- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Arlington, Texas — The Redskins were so close to a 3-0 record Monday night that they could grab it by the facemask. Up 16-15 on the Cowboys with 2:25 left, all they had to do was stop a third-and-21 play — a third-and-21 prayer, really — and a huge NFC East road win was theirs. Their failure to do so was about as improbable as losing a game in which they didn’t allow a touchdown, in which all Dallas could manage was six Dan Bailey field goals. They can only hope they won’t look back at this 18-16 defeat with dismay when the playoff invitations are handed out. After all, it could so easily have wound up in the victory column.

About the only good thing about it, Barry Cofield said, is that the Redskins “don’t have as much time to sulk and feel bad.” They have one less day to torment themselves, in other words, before they have to tee it up against the Rams. The challenge now is to make sure the sting doesn’t linger too long — and turn a momentary bump in the road into certified flat tire. Getting beaten in Dallas — by this Cowboys team — is no disgrace; getting beaten in St. Louis for the second straight year — by an 0-3 club that has struggled as much as any in the league — would be a lot harder to explain.

In the space of a week, then, the Redskins have gone from euphoria control to damage control. The Cowboys have brought them down off their cloud, reminded them of their fallibility, and now Mike Shanahan’s crew has to buckle back down and recapture its mojo.

There wasn’t a world of difference, truth be known, between the Dallas defeat and the previous two victories over the Giants and Cardinals. Until the last couple of minutes, the Redskins appeared to have done just enough to win — and nothing more. They continued to struggle in the red zone, continued to spring the occasional leak on defense, continued to be guilty of special teams gaffes (in this case a mishandled snap by Sav Rocca that sabotaged a 36-yard field-goal try).

But Rex Grossman also threw the ball at least as well as Tony Romo — as attested by his 77.5 passer rating to Romo’s 70.9 — and the return of LaRon Landry, whose physicality was very much in evidence, made the Washington secondary a much more dangerous place. When Landry wasn’t forcing a Kevin Ogletree fumble, he was knocking the slobber out of Laurent Robinson and generally giving Cowboys receivers the heebie-jeebies.

“Just his presence brings almost an added man to the defense,” O.J. Atogwe said.

To which Landry, who hadn’t played since November because of Achilles’ and hamstring injuries, added, “It felt good. But I’m supposed to do those things. I’m supposed to make big plays.”

The Redskins just came up one big play short. On the third-and-21 from the Dallas 30, they sent everybody but the equipment men, eight players in all, but couldn’t quite get to Romo. As London Fletcher described it, “The protection was a slide protection. [The offensive line] slid to the right, and the two backs went to the left. It gave them more time [to throw] than we would like in that defense. Then Romo bought himself a little more time by rolling right and … “

And this enabled him to find Dez Bryant down the middle, in single coverage against DeAngelo Hall. A facemask call against Hall — which he disputed vehemently afterward — turned a 30-yard completion into a 45-yard advance to the Washington 25, and four plays later Bailey booted the 40-yard game-winner.

There was still 1:40 to go when Grossman and Co. got the ball back, but the offense wasn’t able to finish any more than the defense was. Finishing — drives, that is — was an issue all night long. The Redskins did score the game’s only touchdown — on Rex’s 1-yard flip to a wide open Tim Hightower — but they were stricken with field goal-itis, too.

“Our second game was closer than it needed to be for that reason,” Grossman said, “and tonight we lost for that reason. Obviously, we’re moving the ball well. We need to finish those drives and not kick field goals.”

Let’s face it, putting away an opponent is no easy task in the NFL. Teams have gotten too good at sticking the quarterback back in the shotgun, spreading the field with four and five receivers and chucking the ball all over the lot. Look at the Patriots. They had the Bills down 21-0 on Sunday and couldn’t close the door. There’s a game like that pretty much every week.

The Redskins are smart enough to know what happened Monday night. They played 57 minutes and 35 seconds of perfectly acceptable football, then let their guards down and allowed the Cowboys to land the last punch. That’s how close they were to a 3-0 start, to turning the division upside down. Still, you have to like what you’re seeing — what you’ve seen, really, since the first day of camp. These Redskins, they mean business.

• Dan Daly can be reached at ddaly@washingtontimes.com.

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