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ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 26: Jason Witten #82 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball past LaRon Landry #30 of the Washington Redskins at Cowboys Stadium on September 26, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Being force-fed a dose of humility by your biggest rival isn’t exactly what the Redskins were hoping for against the Dallas Cowboys. Yet Monday night’s heart-wrenching 18-16 loss serves as a reality check for a team who might have been garnering a bit too much attention in the early stages of this season.
It's all too familiar. Instead of currying favor with a breakthrough victory on prime time television, the Redskins have no choice but to settle for playing under the watchful eye of those cynics who had hidden in the woodwork after Washington won their first two games of the year.
However, don't expect the pressure from the critics to affect the organization’s mentality. Washington might not be ready to impress a national audience quite yet, but Mike Shanahan's guys are closer than you might think.
Yes, the Redskins are unquestionably a work in progress. But they're also better than the 2010 edition, hanging tough against the Cowboys in a defensive struggle. Ultimately what cost them was their inability to make those few extra plays that often separate good teams from great ones.
That’s not to say Dallas is a great team, but this was a game within the Redskins’ grasp and they let it slip away. They had a 16-9 lead in the third quarter on a Tim Hightower touchdown catch, but eventually lost it on one of Dan Bailey’s six field goals. Rex Grossman had a chance to head up a comeback, but fumbled on Washington’s final drive to end the game
“It’s frustrating,” said Kedric Golston. “You prepare all week, you fight your heart out for the majority of the game and it always comes down to one [play], but that’s life in the NFL.”
The 2-0 start quickly erased all the doubts many had regarding the Redskins at the beginning of the year, but now they all resurface. Wins can hide flaws, but after a loss it’s easy to point out what went wrong.
Grossman now has five turnovers in three games and his fifth couldn’t have come at a worse moment. Kyle Shanahan abandoned the run while leading in the fourth quarter, the red zone woes continued and the special teams unit botched another field goal.
"At the end of the day you either find a way to win or you don't,” Mike Shanahan said. “[We] had our opportunities there in the fourth quarter and obviously didn't get it done."
Oh, they had opportunities and none bigger than a chance to bury the Cowboys on third-and-21 late in the fourth quarter.
Jim Haslett brought the house on the blitz to put a killshot on both Tony Romo and the Cowboys hopes of winning the game. The aggressive playcall backfired as Dallas picked up the rush and Romo delivered a strike to Dez Bryant who was matched up one-on-one with DeAngelo Hall. The play moved the chains and ultimately led to the game-winning field goal.
“You got to keep points off the board, bottom line,” Hall said. “At the end of the day, whether it’s a field goal or a touchdown it’s points on the board and as a defense we got to keep points off the board. We didn’t do a good job of doing that.”
The third down gaffe wasn’t the only point where the Redskins missed a chance to seal a win. After Hightower’s go-ahead touchdown, Grossman had three drives to extend the lead and burn some clock. All three possessions ended in punts and totaled just 13 snaps -- two of them running plays.
“This team has to learn how to say ‘were going to win. We’re going to win right now,’” Cooley said.
That ability to close out games is part of the learning curve facing this team. It’s tough to win a divisional showdown on the road, but if the Redskins want to be considered a good football team, they can’t allow games like this one to slip away.
As far as Cooley's concerned, they won't.
“Anytime you lose a game it tests character,” he said. “This team expects to win. It’s still early in the season. We’ll rebound and we’ll play good football going into St Louis.”
Thanks to Sky Kerstein and Grant Paulsen of 106.7 the Fan for the quotes.