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D for dismal

- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

IRVING, Texas -- There were no miracles for the Washington Redskins this time around at Texas Stadium.

Last year against the Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins were able to steal a division road win with two late Mark Brunell-to-Santana Moss touchdowns.

Last night the only miracle was that despite the passing game's incompetence and defense's inability to make a third-down stop, the Redskins remained in striking range until the first play of the fourth quarter, when a 40-yard touchdown pass from Drew Bledsoe to Terry Glenn chop-blocked the visitors, sending them to 0-2 with a pitiful 27-10 loss to their biggest rival.

"This is as tough time as I can remember," coach Joe Gibbs said. "The only way to fix it is to find a way to put this thing together to win next Sunday [at Houston]. That's the only thing that can get us going."

The Redskins have nothing going for them right now. They simply aren't very good, and they have more questions today than they did Sept. 1, a day after finishing the preseason 0-4.

Will Clinton Portis' left shoulder be healthy in the near future after sitting out last night's game? The running game had only 93 yards against the Cowboys.

"It's a difficult situation any time you can't help your team," said Portis, who was told by Gibbs on Wednesday he would sit out because of a rotator cuff injury to his left shoulder. "I feel like I'm a key ingredient to this offense. It's hard to watch when you can't help."

Will Shawn Springs return soon, and will he be effective after missing a month with an abdominal surgery? The Cowboys were 6-for-16 on third down, and Bledsoe was 19-for-38 passing for 237 yards.

"We're not clicking right now, and somewhere along the line, we have to get it back going and find that sort of magic we had last year," defensive end Renaldo Wynn said.

And, maybe most importantly, is Brunell the right quarterback to steer Al Saunders' passing offense? He was 18-for-33 for 197 yards, a key interception and another slew of misfires. He looked every bit of his 36 years.

"We have a lot of playmakers and right now. We're not able to make any plays," Gibbs said. "It's hard to put a finger on it, but it's all the way across the board right now."

The good news is that Redskins are only one game out in the NFC East. But only the most ardent Redskins optimist should have hope after this debacle.

The difference between 0-2 (the Redskins' record) and 1-1 (that of Dallas, Philadelphia and the Giants) is gigantic. Of the 24 playoff teams the last two seasons, 13 started 1-1. None started 0-2. At least the Redskins aren't alone among this season's slow starters. Tampa Bay and Carolina are also 0-2.

"Somehow, someway, I have to believe that we're going to get out of this," Gibbs said.

Thanks to Rock Cartwright's 100-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, the Redskins remained within striking distance when, trailing 17-10, Sean Taylor forced Julius Jones to fumble, which Marcus Washington recovered at the Cowboys 39. But four plays later, on third-and-9 from the 21, Brunell threw a dying quail into double coverage that was intercepted by Roy Williams near the goal line.

The Cowboys sealed the game with a six-play, 99-yard drive, capped when Bledsoe hit Terry Glenn for a 40-yard score.

The Redskins were 2-for-14 on third down, and Brunell was sacked six times for 45 yards in losses.

"You can say we're still adjusting [to a new offense], but we still haven't done our job offensively yet," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "[One touchdown in two games] is definitely not the Redskins. We have to evaluate ourselves and find a way to get things fixed."

So does the defense. They held Terrell Owens to three receptions. He later left the game with broken right ring finger and will be out two to four weeks. But issues on third down remain.

The Cowboys converted their first five third downs and took a 3-0 lead on their first drive, a 14-play, 59-yard march capped by Mike Vanderjagt's 26-yard field goal.

The lead swelled to 10-0 on Bledsoe's 4-yard pass to Patrick Crayton. The touchdown was set up by a 34-yard catch by Glenn.

Following John Hall's 39-yard field goal -- a scoring drive aided by two 15-yard personal foul penalties by Dallas -- the Cowboys took a 10-point lead on Marion Barber's 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal. A 41-yard pass interference call by Kenny Wright aided the drive. Barber was stopped for no gain twice before scoring.

The Redskins were penalized 11 times for 117 yards.

"The penalties right now are a concern to me,"assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "You can't give a team of any caliber extra plays. That's the No. 1 thing I have to address."

Cartwright's kickoff return made it 17-10 in the second quarter. His previous long kickoff return was 32 yards, but he sprang free through a wide wedge and ran through two arm tackles near midfield. It was the first kick return for a touchdown given up by Dallas since 1993.

The Redskins play Sunday at Houston and face a must win. And they know it.

"This is not our first time going through a test," Wynn said. "I have a pretty good idea what this team is made of, and they know how to get better. We need to get a taste of victory in our mouth. We're going to stick it out and turn things around."