Despite the Redskins' three-game losing streak, there remains hope that the team can turn its season around and make a push toward the playoffs.
If the Redskins can produce wins in St. Louis and Arizona the next two weeks, getting to 7-6, that would make the regular season-ending stretch versus NFC East opponents Dallas, the Giants and Philadelphia meaningful.
And yet, if the Redskins are to show progress, they'll have to prove that they can do more in third-down situations. Washington was a woeful 3-for-14 on third down in Sunday's 23-17 overtime loss to San Diego at FedExField, the Redskins' 10th straight setback to an AFC team.
In terms of third down execution, Sunday's game marked Washington's low point of 2005. Back on Week 4, their high water mark, the Redskins converted on 13-of-18 third downs in the process of knocking off a talented Seattle team 20-17 in overtime.
Maybe you can't always expect a team to convert on 72 percent of its third down tries, as the Redskins did back on Oct. 2 versus the Seahawks. But they should be able to improve on Sunday's third down struggles.
"Words can't even say how tough it is," maintained running back Rock Cartwright, whose 13-yard TD run put the Redskins up 17-7 at the 3:14 mark of the third quarter. "We fight and fight and fight, but come up short. It's frustrating. For three weeks in a row, we haven't gotten the job done."
Looking back on the three-game losing streak (36-35 at Tampa Bay, 16-13 versus Oakland and 23-17 in overtime against San Diego), the one that has to hurt the most concerns Week 11.
That's because the Raiders were routed, at home, both before and after winning at FedExField. Denver beat up on Oakland 31-17 on Week 10 and 4-7 Miami outscored the Raiders 33-21 yesterday.
"This is tough on all of us," head coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday afternoon. "It's been three tough ones. We'll see what we're made of--all of us."
Just ahead, the Redskins get a pair of teams with sub-.500 records in the 5-6 Rams and the 3-8 Cardinals. That won't mean much unless Washington can improve upon its new nemesis, poor performance on third down.
"We have to learn how to finish games," right guard Randy Thomas stressed. "We can't sit back on our heels and wait for things to happen. We have to find a way to get into the end zone more often."
Added Thomas: "You just don't believe it, the way it ended and the way it could have ended for us. Those are the things that run through your mind. Then, you have to go watch film. That's the hardest part."
It comes as little consolation that the Redskins lost Sunday to a team that has on its roster perhaps the best player in all of the NFL. LaDainian Tomlinson finished with 25 carries, 184 yards and three TDs. He proved that if he's not the best player in the game, he's at least on a very short list.
In overtime, against a Redskins defense that looked weary, Antonio Gates and Tomlinson took over. They made the fifth quarter a short one, just two plays to be accurate.
When Tomlinson burst through the line of scrimmage, made Ryan Clark miss and dashed 41 yards to the end zone, he assured that a former Redskins head coach would win at FedExField for the second week in a row, Marty Schottenheimer following Norv Turner.
The mysterious 0-for-10 against the AFC lingers. Next year, the Redskins host Jacksonville and Tennessee and play at Houston and Indianapolis.
Asked to evaluate his team's showing against San Diego yesterday, Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell said: "The defense played very well. They were tough and very physical. They did everything the coaches asked them to do.
"It's a tough one to take because the defense made incredible plays. They do time and time again. Yet, we couldn't capitalize."