- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2009


For quite some time Sunday, it seemed the Washington Redskins would conclude a crazy week with a satisfying victory, one that would put them above .500 heading into a home game with the winless Kansas City Chiefs.

Washington led by 15 points midway through the third quarter thanks to touchdowns off turnovers that even its punchless offense couldn’t fail to cash in on. The Redskins still led by five when Andre Carter sacked Jake Delhomme to force a punt with 10:15 to go.

But when Jason Baker’s subsequent punt hit Redskins special teamer Byron Westbrook and was recovered by Carolina at the Washington 12-yard line, it only made sense that the officials overruled Antwaan Randle El’s fair catch signal and their own initial call and handed the ball to the Panthers even though Westbrook had collided with Randle El.

While Randle El watched “a little disgusted,” the previously winless hosts said thank you very much for the gift, scoring the decisive touchdown two plays later and handing the Redskins a 20-17 defeat that capped a weird week for the franchise.

Consider this rundown:

*On Monday, the day after the come-from-behind victory over the Buccaneers, the Pro Bowl tandem of Clinton Portis and Mike Sellers got into a fight that required teammates to intervene.

*On Tuesday, the front office foisted former Green Bay/Minnesota/Detroit offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis - who had been calling bingo and delivering meals in retirement - on coach Jim Zorn as a consultant.

*On Wednesday, unbeknownst to media members, who aren’t allowed to watch team drills during the regular season, Mike Williams - who had never played guard and who hadn’t played at all since 2005 - became Washington’s third starter at right guard in four weeks.

*On Thursday, the Redskins announced defensive coordinator Greg Blache, the resident master of one-liners, was no longer speaking to the media. Blache gave a 75-second summary of the game against the Bucs and a preview of the Panthers, took no questions and walked away without an explanation.

“We’ve got a lot going on,” co-captain Rock Cartwright said. “We’ve got to remove the clutter and focus on what we’ve got to focus on.”

That focus was blurred almost from the start Sunday. Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels went out with a stinger on Washington’s second play, a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jason Campbell to Clinton Portis.

Samuels was replaced by D’Anthony Batiste, who hadn’t played since December 2007 and had never played tackle. But that’s where he played because Rinehart was inactive. Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin suited up even though he knew his sprained left elbow would keep him from playing.

If Rinehart, whose apparent sprained shoulder was never listed on the injury report during the week, had suited up, he could have gone to guard. Williams would have played his familiar right tackle, moving Stephon Heyer to the left side, where he had filled in for Samuels in the past. The makeshift line allowed five sacks and helped produced just 3.1 yards a carry against a defense that was last in the NFL against the run.

Still, the Redskins might well have hung on if not for the punt return snafu.

Defensive end Phillip Daniels could recall only one stranger finish during his 14 seasons - a phantom touchdown that beat his Seattle team in 1998, helped keep the Seahawks out of the playoffs and prompted coach Dennis Erickson’s dismissal four weeks later.

“It shouldn’t have come down to that,” center Casey Rabach said of the botched punt return. “We were up 17-2. It’s disheartening losing close games like this.”

Reminded that his team had squeaked by at home against St. Louis 9-7 and Tampa Bay, both of whom are winless, Rabach responded, “Should they even have been close?”

They always are. All but four of coach Jim Zorn’s 21 games have been decided by eight points or fewer. The last time Washington won by a bigger margin was the 2007 finale, which capped a 4-0 run to the playoffs that followed the murder of star safety Sean Taylor. Sixteen of the current regulars were Redskins back then, too.

“We haven’t painted the best picture for ourselves at 2-3,” said co-captain London Fletcher, one of those 16 regulars. “But we’re not panicking. We know what we’re capable of doing. And for some reason we play better when the pressure’s on.”

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