Hard Loss

The loss hit them hard, perhaps more than any other this season. Or in the past few seasons for that matter. The Redskins appeared to have the game won, their second-ranked defense on the field at the end, just how they wanted it. And then they lost, adding to the lore and frustration of this now one-sided rivalry.

Antonio Pierce fled the locker room within 10 minutes of the game ending, a towel draped over his head as he reached the bus. The locker room was like a morgue as players dressed in mostly silence. It's hard to blame them.

''This is like a hard kick in the gut,'' defensive end Ron Warner said. ''You feel like you've fallen out of a tree with no net at the bottom. I'm sick of the Redskins losing to the Cowboys.''

''This is the toughest one,'' right tackle Ray Brown said. ''I'm stunned. My teammates are hurting. There are a lot of guys torn up about this one.''

Dallas' last play: Rookie safety Sean Taylor was preoccupied with receiver Keyshawn Johnson all game, intent on never letting a second go without saying something. And that's why Johnson thought Taylor was coming up hard to cover him in the slot on the game-winning touchdown pass. But the Cowboys went to the area Taylor was supposed to provide help. Problem was, Taylor was left flat-footed and couldn't make up the ground in time, leading to an easy touchdown catch for Patrick Crayton. It was a rookie mistake, but give Dallas credit. The Cowboys called the perfect route for that defense. In a Cover 2, one of the preferred routes is to send four guys deep. If the receivers running down the seams can occupy the safety, the outside will be free. That's what happened.

Irony: As Johnson exited an elevator, heading to a postgame party in a suite near the press box, he said he was tired of Taylor jibber-jabbering all game. ''It was all that Miami [expletive],'' Johnson said. Then he told a friend that Taylor should ''just shut up and play.'' He seemed incredulous that a rookie would dare talk to him so much during the game. And he felt that Taylor was mostly out to try and lay a big hit on guys rather than just make the tackle. At times we agree. Taylor is a sloppy tackler, a reputation he had in college. Too often he goes at people's heads or tries to shoulder tackle them. That doesn't work in the NFL like it does in college.

Problem: When corners Fred Smoot and Ade Jimoh left the game with injuries, it left the Redskins unable to use their pressure defense the way they wanted. They had to stick with three linebackers because they only had four defensive backs available in their packages. On Dallas' last drive, Marcus Washington blitzed twice, but that's about all they could do.

Progress?: For all the talk about the progress made by quarterback Patrick Ramsey, there's still a long ways to go. He's mentally tough and has a strong arm, but he's still overly reliant on the running game working for him to have success. When the running game isn't working and he must drop back in the pocket, the offense fails. It's not all his fault -- the line isn't that good. But Washington's two good drives against Dallas came when the running game was working, allowing Ramsey to execute the bootlegs and play-actions. Ramsey needs to be judged harshly because he's now the clear future according to Joe Gibbs. For this offense to work next year, and for Washington to improve, he must get better.

Short throws: Ramsey completed 14 passes to his receivers and 12 of those throws went for 11 yards or less. His accuracy level has been high, but that's what happens when most of the passes are short or come off bootlegs. The Redskins have done well to build up that part of Ramsey's game, now must get to work on the rest.

Tough running: Washington couldn't run the ball much on Dallas because its running game is more based on lateral movement than overpowering straight-ahead runs. And that played right into the speed of Dallas' linebackers, who were able to stuff most of the holes. Clinton Portis might be tough and he's a good back, but this is also clear: he doesn't break tackles at the line of scrimmage and he doesn't move piles. When there's a narrow opening he can squeeze through and he can cutback well. He just can't run anyone over.

Slants: Smoot had problems stopping Johnson on two fourth-down slant passes. Johnson is too physical for Smoot in that situation and that was a case where it would have been better to switch corners, putting the more physical Shawn Springs on Johnson. But that's not how the Redskins use their corners. Smoot's play has tailed off the past few games. He's still good, but it's evident that Springs is the better of the two.

Did you notice?: A couple times the Redskins used five defensive linemen in their base front. It worked a few times, once because of Sean Taylor's speed. He raced to the outside to force Julius Jones to cut back and hurdle him, right into Lemar Marshall, who drove him to the ground. The Redskins did well against Jones after some early struggles. But their gang-tackling did the trick.

Quiet day: The snubbed Redskins for the Pro Bowl didn't do much to justify their complaints, save for Springs who made a nice interception on a poorly thrown ball in the end zone. Cornelius Griffin was quiet, though he was double teamed and made a couple plays in the second half. And Antonio Pierce was quiet as well. The thing about Pierce is that his best attributes are very subtle, making him a player it takes time to appreciate. For instance, on one play he raced up to the line, changed the call and confused Dallas QB Vinny Testaverde. He wanted to throw a slant, but Griffin's audible put the Redskins into a zone blitz, with Griffin dropping into the slant lane. Testaverd hesitated, leading to a sack by Marcus Washington.

Koz: What a horrible job Brian Kozlowski did inside the 5, having the ball bounce off his hands into an interception, ruining an excellent opening drive. That took away at least three points, maybe seven, and altered the rest of the game. The Redskins really need to upgrade tight end, save for Chris Cooley.

Lesson learned: I'm never picking Washington to beat Dallas again. I'm 0-2 this year and probably have missed on this game more than any other the past five years. There's no reason for this streak considering Dallas and Washington have been at about the same level for most of the time. The Redskins always find a way to lose; Dallas always makes the right plays to win. Vinny Testaverde was cheered once all day -- and it came after his last pass. This streak is the most unexplainable one I've seen in sports. One Dallas writer joked in the pressbox that one play changed Testaverde's grade from an F to a C. One freaking play. And be honest, how many people had heard of Patrick Crayton before Sunday? The kid also caught a fourth-and-10 pass. Now how many will forget him?


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