- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

When a football coach talks about his team having trouble with "the little things," he's basically accusing it of mental laziness, of an inability to concentrate on the task at hand. Norv Turner reeled off a whole list of little things yesterday afternoon that plagued the Redskins in their 27-21 loss to the Cowboys. On and on he went, like a bailiff reading the charges.

Two blown coverages in the secondary that led to big plays of 76 and 44 yards.

Two personal fouls and two other penalties on kick returns.

A bad snap that put the Redskins in a second-and-28 situation.

"You can't have those things," Norv said.

No, you can't. Not unless you want to be a 1-2 team.

In football, victory is in the details. Do you stay with your man when the quarterback scrambles, or do you let him go? Do you keep your composure when an opponent pops you after the whistle, or do you pick up a retaliatory penalty? Do you hike the ball over the QB's head during a two-minute drill, or do you put it right in his hands?

These are the things that separate winners from losers in the NFL the little things. And they're what separated the Cowboys from the Redskins Monday night. Dallas had just as many turnovers (two) as Washington did, but it didn't have nearly as many mental meltdowns. Mental meltdowns cost the Redskins the game as much as anything.

And where do mental meltdowns come from? Fatigue, lack of interest, attention-span limitations, stupidity take your pick. (There are probably a few other reasons for them, too, ones that have escaped me.)

Frankly, I'm not sure the Redskins were ready for what has happened to them this season. I'm not sure they were ready for teams to come after them the way they have. They don't seem to have adjusted to being "the hunted" to being, as Marco Coleman says, "the team everybody circles on their schedule."

It's a big jump, a jump some clubs are never able to make. There's a world of difference between going 10-6 when nobody is gunning for you as was the case with the Redskins last year and going into the season as one of the Super Bowl favorites as is the case this year. Who gave the Redskins much respect at the start of last season? They had lost their first seven games the year before, their front office was in upheaval because of an ownership change and they were playing in one of the weakest divisions in the league.

But they aren't sneaking up on anybody this year. They attracted all kinds of attention in the offseason by signing Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeff George and Mark Carrier plus the second and third picks in the draft and essentially announced to the rest of the league, "We're going for it all, folks. See if you can keep up with us."

That's a lot of pressure to put on yourself and a lot of incentive to give the opposition. Especially when most players on the roster have never been in this position before. Deion has with San Francisco and Dallas. Smith has with Buffalo. But how many others have? How many others know what it's like to play on a marked team in the NFL?

It can be an incredible grind the grind within the grind. For starters, everybody gets jacked up for you. Did you see the way the Dallas defense was hitting Monday night? (I would say the Cowboys made eight of the top 10 hits in the game, and when you do that you usually win). A week earlier, it was Detroit that played maniacally against the Redskins. This week the Giants will be bouncing off walls. Next week Tampa Bay will bring its A game to FedEx Field. This is how it's going to be all season.

"We got a taste of it during the preseason," Turner said, "and I think the players understood [what they were going to be up against]. That's life in this league. Every week is a big football game, and that's something we have got to be able to handle."

So far, the Redskins aren't handling it. They talk a good game, but then they go out two weeks in a row and fail to match the other team's intensity. It's the rare team that can win in pro football by just showing up. The Redskins are far from being that kind of team.

Given the early returns, you have to wonder about a lot of things. You have to wonder if bringing in Deion et al. has made the Redskins complacent instead of merely confident (the desired effect). You have to wonder if holding training camp at Redskin Park was such a good idea, after all. (Since the club, at this stage, has no discernible chemistry.) You have to wonder if resting the starters so much in the preseason wasn't counterproductive. You have to wonder, finally, whether Dan Snyder knows how to do much of anything except raise prices and generate publicity.

"There are so many little things we have to do better if we're going to win a football game," Turner said. "… We've let a couple [of games] get away. We've gotta fix it and fix it fast."

The clock is tick-tick-ticking for the Redskins. Loudly.

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