LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 24: Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney #10 of the Washington Redskins is hit by safety Jamarca Sanford #33 of the Minnesota Vikings and Erin Henderson #50 in the second quarter at FedEx Field on December 24, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
On the surface, the Washington Redskins 33-26 loss to the Minnesota Vikings was a meaningless Christmas Eve football game between two sub-.500 teams. But for the Redskins, a squad struggling to master the business of winning, it could have been much bigger.
One week after beating the Giants on the road, Washington was hoping to keep in step against the Vikings. A big divisional win might have broken up the monotony of losing, but it hardly meant the Redskins had arrived.
“One game doesn’t mean you’ve turned the corner,” said Lorenzo Alexander. “Around here it’s been all about consistency and we haven’t been able to do that…It’s been one game here, one game there. It hasn’t been three, four games in a [row] where we just dominate and finish off games.”
Alexander's candid remarks came shortly after a loss to the Vikings shattered the good vibes from last week's win in New York. And he's right. The Redskins don't know how to win football games on a steady basis. Opportunities presented themselves all year, but be it a Rex Grossman turnover or a second half defensive meltdown, the Redskins found a way to reach double-digit losses for the third straight season.
“You can’t be a good NFL team if you [are going to be] sporadic,” Alexander said.
Extended periods of success earn playoff spots and the Redskins’ fragile team psyche hasn’t allowed for any of those this season. The winning mentality Mike Shanahan brought here in 2010 hasn’t kicked in and though the team continues to insist they’re on the right track, the results tell a different story.
On Saturday, they weren’t able to take advantage of a lowly Vikings team that lost both Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder to injuries as the defense gave up 23 second-half points to a Joe Webb-led Minnesota offense. Grossman kept pace, going score-for-score with the Vikings until a late-game interception derailed any shot at a victory.
Minnesota scored off both Redskin turnovers and Washington had Brandon Banks’ game-tying 59-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter nullified by a holding penalty.
“That’s the difference between winning and losing,” said Mike Shanahan of the team’s less-than-timely miscues. “You can’t beat yourself…you got to work, as a football team, to eliminate those things.”
With the Vikings floundering at 2-12, the unlikely duo of Webb and Toby Gerhart didn’t seem equipped to put up such dazzling numbers against a defense that had surrendered just 146 first-half yards to the starters. But two of Webb’s four completions went for touchdowns and his scrambling ability gave Minnesota a chance to dig deeper into their playbook.
Minnesota’s onslaught left the defense stunned. The unit had been in the zone since the previous week’s domination of Eli Manning and up until Webb’s cameo, appeared to be giving an encore performance. Then the wheels came off the bus as they so often have this season.
“They just seemed to click when [Webb] was in there,” said Ryan Kerrigan. “It’s not really one thing I’m sure, but his legs definitely were an asset to them and you got to give kudos to them for stepping up when Ponder and Peterson went down.”
The loss made it six straight at home and as the Redskins prepare for one final game against the Eagles on New Year’s Day, they’d prefer to forget all about the bitter taste of 2011. Of course it’ll take more than a few victories in 2012 to erase all the bad memories, but Brian Orakpo expressed his confidence in the team’s future.
“We’ll turn it around,” he said. “Everybody goes through their downs in consecutive years and we’ll turn this thing around.”
On days like Saturday, it’s just tough to tell.