TORONTO — You don't win two Super Bowls and 163 games in an 18-year head coaching career without answers. Mike Shanahan has had them more often than not. Heck, there have even been times when Shanahan, widely regarded as one of the sport's sharpest offensive minds, has invented new ones.
Yet when he emerged from the Rogers Centre visitors locker room Sunday night, the solutions escaped him. After all, there isn't much to say when a big, fat zero sits next to your team's name on the scoreboard.
And for the first time in his 267 games as an NFL coach, he suffered that ignominy in the Washington Redskins' 23-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
"It's pretty humbling to take that," he said.
How else to describe such a thorough dismantling? Shanahan built a possible Hall of Fame career with his offensive prowess, but now he must deduce how to resurrect a reeling Redskins unit that did nothing right in the team's third straight loss.
The Redskins surrendered nine sacks and gained only 178 yards in one of the franchise's ugliest games in recent memory. The Redskins (3-4) were shut out for the first time since December 2009. The nine sacks allowed tied a 33-year-old franchise record.
"It's humbling at times," left guard Will Montgomery said, using Shanahan's word. "We were 3-1 and you guys are asking us about playoffs. Now we're 3-4 and [stuff] is hitting the fan."
How did it devolve to this point?
"That," Shanahan said, "is a good question."
There are so many possible starting points, really.
A crowd of 51,579 filled Rogers Centre to witness NFL football's only game north of the border this season in the Bills' annual series designed to expand their market share here. Fans saw one NFL team that appears to have reversed years of losing and one that appears headed for another disappointing finish.
The Redskins, it seems, didn't have a passport for offensive execution.
"You think I'm satisfied? We didn't score a point," Shanahan bristled. "Obviously I'm very disappointed in our execution, but we'll go back and work on the execution."
Pass protection, in particular, was a major problem. Washington's patchwork offensive line still has not recovered from injuries to starting left tackle Trent Williams and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger two weeks ago. Three second-stringers started up front for the second straight week.
"We have plenty of talent, plenty of ability and some guys that can do some great things," right guard Chris Chester said, despite Sunday's evidence to the contrary. "I think it's just all putting it together consistently. We have great work throughout the week. I think it just comes down to executing on Sunday."
The Bills entered the game with four sacks on the season but feasted when Washington fell behind and abandoned the run.
"It sucks, straight pass rush," fill-in left tackle Sean Locklear said. "They're not worried about anything but getting to the quarterback."
John Beck didn't help the cause much. On some plays, he held the ball in the pocket too long. On others, he didn't have enough time to set and scan the field.
He finished 20-of-33 for 208 yards. He threw two interceptions in the second half. One was behind tight end Fred Davis, deflected up by trailing safety George Wilson and picked. The second was a deep throw on which Donte Stallworth fell in pursuit of the ball. Safety Jairus Byrd kept his feet and caught the pass without trouble.
"This is a tricky one to give answers for," Beck said. "I'm trying to figure it out myself."
Washington's defense wasn't a big help, either. Yes, London Fletcher picked off a pass and Brian Orakpo recovered a fumble — turnovers that eluded the Redskins in the previous week's loss to Carolina — but the group appeared to blow coverages on both of Buffalo's touchdown passes.
Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hit tight end Scott Chandler for touchdowns of 20 and 15 yards. Fletcher raised his arms in frustration after both, as if to ask who blew their assignment.
The Redskins now face an unraveling season. The most shocking part, perhaps, is how far they have regressed. Their fast start might as well have been a different team in a different season. Their search for answers intensifies.
"We'll go back," Shanahan said, "get some young guys some more experience and hopefully get better for next week."
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