Redskins 19, Broncos 21

In 1996, the Redskins opened the season 7-1 but many viewed them with skepticism. It wasn't until a close home loss to San Francisco -- that dropped them to 8-4 -- convinced some that the Redskins were for real.

Me, for one. And I remember writing how that game showed me as much, if not more, than the previous wins. Why? The 49ers were a Super Bowl contender and the Redskins slugged it out with them, losing a close game.

Then they collapsed. And they didn't make the playoffs.

So here we go again: Sunday's loss at Denver revealed an awful lot about the Redskins. I'm not going to get carried away and proclaim it anything other than a close loss, a game they really should have won.

It's doubtful anyone with the Redskins walked away feeling as if the better team won. Washington clearly had numerous opportunities to win and outgained Denver by 190 yards. Bad teams don't pile up as much yardage as the Redskins did.

But winning is what matters. After missing out on the playoffs since 1999, good losses don't count. However, there's plenty of good to take out of such defeats. The Redskins' offense is starting to look good and for the third straight game they scored on their final drive. This time, a tipped two-point conversion prevented a tie. But here's the point: they drove 94 yards -- 94-- on the road, in the rain, against a good defense.

Problem is, the Redskins still make too many mistakes to win games like this. That's a shame. If they can figure out a way to eliminate the costly penalties, turnovers and special teams lapses, they have a chance for a good season.

The safety: The Redskins obviously didn't like the call. And it's an odd rule because Jake Plummer clearly had aborted any desire to pass. So it should be a fumble, right? Well, not quite. If they have the Tuck Rule, then this is when it needs to be applied. Plummer had to reset with the ball before it could have been ruled a fumble. Does this rule make sense? Not always; this is one of those times.

Offensive star: The line did an excellent job against the sturdy Denver front four.They opened holes for the running game, paving the way for Clinton Portis to rush for more than 100 yards. And they allowed no sacks in 53 pass attempts. There was some pressure, but that's to be expected. Give them credit; they deserved it after this one.

Special mention: Chris Cooley, who caught eight passes. The Redskins have split him out in the past, but they did so even more this game and it worked. He often found himself in solo coverage against smaller defenders, allowing him to, in essence, become the big receiver Washington lacks. Also, Mark Brunell did a masterful job handling the elements; it rained all day yet he rarely struggled with his throws. Games like this provide hope for the rest of the season. And receiver Santana Moss had eight catches for 116 yards, a strong day. Funny, the Denver papers talked about how they contained him.

Defensive star: Not sure any one player stood out. But we'll go with corner Carlos Rogers. He covered Rod Smith most of the game, even rotating sides to cover him when Shawn Springs was in the game. Rogers responded well. Yes, he bit on one out-and-up, but it didn't hurt the Redskins. And Rogers again was physical in the run game. The more I see, the more I like.

Good to see: The offensive production. Washington had no trouble running or throwing against Denver, showing the kind of balance Joe Gibbs loves. Funny to say that given that Mark Brunell attempted 53 passes. But that stemmed as much from how much they had the ball because they still ran well. And, against Denver, the way to open things up is to prove you can pass, then run the ball. It's what the Redskins did. Very smart. And it nearly worked.

Bad to see: More critical errors by the special teams. They look good most of the game, then they commit penalties at the worst time (Mike Sellers on the 54-yard successful field goal, removing three critical points) and the blocked field goal. OK, they blocked a punt and covered well. But they need more consistency. In tight games, you can't commit these mistakes.

Trade winds: It certainly appears the Broncos made out for the better in the Portis-Bailey trade, thanks in large part to Tatum Bell, who scored on touchdown runs of 34 and 55 yards. Denver does not miss Portis one bit. Then again, the Redskins have fared well without Pro Bowl corner Champ Bailey. But Denver got two players who could help in this deal; Washington got one. That said, Portis again showed that he's a complete back, the way he picks up blitzes and one time dropped Al Wilson with a hard block. Portis has matured since his Denver days, when coaches questioned his commitment and maturity.

Curious decision: Not to play LaVar Arrington. The defensive strength has been playing assignments and not allowing long runs. Well, that broke down in this game and the linebackers didn't exactly have good games. Of course, maybe the coaches will say Arrington was standing out of place on the sidelines and that led to the big runs. We joke, of course. But the point is, Arrington could have made a difference in this game. Those who have replaced him, Warrick Holdman and Chris Clemons, did not. Really, it's unbelievable that Clemons is playing ahead of Arrington as a rush end.

Turnover ratio: The Redskins once more finished in the negative for the fourth straight game in the takeaway-giveaway ratio. This defense, which is supposed to bring lots of pressure, does not make big plays. Teams have avoided throwing in Sean Taylor's area and no one up front makes big plays. Good as Marcus Washington has been, he's a playstopper and not a playmaker. And this offense, which is becoming productive, needs more short fields to operate to have a bigger impact.

Defensive lapses: Bell broke free on a fourth and one when end Phillip Daniels failed to stop him in the backfield. Also, linebacker Warrick Holdman was slow filling the hole, allowing Bell to score from 34 yards out. Later in the game, Ryan Clark blitzed from the left side of Denver's line. So what did the Broncos do? They ran the other way, with Bell going around the right end for a 55-yard score, with only safety Matt Bowen having a good attempt at him. But he missed on a diving tackle attempt.

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