x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Woeful Redskins under pressure

Play-offs? What play-offs? The Washington Redskins, so hot two months ago, cannot remember to rush an extra point.

The New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, right, and the Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell talk after the Giants defeated the Redskins.
The New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, right, and the Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell talk after the Giants defeated the Redskins.

WASHINGTON // Play-offs? What play-offs? The Washington Redskins, so hot two months ago, cannot remember to rush an extra point. After a stinker of a 23-7 loss to the Super Bowl champions the New York Giants Sunday, one in which their rookie coach Jim Zorn spent much of the day fuming at his discombobulated team on the sideline, the Redskins find themselves in dire need not merely of a win, but of a winning streak if they are to keep their season alive into next month.

Partly their plight is their own fault for losing four of their last seven games, as the league has exposed the grievous weakness of their offence, especially their lack of any deep-threat receiver except Santana Moss. In the NFC, only two teams have scored fewer points than the Redskins' 208. Partly, however, their play-off misery is just dumb luck. In some seasons, like last year, a 9-7 record lets you play in January. In others, like this year, a 7-5 mark with four weeks left makes you an underdog, almost a long shot.

On Sunday, as the Giants, in Jason Campbell's words, "dominated" the Redskins in all three phases of the game, all the wrong teams from Washington's perspective were winning. Tampa Bay and Carolina pulled out games in which they trailed, tackle Chris Samuels was told soon after the game. "Oh, we know. It's not good for us," he said grimly. "They're both 9-3. One is going to win the South division, the other one will probably be a wild card."

If so, that would leave the Redskins behind Dallas and Atlanta (8-4) for the second NFC wild card. The complex conference is an even tougher maze than that, since the Eagles (6-5-1) may be on the Redskins' heels, too, when they come here in three weeks. Teams with worse records than Washington may win the NFC North and West divisions, but make the play-offs automatically. "We have made it very interesting for ourselves, where there is not a lot of margin of error left for us," said London Fletcher, whose defence, which had allowed only 249 yards a game in its previous seven outings, was shredded by Eli Manning for 404 yards.

If one play can capture the faltering concentration that has bedeviled the Redskins for their last seven games, it came after just five minutes here as the Giants struck for a 40-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Amani Toomer. On the extra point, all 11 Redskins fell asleep. After an initial perfunctory rush, they simply stopped playing and stood like indifferent statues. No one noticed that Giants holder Jeff Feagles had dropped the ball and that place kicker John Carney had stopped. When no one rushed, Feagles eventually put the ball down, Carney flicked at it and chipped the ball barely over the goal post 20 yards away.

Zorn went nuts. As he should have. How can you play an arch-rival in a home game you desperately need to win, yet go into a collective coma after just five minutes?"I was very upset with that first extra point," he said. "How can you let the holder drop the ball, look around, reset it and still kick it." Just two months ago, the Redskins were beaming with a 4-1 record, but since then things have gone badly wrong.

"There is still hope for us to get some wins here and get into the play-offs," said the quarterback Jason Campbell, who was held without a touchdown pass on 23 of 38 passes for 232 yards. "It is almost like we have to win out. Or at least win three out of four." The problem, which now bedevils Zorn as it tormented Joe Gibbs, is that the Redskins, except for Moss and tight end Chris Cooley, have an extremely weak group of receivers.

Antwaan Randle El might be a positive as a third wide receiver, but as a No 2 wideout he poses little danger. The veteran James Thrash scares nobody. As for the three receivers on whom the Redskins chose as second-round draft picks, someday Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly and tight end Fred Davis may develop. But so far, all three look like busts. Blame injuries, lack of work in training camp or whatever you like, the three have 15 catches for 101 yards.

"We are not out of the play-offs," said the running back Clinton Portis. "Two weeks ago, everybody was crucifying the Dallas Cowboys. Now the Cowboys are America's greatest team again. I think we are in that situation." * Washington Post