- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2008

BALTIMORE

Before even six minutes had ticked off the scoreboard clock Sunday, the Redskins had done everything necessary to ensure defeat.

Interception on their first possession? Check.

Partially blocked punt on their second? Check.

Fumble returned for a touchdown on their third? Check … and checkmate.

You don´t spot the Ravens 14 points and expect anything other than a baaad outcome. Ray Lewis and Co. don´t give up much, so they don´t need much to win. Your best chance against them is to play relatively mistake-free football — no easy task against such a helmet-rattling bunch — and try to win a low-scoring game.

The Ravens, with their rookie quarterback and modest arsenal of weapons, aren´t likely to blow you out … unless, that is, you aid and abet them with turnovers and mental mistakes. The Snydermen — in the early going, at least — did exactly that, did everything they could to contribute to their own demise.

As if that weren´t enough, their offensive line seemed bent on sending Jason Campbell home in an ambulance. His arm got hit (and darn near separated from his body) on the interception, which led to Le´Ron McClain´s TD run, and later in the first quarter he was buried by a blitzing Lewis for a 13-yard loss.

The early 14-0 deficit — and eventual 24-10 loss — left much time for contemplation. After all, the Cowboys had given the Redskins some added motivation earlier in the evening by blowing a 10-point fourth quarter lead at Pittsburgh. With a win, Washington could have pulled even with Dallas in the Great Wild Card Chase.

So how could the Redskins have come out of the tunnel so lifelessly? How do you explain a performance like this in a game of such consequence? Is their tank empty? Are there no more touchdowns up Jim Zorn´s sleeve? How has a 6-2 club turned so quickly into a 7-6 club?

Most disturbing, perhaps, is that the Redskins have become everything they weren´t at the start of the season, when they were taking care of the football, avoiding penalties, winning the time-of-possession battle with a rock ‘em, sock ‘em running game and, in the process, reeling off a succession of narrow victories.

Now they´re committing their fair share of giveaways, Clinton Portis is banged up and bottled up and they´re inventing ways to lose. Previously reliable Shaun Suisham has even become a crapshoot in the kicking department.

The October Redskins could fall behind 14-0 on the road — remember Philadelphia? — and still hang around, chip away, scratch, claw and ultimately wear the other team down. The December Redskins appear incapable of such a comeback. Their offense, for one thing, is little more than a water pistol now, their plays a succession of harmless squirts that result mostly in field goal tries.

One of the more telling moments Sunday night came with 1:54 left in the first half, when the Redskins had a fourth-and-2 at the Baltimore 43. They hadn´t ventured very often — or very far — into Baltimore territory up to then, and it seemed a logical time for Zorn to gamble a bit, to try to get SOMETHING on the board in hopes of reversing the momentum.

But after calling a timeout to do some deep thinking, the coach sent in Ryan Plackemeier to punt. This suggests that either (a.) he wasn´t convinced his offense could gain six feet in such a situation, or (b.) he expected to have plenty of other opportunities to score in the second half. Choose your poison, in other words — pessimism or self-delusion.

(I, personally, would take self-delusion and give the points.)

Zorn´s explanation: “We were very close [to going for it]. But the defense was doing such a great job of getting the ball back for us, and we didn´t want to give them a short field” if the play failed.

Problem was, there wasn´t enough time to get the ball back, especially with the Redskins out of timeouts. Baltimore ran two perfunctory running plays, and the half was over.

By the fourth quarter, Portis (oil change), Chris Samuels (triceps) and Jon Jansen (knee) were out of the lineup attending to their various aches and pains, and the Redskins were doing what they could to make the game interesting by booting a field goal, recovering a fumble and finally crossing the goal line on a Campbell-to-Antwaan Randle El throw. With better than 11 minutes to go, it was 17-10.

But it didn´t feel that close, not in such bitter cold conditions — and not going against the Ravens´ demoniacal defense. Challenged for the first time all night, Baltimore muscled its way down the field — 11 straight runs, 10 by McClain — before wrapping up the long drive with a 28-yard pass from Joe Flacco to Derrick Mason. The whole exercise had an “Oh, well, if we must” quality to it.

What happened on that last series? “I honestly don´t know,” Andre Carter said. “It was like the 12th round of a fight, and they were just grinding it out. But as a defense you never want to finish on that note.”

And as a team, you never want to end on the note — B flat, it sounds like — the Redskins are ending on this season. They´ve lost four of their last five to drop to 7-6 with three weeks remaining, two of which will be spent in Cincinnati and San Francisco (conqueror of Brett Favre and the Jets on Sunday).

The question you have to ask yourself now is: Have they hit bottom? We´ll know soon enough, I suppose. Only the winless Lions are closer to the bottom than the 1-11-1 Bengals.