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In the End, Slow Starts Contributed to Redskins' Downfall

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In the desperate search for answers to what went so terribly wrong in 2009, Fred Smoot offered this bit of analysis: "We're not finishing. And that has been the tale of the whole season."

The nine-year veteran cornerback got some of it right. It is certainly true the Redskins did not finish well. Here's the other part. They didn't start well. Not starting well and not finishing well combined to create a 4-11 record.

We won't be breaking new ground in revealing here that the team with the most points wins. That it's better to get a lead and force the opponent out of its game plan in order to end up with the most points. That the team with the lead can dictate the tempo, work the clock, rush the passer with abandon and close out the win, or, as Smoot put it, finish. With the most points.

There's also something to be said for the ability to come from behind, to make up deficits, adjust at halftime and close the gap.

The Redskins' track record is, sadly, lacking on all counts.

Fifteen games have come and gone. The patterns are stunning.

The Redskins trailed at the end of the first quarter in eight games. Their record in those: 1-7. They were behind at halftime in 10. Their record in those: 2-8.

They were out of games at times before they were in them.

The opener offered a terrible omen when the Redskins trailed the New York Giants 17-0 in the second quarter and 17-7 at halftime. Or spotting the Atlanta Falcons 14 points in the first quarter. Or the first meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles, where it was 14-0 in the first quarter. You know the end result.

But even when the Redskins owned a lead, they struggled.

They led the Carolina Panthers 10-2 at halftime and 17-2 after that. Lost 20-17. Led the New Orleans Saints 10-0 after one quarter, held a 17-17 tie at halftime and lost 33-30 in overtime. Led the Dallas Cowboys 6-0 until the final three minutes before losing 7-6.

Didn't start. Didn't finish.

Not a single aspect of this wasn't visible during training camp. The Redskins labored to put up points and there were questions even before the first preseason game about the offensive line's quality and depth. What you saw is what you got, especially once injuries hit.

Look at the four victories. The Redskins beat the St. Louis Rams 9-7. The Rams have won one game. Beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16-10 with the Bucs giving Josh Johnson his first start at quarterback. He was subsequently replaced by No. 1 draft pick Josh Freeman.

The Redskins defeated the Denver Broncos 27-17 after trailing 17-14 at halftime. Great comeback? A nice one. But the Broncos lost quarterback Kyle Orton at the end of the first half and Chris Simms played abominably over the next two quarters.

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And the Redskins topped the Oakland Raiders 34-13. They led 17-10 at halftime, at which point Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski exited with injuries to both knees. JaMarcus Russell came in and did his best Chris Simms impersonation while the Redskins attacked and sacked him mercilessly.

That was an exception. When the Redskins started well, they generally didn't finish that way. They led four games at the half but won only two of them. They never enjoyed a lead larger than eight points (at Carolina) at halftime all season.

By contrast, they trailed at the half by 24 (the second loss to the Giants), by 21 (Atlanta), by 17 (first loss to the Eagles), by 14 (second loss to Dallas). Over their first six games they were shut out three times in the first half and only scored two touchdowns in those 12 quarters. That's a deadly daily double and one way too treacherous to navigate.

Not starting, not finishing.

Where were the late drives to tie or win games? Or the defensive stops to save or win games? The comeback of the year came against Tampa Bay when the Redskins rallied at home from 10 points down to win 16-13. The Bucs are 3-12.

Not finishing tells part of a story with only one chapter yet to write. Not starting tells the rest.


Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on The Jim Zorn Show on WRC-TV on Saturday night, on Redskins Nation, airing twice nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, all in the Washington, D.C. area. Read his blog at redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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