LANDOVER, Md. -- The officials messed up the final sequence of plays for the Washington Redskins on Sunday night. There's little doubt about that, and it impacted the Redskins' approach to their final two plays. It might have altered the game.
There's just one problem.
Despite the botched handling of the yard markers and the confusion that followed, the Redskins still blew it themselves. Maybe they wouldn't have called a deep pass on third down and less than 1. Still, the play was open and tight end Fred Davis dropped the ball at the New York 30-yard line.
And maybe they would have opted for a different play than a short hitch on fourth-and-1. Still, receiver Pierre Garcon had the ball and it was stripped from him.
The chain gang hurt the Redskins. But the Redskins are 3-9 after a 24-17 loss to the New York Giants for a reason. They keep hurting themselves, and it's a big reason why many, many jobs are now on the line. And should be. It's happened way too often this season, and Sunday night provided more proof that they just don't know how to play winning football -- one season after they won the NFC East.
That means they roll back snaps that lead to 18-yard punts. That means they can't convert when given a golden opportunity at the Giants' 12-yard line after an interception -- getting three points instead of seven. That means a receiver (Garcon) kicks a ball in the end zone after a failed play (though it was on third down and didn't cost them points) and it means another receiver (Santana Moss) gets flagged for telling an official a holding penalty on him was a “B.S. call.” These are veterans.
That's frustrated football, of which the Redskins have played plenty. It's also how you end up losing games against sub-.500 teams at home and being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention after 12 games.
“Losing is hard to deal with,” Garcon said.
“Frustrating to the point I can't even tell you,” Moss said.
Add it up, and coaches are in trouble and careers are in jeopardy. The Redskins are one defeat from their third double-digit loss season in four years under coach Mike Shanahan. He took over a team that had lost 12 games under Jim Zorn; four years later they need a strong finish to avoid tying that number.
“We're professionals. We know what's at stake in terms of our careers and the coaching staff and the season,” Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said. “We can't worry about what's already happened. We have to worry about what we can control, and that's the next game.”
The problem is, owner Dan Snyder will be looking back and wondering what the heck really has gone wrong this season. As he should. As he must. The Redskins have lost four straight games and look closer to a team that could finish 3-13 than one that might win a couple more games.
For weeks the Redskins have talked about the impact of the salary-cap penalty as well as the time quarterback Robert Griffin III missed in the offseason while rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. The problem is, that does not explain this sort of collapse. Not in this game. Not in this season.
Plenty has changed in Shanahan's tenure from when he took over. What hasn't is the ability to win consistently. A competitive 7-9 finish given some of the outside issues? Understandable. A strong final four games? OK, they recovered. And, of course, a 7-9 mark could still happen. Problem is, the Redskins have shown no reason to think that it will. Therefore, the questions will now arise starting with the most obvious: What do you do with Shanahan?
He'll be owed $7 million next season. His staff will be owed a good chunk of change, too. That means if Snyder wants to change coaches he'll not only have to pay them off, but he'll have to pay for a new head coach and his staff. That also means new schemes on both sides of the ball and more roster turnover. It's not what Snyder wants.
All that without a first-round pick this spring thanks to the Griffin trade. A future that looked so bright before Griffin's surgery now looks cloudy at best. There are building blocks, but a lot more blocks are needed.
The coaches and players are giving Snyder little choice in the matter. They're not an undermanned team playing well but coming up short. They're a confounding team that has yet to play a complete game this season.
Two of their past four losses have come against Minnesota and the Giants, neither of whom have a winning record. They blew double-digit leads against both. The Redskins show flashes of what they were in building those leads and follow with reminders of who they are in losing them. Heck, they've held double-digit leads in four of their last six games, winning only one of those.
“We lost composure. We lost everything. We lost yards. We left points out there. It was everything,” Garcon said.
He was talking about Sunday's game. He was right. He also could have been talking about the season. Amazingly, they'll play their final four games with nothing on the line. Oh, except for jobs.
“You don't like to play for pride, but sometimes that's the card that's dealt,” Shanahan said. “That's where we're at right now. We'll see which guys step up and play at a high level for the remaining games.”
Through 12 games the answer has been: not many. If Shanahan and company want to return, that will have to change.