The Redskins' current string of three defeats -- 36-35 on a controversial two-point conversion with 58 seconds to go at Tampa Bay, 16-13 on a field goal with 1:08 left against Oakland and 23-17 in overtime to San Diego -- might be the most agonizing in team history.
Not only is the current collapse happening on the watch of Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs and three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Mark Brunell, but the Redskins were a solid 5-3 and holding a playoff spot before the run of heartbreaking defeats began.
Gibbs said that he had a long talk with Dan Snyder after Sunday's game and said the owner concurred with his judgment about the team's tremendous heart and character.
"I love our team," Gibbs said. "Why this would happen to us? I don't know. We need to find a way to finish games. That's three of the tougher weeks that I've been a part of coaching. Can a team go through three tough losses like that and bounce back ... and play a great game against St. Louis? That's what's going to be answered."
Washington has beaten division leaders Chicago and Seattle as well as contender Dallas and defending NFC champion Philadelphia. The Redskins would be tied for the NFC East lead with the Cowboys and New York Giants if the leads against the Raiders and Chargers hadn't been lost.
"We have to finish teams off, that's what playoff teams do," said safety Matt Bowen, who played on such teams in St. Louis and Green Bay. "We've got to make crucial plays on third down. We haven't turned that point where we put a dagger through someone's heart and say, 'You're going home with a loss.'"
Quotes and Notes
--Center Cory Raymer is the only Redskin to be a part of the 1996 (from 7-1 to 8-7) and 2000 (from 6-2 to 7-6) collapses as well as the current slide. Raymer also played on the 2002 Chargers, the last NFL team to lose three in a row in the last 70 seconds of regulation or in overtime.
"Those teams weren't as good as this one," Raymer said. "In '96, we were a young team that didn't know how to win yet. On paper, the 2000 team shouldn't have lost a game, but everybody was doing his own thing. This team is sticking together. No one's pointing fingers."
H-back Mike Sellers agreed that the 2000 Redskins included "a lot of people that pretty much gave up and said the season was done. We don't have people like that now. The locker room wasn't depressed after (the San Diego) game. It was angry."
--The Redskins have only won two fourth quarters, on the pair of Mark Brunell-to-Santana Moss touchdown bombs in Week 2 at Dallas and three weeks later when they almost forced overtime at Denver.
"In the fourth quarter (on Sunday), I thought we were going to win for sure, and I believe all of us thought that way," safety Matt Bowen said. "You can't be like, 'Woe is me.' There are still five games left. The only game that really matters is this week (at St. Louis)."
Player Personnel Notes
--DT Joe Salave'a tore the fraying plantar fascia in his left foot against San Diego. He'll likely be sidelined this week against St. Louis.
--WR James Thrash, who missed the loss to San Diego with a pulled hamstring, will miss a second straight game.
--RB Ladell Betts, who has missed the past two games with a sprained knee, could take some work this week and has a chance to return Sunday at St. Louis.
--H-back Mike Sellers, who missed the San Diego game with a hairline fracture of a rib, said he was feeling better and plans to face the Rams if he's given clearance by team doctors on Tuesday.
--DT Cornelius Griffin was fine after making a surprising return against San Diego. He had missed almost all of the previous four games with a strained hip flexor.
Report Card vs. Chargers
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- QB Mark Brunell had a pretty solid day (17-for-27, 194 yards and a TD) without his injured second and third wide receivers. However, Brunell completed just two passes over 18 yards as he threw for fewer than 200 yards for the second straight game. Brunell strangely threw short of the marker twice, had one ugly lateral and was just 2-for-6 for 14 yards in another scoreless fourth quarter. WR Santana Moss caught six balls but for just 65 yards. Even his 22-yard grab wasn't a downfield play. That part of the arsenal seems to be a memory. WR Taylor Jacobs had four catches for 44 yards and three first downs. Just re-signed WR Jimmy Farris had an 18-yard catch. TE Chris Cooley was pretty quiet with just three catches for 28 yards. TE Robert Johnson's first Redskins reception was for 14 yards and a first down. But TE Robert Royal had three drops, two in the fourth quarter. The line gave up just two sacks, one when Brunell was scrambling, to the sack-happy Chargers.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- RB Clinton Portis kept plugging away with 29 carries but averaged just 3.0 a pop with a long of 8. He did slither his way for 23 yards on a screen that set up backup Rock Cartwright's 13-yard TD. The line committed just two penalties, but one was the fatal call against C Casey Rabach that pushed back K John Hall's field-goal attempt in the final minute. And the line didn't open many holes against San Diego's top-ranked run defense.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- DE Phillip Daniels had his second sack. DT Cornelius Griffin batted down a pass. LB Marcus Washington was a force, especially early, with 1 1/2 sacks and the breakup of LaDainian Tomlinson's option toss to QB Drew Brees. LB Chris Clemons forced Brees into an incompletion. After not having any interceptions all year, CBs Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers and Walt Harris all picked off Brees once. Top draft pick Rogers supplanted Harris in the lineup as the game progressed. SS Ryan Clark shared a sack with Washington. FS Sean Taylor had some big hits.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- Griffin fought through the pain in his hip to play for the first time this month. DT Joe Salave'a had his foot give out again. LBs Lemar Marshall and LaVar Arrington were each credited with five solo tackles, but Arrington also was victimized on Tomlinson's game-tying run. Taylor got caught upfield on both of Tomlinson's backbreaking touchdown runs. The Redskins held up pretty well against a good San Diego offense until it mattered the most.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- K John Hall booted a 38-yarder but didn't have the leg for the 53-yarder that would've won it. P Derrick Frost got some hang time but little distance as the Redskins lost the field-position battle. Antonio Brown, back again as the return man, did nothing. The coverage units, minus injured leaders Mike Sellers and James Thrash, gave up one long return to Darren Sproles, but it didn't set up a score.
COACHING: C -- Coach Joe Gibbs called a reverse on the first play, which was a bust, and then got conservative during a series of three-and-outs in the fourth quarter and only generated 17 points. Defensive boss Gregg Williams had all the answers for L.T. and Co. until it counted the most.