The only team that was going to keep the Redskins from winning Sunday was the Redskins. The Rams - 0-4 and breaking in a new coach, Jim Haslett - certainly weren't up to the task. No, the Redskins were only going to lose if they couldn't get out of their own way, if they started doing everything wrong they'd been doing right.
Darned if they didn't pull it off. Darned if they didn't commit their first three offensive turnovers of the season, one of which resulted in St. Louis' only touchdown. Darned if they didn't shank a punt that led to another Rams score. Darned if they didn't give up sacks - two on third-and-short - drop an easy interception and commit 100 other self-destructive crimes.
Clinton Portis had it exactly right. “Every game shouldn't be tough,” he said after the Redskins' last-second 19-17 loss at FedEx Field, which ended their heady four-game winning streak and dropped them to 4-2. “There are games we should come in and dominate, and I think this was one of those games. We overlooked a team that came here ready to play. ... I don't know how we let a team come out and shock us like that.”
Actually, it happens all the time in the NFL. Heck, three weeks ago, the winless Dolphins came into Foxborough and shocked the Patriots, winners of a record 21 straight in the regular season. If something like that can happen, then an 0-4 Rams team can certainly beat a 4-1 Redskins team, even on the road.
Still, if Jim Zorn's club is ever to become more than it was under Joe Gibbs - that is, a serious Super Bowl contender - it has to stop losing games like this. It has to, in the words of Jason Campbell, “play with the same intensity, the same tempo ... week to week that we do in our division games. I felt like we never got into a rhythm early on. It felt like we were just floating.”
Something else was floating, too - or rather, floating away: the Redskins' chance to further cement their standing in the crowded NFC East. Their back-to-back road wins at Dallas and Philadelphia positioned them nicely, but Sunday's setback undid some of their good work. The last 10 games figure to be a mad scramble now - a madder scramble than it would be if they had taken care of business Sunday.
Some will say the Redskins need to learn to handle success better. But teams don't change their stripes - and let's face it, the Snydermen have been susceptible to games like this in recent years, even in years when they made the playoffs. Remember Oakland 16, Washington 13 (2005)? Remember Buffalo 17, Washington 16 (2007)? (And both those calamities, I'll just point out, took place at FedEx.)
Maybe the Redskins will eventually outgrow this tendency, or maybe this is just who they are, for better or worse. After all, these are essentially the same players Gibbs had - veterans, many of them. Veterans, it might be added, who should know better.
One of the vets, Pete Kendall, committed the Gaffe of the Game, though it's hard to blame him for it. Late in the first half at the St. Louis 16, Campbell had a pass batted, and Kendall made the mistake of catching the ball and trying to run with it instead of just batting it down. He ended up fumbling - and a Ram with a really long name, free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, made a really long run of 75 yards for a TD.
Thus did a possible 10-3 or 14-3 Washington lead turn into a 10-7 halftime deficit. It was the worst thing the Redskins could have done: let a bad team hang around.
But the afternoon wasn't a total loss, not when you consider the fourth quarter. After tripping over itself all game, the Washington offense somehow pulled things together and drove down the field twice - first for a Shaun Suisham field goal, then for a Portis touchdown - to move in front 17-16 with 3:47 left.
It was the kind of improbable comeback Coach Joe's teams made, time and again, in the good old days. This time, though, it was Zorn radioing in the plays. You won't see a better call than the one on third-and-14 at the St. Louis 31, when he got Antwaan Randle El open over the middle for a 29-yard gain (and nearly a score). That was positively Gibbsian.
But the comeback was wasted when the defense, solid all game, gave up a 43-yard completion to set up Josh Brown's fourth field goal - a play Zorn attributed, at least in part, to a “guy who was supposed to blitz and put more pressure on [quarterback Marc] Bulger, and he didn't blitz.” It was the last goof in a game of goofs.
There needn't be any great hangover from this loss. The eminently beatable Browns, 0-4 going into Monday's game against the Giants, come to Washington next. Perhaps they'll have a new coach, too.
The Redskins, meanwhile, have been reminded - painfully reminded - that nothing is certain in the NFL. Not in a league that produced scores Sunday like 22-20, 29-28, 12-10 and (sorry to have to bring this up again) 19-17.
They simply can't afford another letdown if they hope to keep pace in the NFC East. And the next time they have “a golden opportunity to establish ourselves,” as Portis put it, they had better take advantage of it.