LANDOVER — Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan walked into his team’s locker room after the 19-16, last-minute loss to the Dallas Cowboys with his hands in his pockets, followed by his players, most looking down for a hole to crawl into.
No hugs tonight, fellas.
It’s too bad, because his coach, Jay Gruden, could have used a hug. He was as emotional as he’s ever been for a post-game press conference, trying to keep it together as he tried to answer what went wrong out there Monday night at FedEx Field.
But there are no answers, which is the problem for everyone, from fans to coaches to McCloughan.
Gruden is typically talkative in post-game pressers, win or lose. On Monday night, his eyes looked almost glazed over as he tried to explain why his team could handle a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Eli Manning one week and then get beat by a backup quarterback like Matt Cassel, who wouldn’t even make his team’s practice squad, the next week.
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But there are no explanations. That’s why his press conference was about four minutes — the shortest of his tenure as the Redskins’ coach.
It was a lot harder for him to stand up there Monday night and say, “We’re starting the fourth quarter of our season. Go to Chicago and we’ve just got to turn the page and move on.”
But move on to what? And who will be going to Chicago? The team that beat the New Orleans Saints, 47-14, or the team that lost sole possession of first place in the NFC East — for what that’s worth — in a loss defined by special teams mistakes, including a whopper of a fumble on a punt return by DeSean Jackson?
I mean, it’s Dec. 7, and who are these guys? Is this part of the maturation process of the McCloughan roster? Or is this business-as-usual for the Redskins who have been defined for years now by the aura of self destruction?
“Consistency … that’s something we have not be able to do,” Gruden said, trying to keep it together. “We’ve shown flashes — good quarters, good games here and there. … We have to find a way to put back-to-back wins together.”
Last week, after the 20-14 win over the New York Giants, Gruden said pretty much the same thing in different words.
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“To be able to bounce back from [a loss to] Carolina is a great thing to see, but it’s going to also be important for us to bounce back from a game like this — an emotional game, an important game, a game that we had to win — so how we bounce back from this victory is going to be equally as important as how we bounced back from Carolina,” he said.
They didn’t bounce back well.
The Cowboys manhandled the Redskins’ offensive line for much of the game. Washington managed just 115 yards in the first half, and the only reason it led, 6-3, at half time was because Cassel is such a bad quarterback he couldn’t get the ball to his open receivers. Dez Bryant was so angry about a missed touchdown opportunity that he took his shoes off, walked off the field and berated Cassel on the sideline.
And yet the Redskins found a way to lose.
Washington took a 9-6 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 46-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins — his third of the game — but Dallas tied it with a 20-yard field goal by Dan Bailey with about four minutes left.
Then came the Jackson return debacle with less than two minutes left, when the speedster fielded a punt at his own 16-yard line, and, trying to make a play, ran backwards seven yards and then fumbled. The Cowboys scored two plays later for a 16-9 lead.
Perhaps this part of the game is what Gruden’s eyes were glazed over. Washington’s Rashad Ross took the Cowboys’ kickoff to his own 42-yard line, and then, with just a little more than a minute left, Cousins marched the team down the field to tie the game with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Jackson — of course.
The game was set up for overtime when Hopkins failed to kick the ball either out of the end zone or away from return specialist Lucky Whitehead, who took the ball out to his 44-yard line. Five plays later, with 14 seconds left in the game, Bailey kicked a 54-yard field goal for the win.
The loss gives Washington a 5-7 record, tying them with the Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East, with Dallas one game behind at 4-8.
Gruden tried his best to talk about being tied for first place in the NFC East in December.
“We still have a lot to play for,” he said. “It’s exciting down the stretch and that’s the way the NFC East is going to be, whether we’re 12-0 or 4-12, it doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is we have four games left and everything in our goals is still reachable. We just have to play better and do a better job.”
But Gruden didn’t look too excited as he left the press conference. He looked like he could have used a hug.
⦁ Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at email@example.com.
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