But particularly during the last two losses of the 2-6 slide that has dropped the Redskins to 5-6 and on the brink of removal from the list of playoff contenders, the offense has summoned some unhappy memories of the 30th-ranked popgun attack of 2004.
"If you look at the big picture, we've done some good things and we've had a marked improvement from last year," Brunell said. "We just find ourselves in a little bit of a rut right now."
Moss averaged only 58 yards receiving in narrow losses to Oakland and San Diego, as Washington converted just nine of 29 third downs.
"It just goes to show you that you can be on an absolute roll and then all of a sudden, hit a wall," coach Joe Gibbs said.
That has been particularly true in the fourth quarter. Since Clinton Portis' 8-yard touchdown run midway through the final period of the 36-35 loss at Tampa Bay on Nov. 13, the Redskins have had 11 fourth-quarter series with no points. Only one possession lasted more than four minutes. The 67 plays during that stretch have gained a measly 102 yards.
And Washington led all three of those games with seven minutes to go.
"There's no question that we pull our horns in a little bit," offensive coordinator Don Breaux said. "But I think when you're the kind of team you want to be, running the ball in the fourth quarter is critical. I've seen many teams that are doggone good offensively but haven't been able to sustain leads. To get where we want to be as an offense, we have to be able to run the ball when everybody knows you're going to run it."
The Redskins have struggled on third down and 2 and 6 yards to go, converting only 35.5 percent. Strangely, they've converted 50 percent of their third-and-7 snaps and 56 percent of their third-and-9 plays.
"There's no way in this world that it should work out like that," Gibbs said. "Maybe we ought to fall on it twice to make it third-and-10."
The lack of success on third down has resulted in nine three-and-outs the past two games, compared to 21 in the first nine games.
"We've gotten the ball to Santana some, but would we like to get it to him more? Yes," Breaux said.
The Redskins will look to get untracked against a St. Louis defense that has allowed the most points and fourth-most yards in the league.
"It comes down to making plays," Brunell said. "We had some critical third downs that we weren't able to convert, and that's when you have to be able to shine. The teams that win play their best football on third down to keep moving down the field. We haven't been one of those teams lately."SERIES HISTORY: 27th meeting. The Redskins lead 19-6-1 including a 20-17 victory at home in 2002 and a 33-20 conquest of the defending champion Rams in 2000. Washington has won five of the last six meetings. Redskins Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen's career ended with a 1974 playoff loss at Los Angeles, and Washington walloped the Rams 51-7 in a 1983 playoff game at RFK Stadium. The most memorable matchup goes all the way back to 1945 when the Cleveland Rams beat the Redskins 15-14 to win the NFL title thanks in part of a safety scored when Washington Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh's pass hit the goalpost.
Quotes and Notes
--On the heels of a third straight excruciating defeat, coach Joe Gibbs met with 15 players with at least five years of experience on Monday to discuss the mood of the locker room at 5-6.
"It was an open forum," Gibbs said. "I told them, 'This is like family. You can say anything, vent anything you want to vent. No one's going to get mad. Is there something I need to hear?' If I'm stuck in that room (and) I don't hear (something), it's hard to deal with as a coach."
Gibbs said he enjoyed the meeting and added that this team is as hard-working and as fun to be around as any of the 14 he has coached.
"It was just an inventory check for coach Gibbs to see where we are mentally because it was a blow losing last week, matter of fact losing the last three," 20th-year offensive lineman Ray Brown said. "Veteran players sort of set the tempo. Guys have kept a tight-knit group. We're in this together. We're not pointing fingers and that's easy to do. Sure it's a rocky ride right now, but no one's jumped ship. We're grabbing hold and trying to steer this thing in the right direction."
--After replacing Walt Harris in the second quarter of the 23-17 loss to San Diego, rookie Carlos Rogers will start ahead of the 10-year veteran against St. Louis' top-ranked passing attack on Sunday.
"We knew at some point Carlos would be the guy," secondary coach DeWayne Walker said. "I think he appreciates not being thrown to the wolves."
--For the first time in his four years as a Redskin, Renaldo Wynn didn't practice Wednesday. The defensive end rested his ailing hamstring but said he plans to be back on the field Thursday or Friday and play on Sunday.
H-back Mike Sellers, who missed last week with a fractured rib, was cleared to return and took part in individual drills.
"I'm good enough to play, so I'll strap it up and see what I can do," Sellers said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 21 - Points by which the Redskins have outscored their opponents in the first and second quarters. 28 - Points by which the Redskins have been outscored after halftime.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're still in it, but we can't depend on (the Cowboys and Giants) to lose every week. We have to handle our business. It's not time to start packing up the tents and making plans for the off-season just yet. ... Everybody gets so scared when you lose a game and starts to panic. But anything can happen. You never know, a couple weeks from now, guys could be high-fiving each other and shooting off fireworks." - Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington on being just two games behind NFC East co-leaders Dallas and New York despite losing three in a row.
Player Personnel Notes
Top draft choice Carlos Rogers has supplanted faltering veteran cornerback Walt Harris just in time for Washington's defense to grapple with speedy St. Louis receivers Torry Holt, Kevin Curtis and Issac Bruce. Washington's run defense, which had toughened up in November until getting burned late by LaDainian Tomlinson last week, regains top run-stuffer Cornelius Griffin for a full game for the first time in six weeks while likely doing without fellow tackle Joe Salave'a in the battle with versatile Rams back Steven Jackson.
--DT Cornelius Griffin rested his ailing hip flexor on Wednesday but should start for the first time since Oct. 30 at the New York Giants. Griffin played part-time in the first half last week before returning to regular duty in the third quarter after fellow DT Joe Salave'a went down.
--DT Joe Salave'a is expected to be sidelined with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, meaning that Cedric Killings will slide from the left side, where he started for Griffin last week, to the right.
--T Chris Samuels rested his tender knee Wednesday but is probable for Sunday.
--RB/KR Ladell Betts took some individual work for the first time since spraining his knee at Tampa Bay on Nov. 13. However, Betts figures to miss a third straight game.
--WR James Thrash didn't practice and isn't expected to play with a pulled hamstring.
GAME PLAN: The Redskins will try to keep the potent Rams' offense off the field by playing keep away. Washington's 31:11 average time of possession is third in the NFC. Running back Clinton Portis has averaged 25 carries for 108 yards during Washington's current three-game slide. Coach Joe Gibbs will also try to take advantage of wide receiver Santana Moss' quickness on the turf of the Edward Jones Dome against an inexperienced St. Louis secondary.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Redskins MLB Lemar Marshall vs. Rams RB Steven Jackson. Marshall leads the Redskins with 96 tackles in his first year at middle linebacker. The versatile Jackson is yet another challenge for a run defense that sank to 18th after being torched last week by LaDainian Tomlinson for late TD runs of 32 and 41 yards that completed a 184-yard day.
--Redskins RT Jon Jansen vs. Rams LE Leonard Little. The powerful Jansen, who did a good job against Chargers rookie speedster Shawne Merriman last week, faces another swift pass rusher in Little, who has just four sacks this year but averaged 13 from 2001-03.
--Redskins CB Shawn Springs vs. Rams WR Torry Holt. Former Seahawk Springs battled Holt as NFC West rivals in 2002 and 2003. Springs is having the best year of anyone in Washington's secondary as opponents have generally thrown away from him. Holt is having a typically great year with 69 catches and seven touchdowns despite playing with three quarterbacks.
DT Joe Salave'a is a big factor against the run, but not only has he been playing virtually on one leg since he was first hurt on Oct. 16 at Kansas City, but Griffin's return will negate his loss. Griffin played part-time in the first half last week before returning to every-down duty after Salave'a went down in the third quarter. The two of them haven't been healthy for a whole game since Oct. 9 at Denver, so the defense is used to playing without one of its starting tackles.