Now they must do something they've become accustomed to since Joe Gibbs left after the 1992 season: start looking at the draft. Meanwhile, other teams are eyeing the playoffs. No wonder owner Dan Snyder cursed loudly several times outside the Redskins' locker room as time wound down in their 20-15 loss to Chicago. Who could blame him?
''I'm disappointed for our fans,'' Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer said. ''I'm disappointed for our players. They've worked their tails off. I'm not accustomed to not being in the playoffs so obviously it's very, very disappointing.'' And more. ''We fought back into it then let it slip away,''
Redskins defensive tackle Kenard Lang said. ''All the crucial games we needed to win, we lost. I'm tired of losing. It sucks and it stinks.''
It didn't even matter that they had once been 0-5 and managed to thrust themselves into the playoff race with six wins in seven games.
''No one remembers how we came back,'' Redskins quarterback Tony Banks said. ''That's all in the past. We have to hope we finish out strong. But no one plays this game to only play 16 games. If they do they're in the wrong business.''
But 16 games is all Washington will get. The Redskins succumbed to trickery against the NFL's turnaround team of the season. But Chicago's fake field goal for a touchdown wasn't the only reason the Redskins lost. All they have to do is once more look at their red zone efficiency. Or, rather, inefficiency.
Washington penetrated the Chicago 20-yard line four times, but managed two field goals and a touchdown. The last one hurt the most. The Redskins drove to the Bears' 3-yard line, where it faced second and one with 1:45 to play. But a run by Stephen Davis gained nothing and the Redskins turned to the air. Receiver Michael Westbrook ran a fade route on third down,but wasn't open so Tony Banks threw incomplete to tight end Walter Rasby. Then, on fourth down, Banks, rolling right, threw to receiver Rod Gardner in traffic in the end zone. It was incomplete.
''Rod did a good job sliding open,'' Banks said. ''I led him a little where I thought he was going. He stopped or was held and we didn't make the play. I could have put the ball three inches to the right to make it easier to catch.''
Earlier in the game, Washington settled for field goals inside the 20, continuing a disturbing trend. The Redskins either don't get enough possessions in the red zone or they fail when they do. In their last three losses they've only had eight possessions in this area and managed three touchdowns. One of those scores gave the Redskins a 7-3 lead against Chicago as Davis ran untouched from the 3-yard line, sliding through a large opening.
''We ran it down there earlier and Stephen ran untouched,'' Redskins guard Ben Coleman said. ''I don't know what happened the last time.'' ''Maybe we should have stayed with the run more,'' Redskins tight end Walter Rasby said. ''We became a one-dimensional team.'' But running in the end no longer was an option for Schottenheimer.
''We didn't make any yardage on the first run,'' he said. ''So there was never any doubt about [throwing].'' The Redskins tied the game at 10 on a 34-yard Brett Conway field goal with 7:50 remaining in the second quarter. Conway's 26-yarder provided a 13-10 lead in the third. The latter kick came after Washington had reached first and goal from the 8. But Davis gained no yards on first down, forcing two more incomplete passes.
''That's where the run really has to come through,'' Banks said. ''Especially a team like us who hangs their hat on the running game. [Then] they give the ball to me to bail us out and I've got to do that. I've got to make the plays and the receivers have to make plays for me.''
The Redskins' defense stopped the Bears, save for a few plays. Chicago forced a fumble on Washington's first series--after the Redskins had recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff--and drove 45 yards for a 39-yard Paul Edinger field goal. They took a 10-7 lead when Leon Johnson capitalized on Washington's overpursuing defense. He raced around right end, then cut back through a clear path to the end zone for a 32-yard score. But that play didn't sting like the fake field goal. Or the missed chance at the end.
''We came up shor again,'' Schottenheimer said. He was talking about the final series. He could have been talking about the season.
--The Redskins are 6-8 heading into Sunday's game at New Orleans.
--Washington has missed the playoffs eight times in the past nine seasons.
--Receiver Michael Westbrook has caught a combined 18 passes for 196 yards in the past three games.
--Stephen Davis averaged 2.6 yards per carry, his second-lowest of the season. He managed 2.5 yards per rush in the opener at San Diego.
The Big Play
When Brian Urlacher went in motion with nine minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the game, the Redskins knew something was amiss. They just couldn't stop it and it cost them a win. Chicago had lined up for a potential 45-yard game-tying field goal in the fourth quarter. There was nothing unusual about that. But Urlacher, a linebacker, went in motion from the left flank to the right--a rarity on field goals.
''Guys were screaming it out,'' Redskins defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson said. ''Chicago let us know it was a fake.''
But no one slid over when Urlacher went into motion. And when the ball was snapped to holder Brad Maynard, the Bears overloaded that side of the field. Kato Serwanga shot after Maynard. Sam Shade, also on that side, hesitated--he saw the Redskins were outmanned. David Terrell, lined up on the right side, didn't move when Urlacher went in motion. The Redskins didn't point fingers over the play, but they did say what was supposed to happen.
''Someone had to come in motion with him,'' Shade said. ''But because no one did, we were outflanked. We didn't have enough guys over there.'' The result: Maynard tossed an easy pass to Urlacher, who raced in for a 27-yard score and 17-13 lead. It's a pass Urlacher dropped in practice earlier in the week. It's also a play Chicago's special teams coach Mike Sweatman unsuccessfully ran against Washington while with the Giants 12 years ago. ''It's one of those things you work on from the first day of camp to the last,'' Wilkinson said. ''You're ready for it at any given time. But for some reason we weren't ready.''