- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

CHICAGO.

“Hey, it’s the Windy City,” John Hall said. “You’ve gotta expect some wind, right?”

Indeed you do. And it certainly came in handy for the Redskins yesterday. It helped them blow yet another game.

Steve Spurrier’s club has developed an amazing capacity to lose the close ones — five of them this season by a field goal or less. And yet, with five seconds to go against the Bears and the home team lining up to try a 45-yard field goal into a swirling wind, there wasn’t a man on the Washington sideline who wasn’t convinced the kick was going to miss, sending the game into overtime.

Rock Cartwright: “I didn’t think he had any chance to make it.”

Tim Hasselbeck: “There was no doubt in my mind we were going to get the ball back [in OT].”

Hall: “He’d already missed two [from shorter distances], and neither one of ‘em was easy. It was pretty tough out there. The wind was everywhere. The field was shoddy …

Haven’t they learned? (Guess not.) Paul Edinger’s boot sailed right through the uprights. It needed to go 45 yards, and it went, oh, 46. Bears 27, Redskins 24.

“I almost cried — liked we’d missed the playoffs,” Fred Smoot said. “That kick tells you the story of our whole season.”

And such a sad story it is, a story of squandered leads and self-destructive episodes and disappointment of every description. The saddest part, though, is that nothing ever changes. Losing can be a great teacher — if you’re taking notes. But the Redskins, it seems, are too busy shooting spitballs at one another in the back of the meeting room to extract anything useful from their experiences.

Yesterday’s defeat, their ninth in 11 games, followed an all-too-familiar script. The Redskins went ahead 17-10 late in the second quarter on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Hasselbeck to Laveranues Coles, then came out in the second half and proceeded to undo all their good work.

The unraveling began with the decision to give the Bears the wind to start the third quarter (when Chicago was already receiving the kickoff). Sorry, but if I’m leading — especially at an inhospitable place like Soldier Field — I don’t want to make it any easier for my opponent to catch up … and change the momentum of the game. I want to keep my cleat on his throat, see if I can go up by a couple of touchdowns and perhaps put him in a position where he has to throw. Make his offense one-dimensional, in other words.

But the Redskins opted to take the wind in the fourth quarter instead of the third. “John Hall wanted to kick it [into the wind],” Spurrier explained.

Now just a dang minute. The kicker is determining when the Redskins are going to have the wind?

“Come on,” Hall said, “that’s not up to me. They asked me which direction I wanted to kick in in the fourth quarter, and I said, ‘With the wind.’”

What kicker wouldn’t? If you need to make a big kick, you want the wind at your back, right? But what’s best for the kicker may not be best for the team.

Who knows? Maybe the Redskins would have lost the game, anyway. After all, it’s not like Rex Grossman threw the ball all over the lot in the third quarter. Mostly, he just handed off to Anthony Thomas. But the Bears were 5-for-5 on third down conversions in that quarter, and four of the conversions came on passes (one of them resulting in a touchdown). Had Chicago been going into the wind, it’s entirely possible Grossman would have missed at least one of those throws — and the game might have had a different outcome.

The Redskins never did stop the Bears in the second half, wind or no wind. The four times Chicago had the ball, it drove 69 (TD), 81 (TD), 54 (missed field goal) and 51 (field goal) yards. We’ve seen that before, too. The Other Guys come up with some answers at halftime — or perhaps just kick it up a notch — and the Redskins don’t.

“It’s like we can never catch a break,” Cartwright said. But that’s just self-denial talking. The Redskins had their fate in their hands with 5:29 left and the score tied, 24-24. All they had to do was make a foot on fourth down at the Washington 43 and they would have retained possession and possibly gone on to score. But once again, they couldn’t stay out of their own way. Rookie guard Derrick Dockery false-started, the Redskins wound up punting, and the offense never ran another play.

A game against the Eagles, the division champs, is all that’s left of this wretched season (if you can bear to watch). In other circumstances, it might be something to look forward to — a preview of 2004 and so forth. But in the Redskins’ case, it figures only to remind us of how little progress they’ve made the past two seasons and how far they still have to go.


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