This finally was the year: After two seasons of relying on defense, the Redskins no longer would have to win every game on that side of the ball.
The Redskins added famed strategist Al Saunders and gifted receivers Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El to the offensive mix -- enough new talent, it was thought, to relieve the pressure on the defense of assistant head coach Gregg Williams to get it done.
But, last night, it was the same old story: The score was tied in the fourth quarter and with the game on the line, the supposedly upgraded offense managed just 21 yards and two first downs on its two first possessions.
That left the defense to salvage things, and it had problems of its own.
The defense, with four first-round draft choices on the line and in the secondary and a Pro Bowl linebacker, struggled in preseason. Things began badly last night in the opener: The Redskins surrendered an 80-yard touchdown drive to the Vikings on the opening possession.
The unit steadied the rest of the first half, but even that is misleading.
Cornerback Carlos Rogers nearly gave up what should have been a long touchdown pass in the first half to Vikings receiver Troy Williamson, who let a perfect pass from Brad Johnson sail through his hands.
The Redskins needed Rogers to step up in the absence of injured Shawn Springs, but he instead showed why he isn't ready to be a No. 1 corner. Rogers was toasted by the nondescript Marcus Robinson for a 20-yard touchdown that gave the Vikings a 16-13 lead in the third quarter.
The Redskins' offense later drove for a score-tying field goal, and the defense could have kept that momentum going by holding the Vikings offense to a three-and-out.
Instead, the Vikings churned out two decent drives that crossed into Redskins territory, though one ended in a long missed field goal and the other on a third-down incompletion.
The Redskins' offense faltered again, leaving the score tied and the Vikings with the ball at their own 33 and 5:34 remaining.
It was the perfect time for the Redskins' defense to show why it was one of just two in the NFC to rank in the top 10 the past two seasons.
Instead, the defense allowed unheralded running back Chester Taylor to power for 14 yards on two carries. On third-and-9 at the 48, Rogers whiffed on a tackle of Williamson. Safety Sean Taylor, the fifth pick in the 2004 draft, made matters worse with a 15-yard face mask penalty.
That put the Vikings on the Washington 24. Chester Taylor took over from there, setting up a game-winning, 31-yard field goal for Ryan Longwell.
This already-good defense was supposed to be even better after the offseason addition of pass-rushing defensive end Andre Carter and hard-hitting safety Adam Archuleta.
But Carter, invisible in preseason, was nowhere to be seen last night. Archuleta, deficient in coverage in August, didn't pay a first dividend on the $30 million the Redskins invested in him.
The defense forced 20 turnovers and recorded as many sacks during the 5-1 stretch that earned the Redskins a playoff berth last season. The unit was supposed to be even more disruptive this season.
Last night, however, there was only the same decided lack of big plays that was the norm during the team's 5-5 start last year.
So now it's back to Texas Stadium, where the renaissance of the second Joe Gibbs era truly began last September.
Trouble is, the Cowboys, after losing to the Jaguars on Sunday, are just as angry as the Redskins -- and they have an extra day of rest and home-field advantage. Then there is the matter of that Terrell Owens fellow, who neither Rogers nor fill-in corner Kenny Wright really should be covering.
History says Sunday's game matters.
Gibbs is a Hall of Fame coach, but not even he has guided a team back from an 0-2 start in the conference to make the playoffs.
And it sure looks like the defense will have to take command yet again to avoid the Redskins facing such a fate.
By Rand Paul
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