- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

PITTSBURGH — They couldn’t move the ball on offense. They played inspired defense for most of the afternoon. And despite hanging close with a top opponent, they ultimately were done in by a couple of big mistakes.

Sound familiar? It should. The Washington Redskins have shown more reruns this season than TV Land.

Like a bad episode of “The Brady Bunch,” anyone watching the Redskins during yesterday’s 16-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers could have recited this script line for line.

No offense, no discipline, no hope.

“It’s the same old story,” quarterback Patrick Ramsey said. “I’m almost tired of telling you guys the same thing about us being inconsistent, and just not being able to run the ball like we want to.”

If the players are sick of this, one can only imagine what Redskins fans were thinking yesterday as they watched their beloved team slog their way to yet another predictable loss.

Even the coach’s postgame remarks are starting to sound eerily similar.

“I told our football team that I was proud of them,” said Joe Gibbs, who is now ensured of the third nonwinning season in his coaching career. “They fight each and every week. We had two really tough opponents two weeks in a row. I felt like our guys competed and fought their guts out. We just weren’t good enough to get it today.”

Gibbs said practically the same thing one week ago after a 28-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. That game was nearly a carbon copy of this one, aside from the part where Washington (3-8) let the other team run up the score late.

The Redskins did manage to keep themselves within striking distance of the Steelers. That said, it’s doubtful many among the Terrible Towel-waving crowd of 63,707 at Heinz Field were ever really worried about the outcome of this game.

Close game or not, Pittsburgh was in control from the get-go. The Steelers (10-1) played their usual superb defense, wore the Redskins down with their bruising run game and struck for big plays only when they really needed them.

“They don’t care about winning pretty,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “They aren’t the Rams. They aren’t going to come out and try to put 50 points up on you. They’re going to come out and try to run straight over you.”

The Steelers actually had little success running the ball (averaging a mere 2.8 yards an attempt). That doesn’t mean they gave up on the run, though. Coach Bill Cowher, buoyed by a 13-0 first-half lead, kept handing the ball off. By day’s end, Cowher had called 38 runs to only 20 passes, keeping the pressure away from rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Gibbs, on the other hand, got away from his team’s lone offensive strength — tailback Clinton Portis. He gave Portis the ball only six times for 17 yards (both season lows), and by the end of the day, had called only 14 runs to 40 pass plays.

“There was no particular design [to the run-pass discrepancy],” Gibbs said. “We were just trying to move the ball the best we could, and we wound up throwing it quite a bit.”

Portis, who only a few weeks ago was on pace to set the franchise record for rushing attempts in a season, was diplomatic about his lack of game action. The Redskins’ $50million running back, though, clearly felt uneasy standing on the sideline for much of yesterday’s second half and deferring to backup Ladell Betts (who is used more in passing formations).

“If only you knew, man,” Portis said. “I can’t do nothing standing on the sidelines, can’t be a threat to the other team. It’s hard.”

Of course, the Redskins weren’t in a position to run the ball much after trailing 13-0 at halftime.

The Steelers took that relatively commanding lead thanks in large part to the elusive Antwaan Randle El, who in a span of four minutes ran back two punts for massive gains. Randle El’s first — a 60-yarder down the left sideline — set up the first of Jeff Reed’s three field goals. The subsequent return — a 43-yard scamper down the right sideline — set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Jerome Bettis (31 carries, 100 yards) that gave Pittsburgh a 10-0 lead.

Even though the Redskins’ defense held the Steelers to 207 total yards, Gregg Williams’ unit could not overcome the bad field position created by Randle El’s returns.

“Randle El played a bigger part in this game than most people who look at the stat sheet will think,” Smoot said. “The first half could have easily been 0-0; we were going back and forth. Then he comes and breaks two punt returns, and that just flipped the whole field for the offense. They went from kicking field goals to scoring touchdowns, and then, bam, we’re down.”

Even though they were down less than two touchdowns entering the second half, the Redskins’ offense had little chance of mounting a comeback. Ramsey (19 of 34, 138 yards) did engineer a 13-play drive, capped by a 2-yard touchdown pass to H-back Chris Cooley on fourth-and-goal, but that was it.

Washington’s third-year quarterback was otherwise undressed by Pittsburgh’s top-ranked defense, which surrendered a scant 156 yards, recorded five sacks and picked off one of Ramsey’s passes.

It was little surprise, then, that the Redskins failed to reach the 20-point mark for the 11th straight week. Nor that they left town with yet another frustrating loss that looked far too familiar.

“You see progress in areas, but then maybe we regress in others,” Ramsey said. “We’ve just got to put full games together. We’ve got to score points. One of our goals is to score 21, and we’ve got to do that.”

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