- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Washington Redskins all but gave away victory yesterday. In the New York Giants, they found an opponent more than happy to take it.

The Redskins committed seven turnovers — leading to 17 Giants points — in a 20-14 loss to New York at Giants Stadium.

The Redskins were one of the smartest teams in the NFL during coach Joe Gibbs’ first tenure with the team. Yesterday, they were anything but.

The Redskins threw four interceptions and fumbled five times, losing three, as the opportunistic Giants dealt Gibbs his first defeat since his return from retirement.

“You’re not going to win games up here when you make the mistakes we made,” said Gibbs, who has won three times in his past 11 visits to Giants Stadium. “I don’t know that I’ve seen that many. If you don’t play smart, you don’t win.”

The Gibbs team that won the NFC championship in 1983 turned the ball over 18 times all season. This year’s team (1-1) is almost halfway there after just two weeks.

“Each loss is a test,” Gibbs said. “Certainly this one is. There are a lot of lessons we can learn from this. Offensively, we’ve got to take a long, hard look at ourselves. Turning the ball over and making ill-advised plays, that’s correctable. The question is, are we going to do it?”

The Redskins have an extra day to fix what ails the offense. They don’t play again until next Monday, when they face the Dallas Cowboys and Bill Parcells. Gibbs was 6-11 against Parcells when Parcells coached the Giants.

The Redskins need that extra day not just to sort out their offensive problems but to help heal the left hamstring of starting quarterback Mark Brunell.

Brunell, who threw an interception and lost a fumble yesterday, strained the hamstring on a handoff with 11:39 left in the third quarter.

Patrick Ramsey, last season’s starter, replaced Brunell and struggled mightily. Ramsey threw one touchdown pass, but that was more than offset by his three interceptions.

“It’s pretty sore right now,” said the 34-year-old Brunell. “It’s one of those day-to-day things, and we’ll see how it does with treatment. A hamstring is something I haven’t had to deal with in quite a long time. Certainly, I’m shooting for that big one against the Cowboys.”

Parcells’ defense no doubt will be shooting for that one, too, after watching the Redskins bumble, fumble and stumble against the Giants. The Redskins surrendered four sacks and drew seven penalties in addition to the turnovers.

The offense figured to be the strength of the Redskins this season because of Gibbs’ game plans, the addition of Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis, the presence of big-time receiver Laveranues Coles, the arrival of Brunell and a reinvigorated line.

Yet thus far the unit has struggled and taken a back seat to the newly aggressive defense.

“Today was a step back,” Brunell said. “It’s only been two weeks. We’ve got a lot of football to play, and we will get better. The passing game needs some work. We ran the ball well at times, but we’ve got to put four quarters together.”

The Redskins led 7-0 after an error-free first quarter that began with a smooth, 10-play, 53-yard drive. Brunell capped it with a 2-yard touchdown toss to rookie H-back Chris Cooley, who was wide open after nifty play-fake to Portis by Brunell.

However, Brunell fumbled on the Redskins’ third play of the second quarter when he was sacked by Fred Robbins. Michael Strahan recovered for the Giants at the Redskins’ 38, and third receiver Tim Carter burned safety Matt Bowen on the next play to tie the game.

Less than seven minutes later, Portis was stripped of the ball by Shaun Williams. Linebacker Barrett Green scooped up the ball and ran 16 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, the second by an opposing defense in as many games.

That play marked the end of a long streak for Portis — he had gone 280 regular-season touches without losing a fumble — and the beginning of a lead the Giants would never relinquish.

The turnover barrage continued when the Redskins got the ball back. Brunell, pressured by Green, threw the ball right into Robbins’ arms to set up Steve Christie’s 38-yard field goal three plays later.

That raised the lead to 17-7 for the Giants (1-1), who had lost a franchise-record nine straight games.

“I tried to get rid of it and just didn’t get enough on it to get it beyond the D-tackle,” Brunell said.

The Redskins trailed 20-7 at halftime, and Brunell drove the offense 50 yards downfield on its first possession of the second half before he was injured.

Ramsey entered and was sacked by Robbins on his second play. Portis fumbled again on the next play, and the Giants recovered.

The turnovers just kept coming.

Ramsey tried to force a pass to Coles in the end zone, and Brent Alexander picked it off. Ramsey atoned for the mistake late in the third quarter by drilling Portis with a 13-yard touchdown pass on the first series of the fourth quarter.

However, Ramsey ended the Redskins’ next two series with interceptions, one on a miscommunication with Coles and the other when he foolishly didn’t throw the ball away under pressure or take the sack. The Redskins didn’t advance past their own 30 the rest of the way.

“It’s amazing that we had the turnovers that we had and we’re still in the game at the end,” Brunell said.

The Redskins were still in it because of another solid performance by the defense, which allowed just 277 yards — 45 fewer than the Redskins gained — and just one drive as long as 40 yards.

“Our defense played extremely well in the second half, but we had already dug ourselves a hole,” Bowen said. “We can’t do that.”

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