Twice in the first half of this season, the Washington Redskins showed an impressive ability to shrug off defeat, be it an opening-week setback against the New York Giants or a mid-October clunker facing the previously winless St. Louis Rams.
This week, Jim Zorn’s crisis-management skills will be on full display.
Continuing to show an inability to finish drives and failing to cash in on the rare takeaway, the Redskins fell to the Dallas Cowboys 14-10 on Sunday night.
Now 0-3 in prime-time games this season, the Redskins (6-4) lost sole possession of second place in the NFC East and sit just one game away from being shoved out of the playoff picture.
“This group has a lot of confidence,” center Casey Rabach said. “We see what we’re capable of, and we know what we’re capable of. It’s about execution.
“Each one of us has to look at themselves and ask, ‘Did we play our football?’ If not, then we have to start doing it.”
Said coach Jim Zorn: “This is the time of the season where those teams that are going upward start making that climb. And we’re not making the climb.”
Dallas (6-4) scored the winning touchdown with 10:36 remaining when quarterback Tony Romo - back after missing three games with a broken pinkie - tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Martellus Bennett.
The Redskins marched to the Dallas 37 on the next drive before losing possession on downs with 6:36 left.
They never got the ball back.
Dallas in general and Marion Barber in particular burned up the remaining time, sealing the win on a fourth-down conversion with 1:02 left.
“He’s a momentum kind of runner, and he was able to gain a few yards here and there [early] and then got on a roll,” defensive end Andre Carter said.
The Redskins’ defense produced two early interceptions but then had no answer for Barber, who carried 24 times for 114 yards.
“We threw punches, they threw punches and they got the last punch,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “They knocked us out. We didn’t rise to the occasion on offense or defense. There’s nobody to blame. They made plays. We didn’t.”
Still, Washington entered the fourth quarter with a 10-7 lead.
Dallas’ first fourth-quarter possession gave the Cowboys their first lead. Romo shoveled a pass to Miles Austin for an 8-yard gain on third down. On the next play, Bennett got behind Redskins safety Chris Horton.
Romo overcame two early interceptions to complete 19 of 27 throws for 198 yards.
“We didn’t make enough plays,” Smoot said. “We didn’t get to Romo enough, and we didn’t intercept enough passes. We shouldn’t have let them come in and do this. But we did, and we have to pick it up and get moving.”
The game’s intrigue started three hours before kickoff. Clinton Portis showed the coaching and training staffs that his left knee and right leg injuries were well enough to play, and he started. He reached the 1,000-yard mark on his first carry.
“Clinton’s a warrior, and he played his butt off, no doubt banged up, and did good things for us,” Rabach said.
But Portis’ presence on the opening drive took a backseat to Mike Sellers’ emergence. On a third-and-14 from the Dallas 24-yard line, Jason Campbell threw to Sellers on the right side. Sellers bulldozed his way to a 13-yard gain, allowing Zorn to go for it on fourth-and-1. Portis gained 9 yards to keep the possession alive, and on the next play, Campbell connected with Sellers for the 2-yard score.
“We were really happy starting the way we did,” Rabach said. “We just have to keep that momentum and keep going. We had a lull after that and it definitely hurt us.”
The Redskins’ lull included missed opportunities to extend the lead throughout the first half. Dallas’ second possession ended at the Washington 20 when Hall - making his debut with the Redskins - intercepted Romo, whose pass was behind intended receiver Terrell Owens.
The Redskins couldn’t cash in on Hall’s turnover, going three-and-out.
In the second quarter, Carlos Rogers hit Owens as he was collecting Romo’s pass, which Rocky McIntosh intercepted at the Washington 16. It gave the Redskins their first multi-takeaway game since Week 3.
But the Redskins punted thanks to a penalty and a sack.
Dallas tied the game on the ensuing possession, a seven-play, 80-yard march capped by Barber’s 2-yard touchdown run 61 seconds before halftime. The Redskins finally took advantage of a big play when Rock Cartwright returned the kickoff 58 yards to the Dallas 37. Four plays later, Shaun Suisham hit from 41 yards to make it 10-7 Redskins at halftime.
The Redskins got the ball first in the third quarter and worked into Dallas territory on a 20-yard dump off pass to Betts on third-and-11. Three plays later from the Dallas 35, Campbell’s third-and-2 pass intended for Moss was intercepted by Terence Newman at the 33.
On their next possession, the Redskins reached the Dallas 17 before losing 11 yards and watching Suisham’s field goal attempt fall short.