-goal range, Johnson had a pass picked off by Samari Rolle, who get this ran 81 yards for a TD as time expired.

No, I am not making that up. In fact, I watched the replay just to make sure my eyes hadn't deceived me, and darned if Rolle didn't do it a second time.

You can couch the Redskins' 27-21 loss to the Titans in any terms you like. You can say the special teams self-destructed again. You can say the offense needs tackling practice. You can say Norv Turner's playcalling went cold for too long (i.e. about half the game). However you slice it, though, this was a bad defeat and not just because it happened on the "Monday Night" stage.

It was bad because this was one of those games a team measures itself by, and the Redskins came up woefully short. They did themselves in, presenting Tennessee with 17 points. That's a mountain when your offense is averaging just 18.6 a game, as Norv's offense is. Heck, the Titans have allowed more than 17 points only once all season.

"They're a good team," Turner said. "They're not going to let you off the hook if you [make mistakes like that]. A punt return for a touchdown, an interception return for a touchdown it's hard to overcome that."

Rolle's touchdown seemed to deflate the entire crowd, never mind the Redskins. Boos could be heard as the teams left the field at halftime, and the unrest only intensified when the Washington offense stalled at the start of the third quarter. The Redskins did put together a 66-yard drive to make 20-14 in the last minute of the quarter, but then the Titans brought out the hammer Eddie George.

Time and again Steve McNair either put the ball in George's belly or flipped him a little swing pass. Finally, on second-and-goal from the 18, McNair bounced out of the pocket and hit Frank Wycheck for a touchdown for the final, killing blow. Even on this drive the Redskins aided and abetted the visitors. LaVar Arrington jumped offside on a crucial third-and-2, and Bruce Smith was guilty of a roughing-the-passer penalty that moved Tennessee to the Washington 7.

The Titans are a funny team. They run the ball well with George and play rugged defense, but they don't overwhelm you in any one area. They're just very well-rounded. Mason, their all-purpose returner who doubles as a third receiver, is a tremendous weapon a threat to run back any kick all the way.

The Redskins compare pretty favorably to Tennessee, but they aren't quite as complete. They don't have anybody like Mason James Thrash and Deion Sanders aren't in his class collectively and their special teams continue to have damaging breakdowns. The latter is a real puzzle. Since the debacle against Carolina in the opener, the Redskins' coverage units have actually performed fairly well. But last night they barely laid a glove on Mason as he filtered through them for a score.

Tommy Barnhardt, meanwhile, was kicking himself for trying to run for the first down after scooping up the bad punt snap from Joe Zelenka. "I forgot we had gotten sacked twice and it was fourth and a zillion yards," he said. "I accept a lot of the blame for not being in the game."

Yeah, it's only one game and doesn't undo five weeks of fine work by the Redskins. But it makes their home-field advantage seem a little less, well, advantageous. (They've lost twice this year at FedEx, let's not forget). There's also this to consider: Should they meet Tennessee again in Tampa the Titans won't be lacking for confidence.

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