The Washington Redskins were a thirsty man within reach of water Sunday. For three weeks they crawled through the desert while their season withered and rotted without a functional offense to sustain it.
This point-starved unit, however, found an oasis against the Dallas Cowboys. Suddenly, there was hope for the hopeless.
Heartbreak, though, is always close by. The Redskins got the offensive surge they were desperate for, but they missed two field goal attempts and endured major defensive breakdowns in a 27-24 overtime loss.
"Anytime the offense puts points on the board like that, man, we got to win the game," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "We're [fussing] and complaining over the past couple weeks about them putting 10 points, nine points, 12, and they come out here and put 24 and we don't win the game. So it's definitely frustrating from a defensive standpoint because the plays they got were plays we just messed up on."
The Redskins remained unquenched after Graham Gano missed wide right on a 52-yard field goal try in overtime. Dan Bailey's 39-yard field goal on the ensuing drive sealed their sixth straight loss. They fell to 3-7, and considering that two NFC teams with six losses missed the playoffs last year, any hope for a miraculous turnaround expired.
Washington, then, is left to play out the string with a new source of angst.
The Redskins' offense actually showed a pulse with Rex Grossman under center for the second straight game, but their defense and special teams betrayed them
After totaling 20 points in the past three games, the Redskins' 24 were the most their offense has scored this season. They scored early touchdowns on drives that started at the Cowboys' 32- and 43-yard lines.
Their 14-10 halftime lead was their first lead since Oct. 2. The announced crowd of 80,122 roared with life. Fans finally had something to cheer.
Several breakdowns, however, sent them home with a familiar feeling.
"We were so close," safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said. "We felt like we had the game right there, and we let it slip through our fingers."
Washington cooled off Dallas rookie running DeMarco Murray by limiting him to 73 yards on 25 carries, well below his 6.7-yards per carry average.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, however, showed the Redskins exactly how valuable a play-making quarterback is. He was 23-of-37 for 292 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a 113.8 passer rating.
Several of his biggest throws occurred after he escaped the pocket and improvised.
"He's like a snake, man," linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "He's slippery. He's all over the place. It don't matter if you beat your guy, you've got to worry about him. That's the frustrating part."
Romo opened the scoring by connecting with Dez Bryant in the end zone near the right sideline on third-and-8 from the Redskins' 22. He found the soft spot in Washington's cover-2 zone. Hall and Atogwe trailed the play.
"Everybody else played the defense the way they were coached, and I had some bad technique that cost us," Atogwe said.
Romo struck another blow with the score 17-17 and less than nine minutes remaining in regulation. On third-and-8 from Dallas' 41, he spun to his left, turning his back to the line of scrimmage, to escape Orakpo's pass rush.
Meanwhile, the Redskins blew coverage of tight end Jason Witten. Romo exploited it by hitting Witten in stride out in front of rookie safety DeJon Gomes for a touchdown.
"It was cover-2 zone, and somebody dropped him," Hall said. "Somebody should have been running with him through the whole course of the play."
Romo delivered his final dagger in overtime after Gano missed a chance to win it. On third-and-15 from Washington's 49, the Redskins showed an all-out blitz, just as they did on the decisive third-and-21 play in these teams' first meeting in September.
Atogwe dropped out of the blitz and tried to help Hall underneath in covering Bryant, but neither matched Bryant's out cut. The 26-yard completion extended the drive and positioned Dallas for the winning kick.
"I slipped," Hall said. "Can't slip. I'm the reason we lost the game. It's frustrating. It's tough to swallow. Second time in a row to Dallas."
Hall, who represented the Redskins in the Pro Bowl last season, went on to excoriate himself.
"The way I'm playing right now, they need to go cut me because I'm definitely not worth what I'm getting," he said. "It's frustrating. Hopefully they see something in me and they bring me back next year, but the way things are going right now, I'm definitely not playing up to par."
Neither are his teammates, though. The canteen of water remains beyond their grasp.
"We've just got to keep playing hard and things will fall in our place, but right now we just can't get any breaks," Orakpo said. "It's hard, man, because you've got a lot of guys fighting, trying to do something to make that big play. It's just frustrating."
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