The Washington Redskins reported to work Sunday clinging to a flicker of hope. It wasn't necessarily about qualifying for the playoffs, mind you. They hoped that what they accomplished offensively the past two weeks was hard evidence that they had distanced themselves from the embarrassments of earlier this season.
That flicker became a bright flame after a dominant opening touchdown drive against the New York Jets.
And then the fire went out.
A combination of individual breakdowns, quality defense and quarterback Rex Grossman's inaccuracy powered the offense's reversion to a familiar ineptitude in a 34-19 loss.
"The first half was all right," Grossman said. "The second half, it was always something. Whether it was a sack on first down that put you behind the chains or — you know, it's just frustrating."
Washington's offense the past two weeks scored at least 23 points in consecutive games for the first time under coach Mike Shanahan. Against New York, however, the problems that doomed this season in October returned.
The Redskins (4-8) committed three turnovers. They had possession inside the Jets' 20-yard line on only three series and scored a touchdown only once. They were 5-of-16 on third downs.
That added up to their seventh loss in the past eight games.
"I just thought we were very average collectively on offense," Shanahan said.
Not at first, though. The Redskins picked up where they left off in the previous week's 23-17 victory over Seattle. Roy Helu took the ball on the first play from scrimmage and rushed 15 yards through a gaping hole on a stretch play to the right.
Then another run. Then a screen. And then tight end Fred Davis was wide open for a 42-yard gain on a deep throw toward the left sideline. Helu plunged into the end zone four plays later to put Washington ahead, 7-0.
They had marched 82 yards in only eight plays.
"Usually you script your first 15 [plays], and I stayed on schedule and had some great plays and some great runs," Grossman said. "We were able to score, get a touchdown, which obviously feels good on the first drive."
"But that was the only touchdown of the game — pretty much the reason why we lost."
For as in-synch as the Redskins seemed on the first drive, they were out of whack after that.
They went three-and-out on their first two drives of the second half. Their third ended on Helu's fumble. And their fourth was another three-and-out.
"They played us a little bit more man-to-man coverage," Shanahan said. "We didn't quite make the plays. They played a little bit more zone there in the first quarter. Collectively, it just takes one guy here and there. A combination of just losing your poise a little bit and not being able to finish. It's hard to put it just on one person."
Grossman completed three of his five first-quarter passes for 71 yards but got worse as the game progressed.
By halftime he was 9-of-20. He missed all four of his passes in the third quarter.
They were crucial misses, too, because the Redskins had a 13-10 lead at the break.
On the first two drives of the third quarter, Grossman threw incomplete on third-and-9 and third-and-13. Miscues early in those series set up Grossman to fail.
On the first drive, the team lost 4 yards on a second-down run after tight end Logan Paulsen missed a block. On the second drive, Paulsen gave up a sack on first down.
"We started kind of in the hole," Paulsen lamented. "It kills you, kills your momentum."
But the Redskins couldn't even convert third-and-1 — a relatively high-percentage down-and-distance — in the third quarter.
Grossman faked a handoff to Helu and then looked for Paulsen releasing off a block.
But the defender stayed with Paulsen, and Grossman awkwardly threw back across the field toward Jabar Gaffney. Linebacker Bart Scott tipped the ball away.
By game's end, the Redskins paid for all their failed execution. The Jets took a 20-16 lead with 4:49 remaining on a 30-yard touchdown from Mark Sanchez to Santonio Holmes. They broke it open soon after that by recovering Grossman's fumble on a sack.
"They did a good job of mixing up all their stuff," Grossman said. "They never give you the same look twice. They never played the same type of scheme twice in a row. They do a lot of unique blitzes, and you can't get a beat on them. They're a pretty damn good football team."
Which, as we already knew, the Redskins are not.
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