Some things you can just see coming. And when Shaun Suisham’s 50-yard field goal try slid to the right Sunday with 7:06 left, supplying the Cowboys with some much-needed emergency oxygen, well, what happened next just fit with the general theme of this cursed Redskins season.
This couldn’t end well, you told yourself. The Redskins’ defense couldn’t keep shutting out Tony Romo and Co. forever. At some point, Dallas had to cobble together a touchdown drive and steal off with a 7-6 victory. It was karma - the bad kind of karma.
So on an afternoon when the Redskins lost Ladell Betts, their Plan B running back, after just three carries, and Chad Rinehart, their Plan C right guard, early in the second half - the latest in a never-ending series of debilitating injuries - the Cowboys went down the field and won on an improvisational (and all too predictable) 10-yard TD pass from Romo to longtime Washington nemesis Patrick Crayton.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse…
Asked where he’d place Sunday’s heartbreaker on his all-time list of bang-your-head-against-the-wall games, London Fletcher took a deep breath and said: “I’ve played a lot of games, so it’s kind of hard to rank ‘em right now. But it’s gotta be in the top two or three. The way we battled today…”
If there were such a thing as an “unearned loss” in football, this one would qualify for the Redskins. Taking division-leading Dallas down to the final minutes with such a depleted roster - Albert Haynesworth and Clinton Portis were already sitting out before Betts (sprained MCL) and Rinehart (fractured fibula) joined them - has to be one of the high points of Jim Zorn’s two-year term.
The Snydermen outplayed the Cowboys most of the way, much to the dissatisfaction of the 85,277 at Jerry Jones’ new pleasure palace. It’s as if they’ve become inoculated against misfortune, having had so much experience with it. When Betts went down, they simply tightened their chin straps and turned to their Rock of Cartwright. When Rinehart was wheeled off, they plugged in undrafted rookie Edwin Williams - and kept moving the ball against a pretty fair Dallas defense.
Jason Campbell has never, in his tortured tenure as the Redskins’ quarterback, been more unflinching than he was on this day. The Cowboys got some good licks on him, particularly when they blitzed one of their inside linebackers, but Campbell still completed 24 of 37 passes - including 12 straight on third down - for 256 yards.
“Sometimes,” he said, “you’ve just gotta stand there and take one in the mouth.”
As for Cartwright, he finished as the team’s leading rusher (67 yards) and the game’s leading receiver (seven catches for 73 yards), and popped big plays in both areas. Special teams coach Danny Smith lightened Rock’s load a little by having Devin Thomas return kickoffs, but No. 31 would gladly have handled those duties as well. After all, he said, “I don’t like to let my guys down.”
Suisham picked a bad day for his first two missed field goal attempts of the season. Of course, as limited as the Redskins’ offense is at this point, any miss is potentially devastating. You can’t blame him too much on the 50-yarder; it was at the limit of his range, even if there was slight wind at his back. The real killer was the 39-yarder he yanked to the left at the end of the first half. It changed the mathematics of the game. Had he made that one, Zorn probably would have punted in the fourth quarter rather than have Shaun try a long one because the Redskins would have already been up two scores (9-0).
Holder Hunter Smith tried to run some interference for Suisham, saying, “Great kickers sometimes have off days.” Shaun was not nearly as forgiving of himself, though.
“I just feel awful,” he said. “The guys had to work so hard today. You have a tight game like that and miss two field goals. … It’s frustrating.”
Indeed, the whole season has become an exercise in exasperation. The Redskins hold the Rams to seven points - and barely win. They hold the Cowboys to seven points - and manage to lose. They’re 3-7 now, four games behind Dallas in the NFC East, and as Zorn put it, “3-7 is bleak.”
So much went right for the Redskins at Cowboys Stadium. Their defense forced two turnovers, one at the Washington 12, and made Miles Austin, Romo’s No. 1 downfield threat, disappear for almost three quarters. Their offense, which practically seems picked out of a hat at times, outgained Dallas 324-305. And their punter kept pinning the Cowboys deep in their own end - first at the 12, then at the 6 and finally at the 10.
Yet the end result, as it has been all too often, was another loss.
“It’s been one crazy season,” said Campbell.
With more craziness to come, no doubt. The pattern has been too well established. And in their diminished state, the Redskins, try as they might, appear powerless to alter it.