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Lost in the swamp

- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2006

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.

No stadium holds worse memories for Joe Gibbs than this aging structure in the swamps of New Jersey.

The Hall of Fame coach owns only a 6-10 record at Giants Stadium, and yesterday's 19-3 loss has to be one of the most discouraging of those defeats.

To be sure, there have been bad losses here before for the Redskins, even recently.

The Redskins lost 20-14 at Giants Stadium two years ago in the first road game of the Gibbs II era. That defeat, at least, could be explained away by seven turnovers and an injury to quarterback Mark Brunell.

The Redskins lost 36-0 here last year, a debacle against a Giants team inspired by the death five days earlier of beloved owner Wellington Mara.

There are, however, no easy answers for what happened yesterday.

The Redskins came in on a roll, having gained 976 yards and scored 67 points in back-to-back victories over the Texans and Jaguars. The Giants, meanwhile, used a bye last week to ponder their 42-30 destruction at the hands of the Seahawks on Sept. 24.

The Giants certainly needed a victory more: They were 1-2, playing at home and faced with a tough road game against the Falcons next week. The Redskins, by contrast, were 2-2 and face a lightweight Titans team at FedEx Field on Sunday.

The Giants didn't produce much in the first half, settling for three field goals. But the Redskins had even fewer opportunities.

"It seemed like we didn't have any fire today," Redskins receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "We were clicking the last two games, but at the same time, it just doesn't happen. Somebody has to make a big play to get it going. We didn't have that today. I don't understand it."

Defensive end Phillip Daniels couldn't disagree.

"At halftime, we felt we were still in the game," Daniels said. "We needed one play, but that one play never came."

The Giants didn't make a lot of those plays, either. But they made at least some, whereas the Redskins did nothing: The Giants produced four catches of at least 20 yards, the Redskins none. The Giants scored one touchdown, the Redskins none. The Giants sacked the opposing quarterback three times, the Redskins none.

Notice a trend here? If it were baseball, the game would have been an 8-0 New York shutout.

"We really couldn't get a big play, we didn't hold the ball and we didn't make first downs," Gibbs said.

Safety Adam Archuleta, meanwhile, listed the shortcomings of the defense.

"Great defenses stop the run, don't give up plays and get off the field on third down, and we didn't do any of that today," Archuleta said. "We're going to learn a lot about this team in the next few weeks. If we let this loss get us down, then it's a huge step back. But if we respond like men and professionals, we'll look back at this as a learning experience."

There is a problem with that concept.

The victories over the Texans and the potent Jaguars were nice. But the games that really matter are those in the conference and, especially, the division.

The Redskins reached the playoffs last year despite an 0-4 record against the AFC. They finished 6-10 in 2004 with that same 0-4 nonconference mark. The difference in success lay in what the Redskins accomplished in the NFC and in the NFC East. The Redskins went 6-6 in the conference and 1-5 in the division in 2004 but 10-2 and 5-1 in those key games last season.

Now, the Redskins are 0-3 in the conference and 0-2 in the division after being manhandled by the Giants in what offensive tackle Jon Jansen called "kind of a statement game."

Their next two games come against AFC teams, the Titans and Colts, followed by a bye.

The Redskins don't meet another conference or division foe until November. That's a heck of a long time to wait to answer yesterday's failure with a better performance.