The defenders searched for answers among shreds of training tape, piled maroon sweat pants, bags leaking shoulder pads and the debris of another loss.
Their words were calm. Measured. Polite. No fingers pointed toward the sparsely-populated half of the Washington Redskins' locker room at FedEx Field where the offense resides.
"They need to rely on us," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "We've got a lot of free agents in here, we've got high draft picks. ... We should be the focal point. We should be the reason we win games."
Frustration seeped through each defender's voice after the San Francisco 49ers' 19-11 victory Sunday. They limited the 49ers to 326 yards. Three-for-12 on third-downs. Sacked quarterback Alex Smith twice and hit him seven times. Looked more composed and effective than the unit that surrendered 390 yards to the Buffalo Bills in the previous game.
None of it was enough.
After the defense tied for 31st in the NFL last season and ranked near the bottom in every category, it has become team's foundation. But it couldn't do what the Redskins needed most Sunday: score points. Lots of them.
Everything was lost in a swirl of 49ers fans in bright red jerseys waving bottles of beer in celebration and unending choruses of "Party Rock Anthem" telling everybody at FedEx Field to have a good time and, of course, series after series of offensive misery.
"It's tough, it's tough when you're in a situation like this," Cofield said. "At a certain point you have to throw out the larger goals and start winning. ... You've got to take the onus on yourself to make the big plays."
The season has come to the earnest words of rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, the weight the offense's troubles heaved on their defensive counterparts.
"We scored 11 points today, so we've got to hold San Francisco to 10," Kerrigan said. "We didn't do that today, so we lost."
They don't just need to make plays. They need to approach perfection.
Plays, plenty of them, came from second-year coordinator Jim Haslett's group. Kerrigan flew across the field to belt Smith for a 7-yard loss. LaRon Landry scooped up the fumble DeAngelo Hall jarred lose from tight end Vernon Davis near midfield in the fourth quarter.
Six plays later, quarterback John Beck's incomplete pass handed back the ball on downs.
Oh, the defense made mistakes. Look no further than the nonexistent coverage when 49ers fullback Bruce Miller ran past Rocky McIntosh as if he were frozen in place. Cornerback Josh Wilson's speed wasn't enough to catch up as the wide-open Miller hauled in Smith's 30-yard pass for an easy second-quarter touchdown.
But the highlights seemed almost secondary, as the offense moved the ball with the effectiveness, beauty and good humor of the Beltway at rush hour.
"We made too many mistakes on offense," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "At some point we'll play 60 minutes."
Added Wilson: "You control what you can control. We need to get some points, to put it in the end zone. That's what we need to do."
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