- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

The Redskins took the escalator down to a lower circle of hell yesterday. Matched against a team no better than they, a team with only slightly less dismal playoff prospects, they blew yet another second half lead and lost to the Saints, 24-20, at FedEx Field.

That’s seven defeats in eight games, for those of you scoring at home. But worse, it assures the Redskins of their fourth straight non-winning season under Dan Snyder — with more horrors sure to come in the next four weeks. A pattern has developed, and it’s not an encouraging one. After capturing the NFC East title in Snyder’s first year as owner, the Redskins have proceeded to go 8-8 (with legitimate playoff hopes until late in the season), 8-8 (with much fainter playoff hopes late in the season), 7-9 (with no playoff hope) and now 4-8 (with the very real possibility of finishing 6-10 or worse). In other words, the club has regressed every year for the last four.

The frustration flowed in the Washington locker room. “You can’t just hit a guy one time [and expect to win],” Champ Bailey said. “You have to hit him again and again. We’re not punching people. We’re not getting combination punches. And it’s killing us.”

He was speaking figuratively — I think.

It’s true, though. The Redskins never seem to get in the last punch. It’s always the other guys who drive down the field in the fourth quarter to win the game. For several seasons now, they’ve been one of those teams that plays Just Well Enough to Lose.

And because of this, because of all the games that have just gotten away, their owner has been deluded into thinking the Redskins were close to being contenders. But Dan the Man can’t kid himself any longer. After following a 7-9 season with the current debacle, the Redskins obviously aren’t close to anything — except perhaps a Dec. 28 tee time (preferably somewhere warm).

Losing 24-20, 24-23, 20-17, 21-14, 27-25 — need I go on? — can blind you to the truth. You can get so caught up in the “a break here, a break there” mentality that you forget you’ve got one of the worst records in the conference. At a certain point, though, you are what you are. And the Redskins right now are a 4-8 football team, an 11-17 team the past two years.

“We’re a play or two away right now, it seems like,” Steve Spurrier said afterward. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. The Redskins aren’t a play or two away right now; they’re a play or two away just about every week. And that suggests a much larger problem, one that can’t be made to disappear by, say, signing half the Jets roster in the offseason.

Besides, when a coach says his club is a play or two away, what he’s really saying is, “In a couple of key situations today, we needed somebody to step up and nobody did.” And that, of course, has been one of the underlying themes during the Redskins’ current nosedive — their big names just haven’t been coming through for them. Bailey, for instance, had a couple of costly pass interference penalties yesterday, both of which led to touchdowns. LaVar Arrington wasn’t nearly as visible as you’d like him to be. Chris Samuels, who has had his ups and downs all season, wasn’t even on the field because of a sprained knee. All three are among the top-paid players at their positions, but there have been too many Sundays when they haven’t given the Redskins enough bang for the buck.

The paycheck doesn’t make the player. In fact, in some instances, it has been known to undo the player. One of these days, Snyder is going to figure that out. Every year, the Redskins take the field with great expectations — after feverish offseason maneuvering — and every year they disappoint. It’s time for them to admit to themselves that they really aren’t very good; only then can they hope to get better. (It’s kind of like the first step in a 12-step program: You have to acknowledge you’re a loseaholic before the healing can begin.)

Those who prefer to remain in a state of denial will point out that the Redskins were without their starting quarterback yesterday and had to make do with relative newcomer Tim Hasselbeck. What they’ll forget to mention is that the Redskins have been without Patrick Ramsey for a number of games now, if you look at the stats. Ramsey hasn’t been himself, physically or mentally, since the first month of the season. Indeed, several of his performances have pretty closely resembled Hasselbeck’s (22 of 42, 231 yards, no TDs, one interception).

Hasselbeck certainly wasn’t the reason New Orleans drove for consecutive touchdowns late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, which turned a 17-10 lead into a 24-20 deficit. That was the work — or lack thereof — of others. The game was very winnable, despite his modest contributions. But then, you can say that almost every week with the Redskins.

“If you look at all the stories that have been written since we were 3-1,” Jon Jansen said, “all you have to do is change the name of the opponent — it’s the same story every week. We had the lead. We lost it. We couldn’t control the ball. The game was right there for us, and we couldn’t get it done.”

For more than two months it has been like that for the Redskins. And there’s still — shudder — another month to go.

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