- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Mo.

The Redskins held Priest Holmes to about four feet a carry yesterday. It didn’t matter.

They made Tony Gonzalez, the all-world tight end, practically disappear. That didn’t matter, either.

Nor did Mark Brunell’s 331 passing yards or Santana Moss’ 10 catches and two touchdowns. None of it mattered because the Redskins kept violating the first commandment of football: Thou shalt not involuntarily relinquish the pigskin.

Three lost fumbles rendered all the Redskins’ good work null and void yesterday at Arrowhead Stadium. One of them, which was returned 80 yards for a TD by Chiefs safety Sammy Knight, could be looked at as the biggest play in Washington’s 28-21 defeat. The perpetrator, Rock Cartwright, certainly regarded it as such.

“That fumble …,” Rock said. “I keep playing it over and over in my head. Shoulda had two hands on the ball. There’s no excuse. If that doesn’t happen, we might be in overtime right now.”

Actually, if that hadn’t happened, the Redskins might have won the game in regulation. They were well within field goal range when Kansas City’s Carlos Hall separated Cartwright from the ball on a second-and-3 play. Your basic 10-point swing there, perhaps even a 14-point swing.

This has been a recurring theme for the Redskins, their single biggest negative this season. Simply put, they’ve been way too loose with the ball. In all five of their games — every blasted one of them — they’ve been on the minus side in the turnover department. They got away with it in their first three games, miraculously enough, but in the last two, it has cost them. And so they headed home with a 3-2 record, when they could easily have been undefeated.

“Maybe I need to come up with something creative [to solve the problem],” Joe Gibbs said. Like what, make all the backs and receivers walk around this week with the ball Crazy Glued to their hands? All Gibbs knows is: “This year we’ve been turning the ball over — and not forcing turnovers. And that formula will kill you.”

In his first term as coach, the Redskins weren’t known for such generosity. Heck, in 1983, they set an all-time record with a plus-43 turnover differential. But the Redskins were minus-1 last season, and they’re minus-8 so far this year. Only one of Coach Joe’s previous 13 teams has finished with that big a deficit.

The other two fumbles yesterday were lost by Brunell, who otherwise played faultlessly. The first was doubly damaging, because he was convinced he had Chris Cooley open for a touchdown — that is, if Jared Allen, K.C.’s pass-rushing terror, hadn’t knocked the ball from his grasp. The Chiefs made the Redskins pay for their mistake by driving down the field and kicking a field goal. A possible 10-point swing there, too.

“Their defense made some great plays and put their offense in some good situations, and we didn’t,” Renaldo Wynn said. “That’s been the story for us [the last two seasons].”

It’s about the only knock against Gregg Williams’ defense. The unit has been very good at forcing punts, but it hasn’t been all that successful at forcing turnovers. Which makes the benching of LaVar Arrington — who played zero defensive snaps again yesterday — all the more regrettable. LaVar might be an unguided missile, but his aggressive play has been known to give opponents the dropsies, if not the heebie-jeebies.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, their self-destructiveness hasn’t been limited to turnovers this year. They also continue to hurt themselves with penalties — especially “stupid penalties,” as Jon Jansen put it. One such penalty, a silly personal foul against Carlos Rogers on a punt return, backed the Redskins up to their 7-yard line and sabotaged their last series of the first half.

Then there was the 20-yard pass interference call against Lemar Marshall and the roughing-the-passer penalty against Marcus Washington, both leading to Kansas City scores. Gibbs has the Redskins playing with heart, but he’s still trying to get them to plug in their brains.

“Everybody wondered when we were going to start scoring touchdowns — and now we’re [doing it],” Moss said. “Now it’s just time to cut back on these minor mistakes. If we can do that, we’re going to be a great football team.”

They’re only minor mistakes if they don’t keep you from winning the game. These were major mistakes, mistakes that may come back to haunt the Redskins when the playoff invitations are being handed out. They have 11 weeks to eliminate the problem — before the problem eliminates them.

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