Terrence Austin stood in solitude at his stall inside a quiet Washington Redskins‘ locker room late Sunday afternoon, stewing over his mistakes that contributed to their 19-11 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
There was his illegal crackback block that cost the Redskins‘ offense 15 yards near the end of the third quarter. He also lost a fumble in the fourth.
Coach Mike Shanahan believes young players’ miscues, plenty of which marked this ugly defeat, are the foundation for future success. But that was no consolation for the second-year wide receiver after Washington’s fourth straight loss.
Austin pulled his chain over his head, made sure the pendant — a football with a ‘T’ affixed to the middle — was facing forward and sighed.
“I think that that’s just a nice way to put it,” Austin said. “Coach believes in us, and he understands that’s going to be tough, but I’ll take it personal. We understand that we’ve got to fill in for the guys that’s been gone because of injury, but it’s part of being professionals. We’ve just got to pay a lot more attention to detail, including me.”
This is what Shanahan’s second season has come to. What began so promisingly with three wins in the first four games has devolved into an evaluative exercise by the halfway point.
The Redskins (3-5) started rookies in place of their injured first-string running back, left guard and No. 1 receiver. They surrounded a starting quarterback who still is searching for his first NFL win.
The final product was about as ugly as it gets. The Redskins did score 11 points, an 11-point improvement over last week, but they turned the ball over three times and gained only 303 yards.
“You could see that inconsistency [Sunday], but these guys are gaining valuable experience,” Shanahan said. “Not only the quarterback, but also the wide receivers, the running backs — eventually it’s going to pay dividends when some of these young guys get some playing time.
“When you have that many new pieces — it does look a little ragtag, and that’s the reason why we were so inconsistent.”
If those words sound to you like a coach acknowledging that his team is not equipped to contend for the postseason, you’re not alone. Not that Shanahan would come out and say that, but the last two losses, if nothing else, were a reality check.
Perhaps the coldest reality is at quarterback, where John Beck for the second straight game did not consistently show the potential Shanahan believes he possesses inside his mind and right arm.
Shanahan, however, said Beck will start against Miami next week after completing 30-of-47 passes for 254 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
“Everybody looks at the quarterback position saying, ‘That’s the guy.’ You take a look at one of he best pass rushes in the league, best rushing defense, No. 1 in fewest points given up, and it’s not always going to be the quarterback,” Shanahan said.
“I’m not saying that John played the perfect game — I’m not trying to go that way — but as a head coach, you know that you’ve got to have 11 pieces of the puzzle. And if you don’t, everybody looks pretty ordinary.”
Beck repeated some of the same mistakes that crippled the Redskins‘ offense in last Sunday’s 23-0 loss to Buffalo. He held onto the ball too long at times and missed some open receivers.
On fourth-and-2 early in the fourth quarter, for example, Beck threw incomplete to tight end Fred Davis on a quick out route. Davis was well-covered, but receiver Jabar Gaffney was open on a similar route near the left sideline.
“[I was] kind of open out there today,” Gaffney said. “For whatever reason, John goes through his reads and a lot of times he didn’t come to me. That’s for coach to talk to John about.”
Beck threw an interception at the end of the first quarter when San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson fooled him by covering Davis’ cut to the sideline when Beck did not expect him to.
Beck also said he missed some opportunities to hit plays down field.
“We came back and looked at the photos that they give us on the sideline, and there was a few where I could have waited a second longer and had a shot at something,” he said.
The problems extended beyond Beck, though. Rookie running back Roy Helu had a franchise single-game record 14 receptions, but he fumbled after one of them. The 49ers turned that into a touchdown before halftime.
Austin’s mistakes exacerbated the offense’s plight. He was so disappointed in himself because they resulted from mental lapses.
Take the illegal block. “I was supposed to bypass the linebacker anyway and not even block the linebacker,” he said. “I was supposed to block the safety. Shoot, I just didn’t do it. I busted my assignment.”
And the fumble? “Ball in the wrong hand,” he said. “I was trying to make a play. I didn’t pay attention to fundamentals, and that’s what happens.”