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DALY: For Redskins, an ominous start, fabulous finish

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION: 

TAMPA, Fla. — When you've lost for as long as the Washington Redskins have lost, a kind of Battered Fan Syndrome sets in. A break will go against the team early in the game, and a here-we-go-again mentality will take over. It's hard to blame folks. The wretchedness has gone on for two decades now. Over that much time, you develop defense mechanisms.

So after Brandon Meriweather unintentionally smacked into Aldrick Robinson during warmups Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, effectively wiping out Mike Shanahan's starting strong safety and one of his more useful receivers, the news couldn't have been too well received in Redskinsland. Sometimes, though, a bad omen doesn't turn out to be bad omen. Sometimes it just turns out to be an Unfortunate Thing That Happened Before the Game, after which events transpired the way events do.

In this case, they transpired into a last-second 24-22 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs that kept hope alive for the local eleven. After back-to-back losses to St. Louis and Cincinnati, losses that also cost them the services of Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker, the Redskins needed to stabilize and needed to do it fast. The schedule, after all, isn't going to get kinder down the road. Indeed, beginning this week against unbeaten Atlanta, it starts to look like an episode of "Survivor."

That the Redskins accomplished this in Tampa, where they haven't had too many happy memories, only made it sweeter. (The scores 14-13 and 36-35 come to mind.) Especially since the conditions were most inhospitable — hot, sticky and just not conducive to playing quality football.

"When you want to win," said Fred Davis, who had a team-high 70 receiving yards and came up big on the final drive, "you persevere and make it happen. We weren't going to leave here with a loss. Whatever we had to do, we were going to do it."

In the first half, it looked like the Redskins were going to leave Tampa with a comfortable, confidence-boosting victory. After spotting the Bucs a first quarter field goal, Robert Griffin III and Co. scored three straight touchdowns to take a seemingly secure 21-3 lead.

The first of them balanced the scales a bit for the Meriweather-Robinson mishap. Griffin, running a quarterback draw from the Tampa Bay 9, fumbled on the 1, and Pierre Garcon recovered in the end zone for a TD. Just like that, the Redskins weren't unlucky. Or at least, they weren't twice unlucky. There were merely a club that had suffered a pregame misfortune and then gone about its business.

But hanging on to leads has proved challenging for these Redskins. They were up 21-6 on the Rams and couldn't close the deal, and they let the Bucs erase an 18-point deficit. "We can't keep doing that," DeAngelo Hall said. "We've gotta buckle down and finish games off."

To which Santana Moss added: "If we'd lost that game, it would have been like a dagger in the chest. Especially after we killed 'em in the first half."

Once again, it was breakdowns in the secondary — major breakdowns — that caused problems for Washington. The first was a 65-yard bomb to Mike Williams, the second a 54-yarder to octopus-like Vincent Jackson. You'd think, after getting burned for scores of 73, 48 and 59 yards by the Bengals, the Redskins would have been a little more diligent on the back end against Tampa Bay, but no. Did Meriweather's absence make a difference? Hard to say. I mean, we've hardly seen the guy in uniform.

The shakiness of Billy Cundiff, the club's new kicker, also nearly proved fatal. Cundiff missed two "makeables" — one from 41 yards, the other from 31 with 12:13 left — that left the door wide open for the Bucs ... and they barged through. In short order, LeGarrette Blunt bulldozed 2 yards for a touchdown, and Connor Barth booted his third long field goal, a 47-yarder, to make it 22-21, Bucs, with 1:42 to go.

But 102 seconds are simply too many for Griffin, who has been a quick study in these last-gasp situations. With calm and self-assurance, he moved the Redskins downfield with completions of 15 (Moss), 20 (Davis), 4 (Evan Royster) and 7 yards (Moss again), along with a 15-yard scramble to the Tampa Bay 26. (Or as Fred put it: "We know, if nobody's open, Robert's got legs.") This time, with his job probably on the line, Cundiff knocked through a 41-yarder to win it.

"I wanted that [one last] chance," he said. "In the fourth quarter, your team has to be able to trust you."

Thus did a day that had started ominously end with raised arms and hugs all around. The Redskins weren't cursed, not in the least. They just have to work a little harder on this Pregame Warmup Thing — and save the casualties for the actual game.

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