- The Washington Times - Monday, November 30, 2009

PHILADELPHIA

Every game now is a cardiogram for the Redskins. All realistic hope for the season was lost before October ended, so the Big Question each week has become: Do they or do they not register a heartbeat?

On the opening kickoff Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles decided to check the Redskins’ vital signs themselves. David Akers dinked an onside kick toward the Washington sideline - the kind of trick play that usually works if an opponent’s mind is elsewhere, as the Snydermen’s easily could have been.

To the home crowd’s dismay, Quinton Ganther alertly gathered in the ball, chugged 25 yards and set up an early touchdown run by Jason Campbell. The Redskins had passed the first test. They hadn’t come to Philly feeling sorry for themselves - or to enjoy what was left of the fall foliage. They had come to play.

Jim Zorn’s team - we can still call it his team, can’t we? - passed a number of tests on this day, as it did in Dallas the week before. It pieced together an offense with Rock Cartwright and Ganther running the ball and the Kid Receiver Corps of Devin Thomas, Fred Davis and Malcolm Kelly catching it. It held the potent Eagles offense without a first down on five straight possessions at one point. And it gave itself a chance to win for the third consecutive game.

“We weren’t surprised [by Akers’ ploy], were we?” Zorn said, a certain pride creeping into his voice. “And we made hay when we got the ball. We got a quick score that gave us a lift.”

They did, indeed - an unusual enough occurrence this season. It was Washington 7, Philadelphia 0, before the crowd could finish scratching its collective head. (“Andy Reid did what?“) And in the fourth quarter, the Redskins were still ahead - 24-16 with 11:45 to go after Shaun Suisham booted a 25-yarder.

After a while, though, losing becomes a habit for a club just as winning does. That certainly holds true for these Redskins. Just as they allowed the Cowboys to drive the length of the field the week before and steal the game in the final minutes, they allowed the Eagles to go down the field twice - resulting in a touchdown, a two-point conversion and chip-shot field goal - to abscond with a 27-24 victory.

This, among many other things, is why the Redskins are 3-8 this morning and the Eagles are 7-4. Donovan McNabb and his mates have been winning games like Sunday’s for more than a decade. It’s second nature to them. Campbell and Co., on the other hand, keep on losing the close ones, which is why the franchise is headed for yet another coaching change and yet another housecleaning.

Look, we all know how racked up the Redskins are, the length of their injury list and all that. Against the Eagles, DeAngelo Hall and Ladell Betts were added to the scratches, joining Clinton Portis, Albert Haynesworth and a host of earlier casualties. The team is being held together with twine and Elmer’s Glue.

But it’s not like Philadelphia had every player at its disposal, either. Brian Westbrook, the Eagles’ do-everything running back, has been out most of the past month with concussion issues, and DeSean Jackson, their dynamic young deep threat, left the game midway through the third quarter after getting popped by London Fletcher. Still, Philly found a way to go 90 and 66 yards when it mattered most, turning to secondary targets Jason Avant and Jeremy Maclin for big gainers.

Despite the Redskins’ woes, in other words, the game was there for the taking - just as the Dallas game was there for the taking. But they simply weren’t up to the task. And it’s not like you can hang it on any one player or any one area of the club. It was an across-the-board failure, coaches included.

Speaking of which… the Eagles’ unsuccessful onside kick was no less second-guessable than Campbell’s interception in the last seconds of the first half, which handed Philadelphia a field goal (and, as it turned out, the winning points). The Redskins could have gone to the locker room in front 14-13, but Zorn opted to try for another score from his 35-yard line with 42 seconds left.

The Z-Man chalked it up to Asante Samuel, who picked off the pass, freelancing and “actually put[ting] their defense at risk. … [Campbell] was throwing to Devin Thomas, and Asante Samuel came right off of Santana [Moss] and got himself a pick. I have a hard time faulting the quarterback on that one.”

Who’s faulting the quarterback? I’m more inclined to fault the coach for overreaching.

Then there was the series in the fourth quarter - before Suisham kicked the aforementioned field goal. An interception by Justin Tryon gave the Redskins the ball at the Philly 23. Had they punched in a touchdown there, they would have been up 28-16 and forced the Eagles to score two TDs to win.

But again, it all goes back to teams being creatures of habit. The Redskins didn’t make the necessary plays because they rarely do make the necessary plays. They’re missing that indefinable “it.”

“We have the personnel to beat any team in the league,” Fletcher said. “It’s just a matter of doing it.”

To which Phillip Daniels added: “We don’t give up. We fight to the end. We just can’t [make] the big play. That’s what haunts us.”

Daniels is right. The Redskins certainly give it the old college try. Too bad they play in the National Football League.

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