- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 11, 2011

Think back six weeks ago when the Washington Redskins‘ offense was so pitiful that its progress was measured in completions and first downs. Three-and-outs, sacks and turnovers were the expectation. Victory seemed impossible.

If those were the Redskins‘ darkest times, then the past few weeks have been their most exasperating. That’s how quarterback Rex Grossman sees it, at least. The offense is functional again, but victory remains elusive because the Redskins lack the ability to finish games.

So when they went toe-to-toe Sunday with the New England Patriots only to fall short in the final seconds and lose 34-27, it seemed worse than those bleak afternoons back around Halloween.

“It can be more frustrating when that happens,” Grossman said. “But you’re trying to build something, and there’s something to build off of. You can look at it both ways. It’s so disappointing that we had our chances to win but we didn’t get it done.”

The Redskins (4-9) lost for the eighth time in their past nine games and ensured their third consecutive losing season. There was plenty of good throughout Sunday’s game, but ultimately the bad triumphed.

Washington was in position to upstage one of the NFL’s superpowers and steal a win that would serve as a modest consolation in this lost season. The Redskins drove to the Patriots’ 9-yard line with 29 seconds remaining. On third-and-goal, Grossman tried a short pass to Santana Moss across the middle. It went through Moss‘ hands and into linebacker Jerod Mayo’s grasp.

“You’re always disappointed when you can’t finish a game,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “I thought we did a number of good things today, but at the end of the day we fell a little bit short.”

Mayo’s interception marred one of the Redskins‘ finest games of the year. You can’t really call it a breakthrough, especially considering the Patriots entered the game with the NFL’s worst-ranked defense, but there’s no denying that Grossman and running back Roy Helu have improved the standard from those miserable midseason losses to Buffalo and San Francisco.

The offense scored more points than it had in any game this season, beating the previous high of 23 it scored against Seattle two games ago. The Redskins totaled a season-high 463 yards.

That was no small feat, either. Undrafted rookie Willie Smith played the majority of the game at left tackle in place of suspended Trent Williams. And starting right tackle Jammal Brown aggravated his strained left groin during pregame warmups, forcing backup Tyler Polumbus to play the whole game.

The Redskins adjusted without Williams, their most athletic lineman, and suspended tight end Fred Davis, their leading receiver. They had certain receivers block more frequently on inside runs. They also utilized fullback Darrel Young more.

“I’d say it worked,” Grossman said.

Helu’s determined running was a major factor. He amassed 126 yards on 27 carries to become the first Redskins rookie to rush for more than 100 yards in three straight games.

“It’s pretty cool,” Helu said. “All credit to the linemen, they did great.”

In the passing game, Grossman exploited New England’s zone coverage. He was 19-of-32 passing for 252 yards, two touchdowns and the late interception.

He got the offense going with a 51-yard deep throw to Donte Stallworth on the Redskins‘ third series. That led to a field goal. And although the Redskins trailed 14-3 in the first quarter, Grossman eventually found his stride with the help of the running game.

“Unless you have just a one-dimensional offense, you have to have balance,” he said. “The runs have to put you in good positions to throw the ball, put you in third-and-manageable. Getting first downs on second down to keep you out of third down, getting big chunks, it opens up the play-action pass. It’s everything to this type of offense. It was pretty special today.”

But — and so often this season there has been a ‘but’ — they couldn’t make the big play in the clutch.

Two plays before the final interception, Moss thought he had tied the game. On second-and-goal from the 5, he ran a quick out from the right slot. Grossman hit him in the end zone, but officials ruled that Moss had pushed off defensive back Julian Edelman. Moss was irate about the call after the game.

“We blow our breath on one of the doggone guys over there and it’s a penalty,” Moss said. “Our quarterback get killed, and we almost hit somebody else’s quarterback and we get flagged. So it’s a lot of stuff that goes on. We got to play against a team and the refs.”

So, in the end, all the Redskins‘ offense accomplished Sunday netted the same result: defeat and anguish.

“People always say losing a close game is worse than losing a blowout,” Stallworth said. “If you get blown out, it seems like nothing goes right. But when it’s close, when you play the way we played, when you play the way we played against the Jets and Cowboys these past few weeks, it’s really tough.”

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