It's just one loss. That was the Washington Redskins' party line yesterday in the wake of Monday's 19-16 season-opening defeat at FedEx Field to Minnesota after an atrocious 0-4 preseason that might not have been so meaningless after all.
"Don't try to overcomplicate it," running backs coach Earnest Byner said. "It's a loss at home and it hurts. It should hurt. We've got to let it go and try to find a way to bounce back."
But now the Redskins visit Dallas, where their stunning 14-13 victory in Week 2 of last season was their first win in Texas Stadium in a decade. And the Cowboys will be motivated from losing that game and the one on Sunday in Jacksonville.
Not only did none of the 14 NFL teams who started 0-2 in either of the past two seasons make the playoffs, there's the matter of tiebreakers. Every loss isn't the same. Conference losses are worse than games against AFC teams and division losses are that much more costly.
"We've put ourselves in a tough situation going down to Dallas," cornerback Shawn Springs said of facing the Cowboys. "Somebody in the NFC East is going to be 0-2, and that's not where you want to be."
The team with the highest-paid coaching staff in NFL history and one that added four expensive free agents to a 2005 NFC semifinalist scored just one touchdown against a Minnesota defense which doesn't rank high on the fear meter. Meanwhile, Washington's defense, one of the NFC's best the past two seasons, was beaten on nine of 14 third downs by a so-so Vikings offense. And it's never a good thing when your punter is your leading tackler on special teams.
No wonder coach Joe Gibbs said there was enough blame to go around in what he called an "inconsistent" performance.
"Hopefully this one game won't make our season, but who knows?" defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. "That's where character stands up. Guys have to take more of a serious approach. There needs to be more of a sense of urgency. Preseason is over with. Guys have to get here, break down film, watch game film more than one time."
Having played on Monday, there's less time to watch that film, but guard Randy Thomas is happy for the short week.
"I like that's it coming up fast," Thomas said. "You learn from what happened last night and you have to bounce back."
Griffin said the Redskins beat themselves with such mistakes as poor tackling and a better attitude will get them back on track in Dallas.
"They probably have a burr on for last year," Griffin said. "They're going to be ready to play us. If we go in there with our heads down, they'll run us off the field."
While the defense couldn't get off the field on Monday, new associate head coach Al Saunders' ballyhooed offense couldn't stay on it, converting just four of 13 third downs.
"We had the opportunities, but we didn't make the plays that we needed to make," fullback Mike Sellers said. "The playbook's so big, you're not going to see everything. You can only put so much in for one game."
If a good defense stops the run, gets off the field on third down and creates turnovers, then the Redskins came up short against the Vikings in the latter two areas and in the former in crunch time.
"We're not real happy with the way we played," said strong safety Adam Archuleta, one of the high-profile newcomers. "On third downs, we played terrible. We didn't create turnovers. We did a good job stopping the run. The next thing is eliminate the big passes."
But if Minnesota's mediocre receiving corps feasted on the Springs-less secondary for five catches of at least 20 yards, how will the more accomplished Cowboys wideouts -- Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn -- fare with Springs still sidelined following abdominal surgery?
"You can't mess around with [Cowboys quarterback Drew] Bledsoe, Terry and T-Glenn," Springs said.
FOUR THINGS THE REDSKINS NEED TO FIX BEFORE SUNDAY:
1. DEFENSE GIVING UP LONG CATCHES
The Redskins secondary, missing starting cornerback Shawn Springs, allowed the Vikings to connect on five receptions of 20 yards or more. Troy Williamson , Chester Taylor, Travis Taylor, Billy McMullen and Marcus Robinson each hauled in long passes.
2. THIRD-DOWN DEFENSE
With the Vikings facing a third-and-9 from their 48-yard line in the fourth quarter, Troy Williamson caught a 13-yard pass for a first down, with 15 yards tacked on for a Sean Taylor( personal foul. It was one of nine third-down conversions for the Vikings out of 14 attempts against the Redskins.
3. THIRD-DOWN OFFENSE
In contrast to the Vikings, the Redskins converted on only four of their 13 third-down attempts. In the second quarter, they faced a third-and-goal at the Minnesota 9-yard line but Santana Moss couldn't hang on to a pass after taking a hit from Darren Sharper in the back of the end zone.
4. FAILING IN THE RED ZONE
The Redskins scored a touchdown just once on four possessions inside the Minnesota 15-yard line, when Clinton Portis scored a 5-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Redskins kicker JohnHall connected on three field goals, from 27, 27 and 22 yards.
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