Another close game, another loss. The Redskins failed to hold on to a slim second-half lead, then were unable to mount a comeback, losing 17-13 to the Cleveland Browns at Browns Stadium on Sunday. It was the Redskins' third consecutive loss; all three were close games, with the Redskins losing by a combined total of just 13 points.
The loss dropped the Redskins' record to 1-3 on the season. Washington has fallen three games back of NFC East leader Philadelphia.
"Right now we are being tested," head coach Joe Gibbs said. "The biggest thing is that we all need to hang together and try to work our way out of it. It's a tough situation for us, but I think most of us have been in tough situations before."
Gibbs cited penalties, turnovers and mistakes as reasons why the team is struggling.
"We are hurting ourselves-and because of that we are not consistent," Gibbs said. "When you're not consistent, good football teams like Cleveland will beat you. We have to find a way to work ourselves out of this."
Two turnovers were costly in the game. Clinton Portis's third-quarter fumble led to the Browns' first touchdown. Late in the fourth quarter, with the offense trying to mount a comeback, wide receiver Laveranues Coles fumbled after a catch, ending the Redskins' final drive--and last chance to eke out a victory.
"Until we quit turning the ball over, we are going to be our own worst enemy," Gibbs said. "We've set out to spend a lot of time and emphasis working on [protecting the football]. We have great players and we have to find ways to protect the football."
Both the Redskins and Browns entered the game at 1-2 and needing a win so that they wouldn't fall too far behind in their respective divisions.
Both defenses were solid in the early going.
Washington scored first, taking advantage of a Cleveland turnover. Midway through the first quarter, the Browns were in Redskins' territory and driving for a score. Jeff Garcia completed a pass to wide receiver Quincy Morgan in the flat. Fred Smoot quickly stripped the ball from Morgan's arms and the ball bounced backward, where Antonio Pierce pounced on it for the recovery.
The Redskins took over and went on a 13-play, 65-yard drive, with Mark Brunell leading the offense downfield thanks to completions to Rod Gardner and Coles. But the drive stalled at the Browns' 13-yard line and John Hall came in to kick a 31-yard field goal.
The Browns responded with a drive of their own. Second-year running back Lee Suggs burst for a 25-yard gain to get Cleveland in Redskins' territory. Then Matt Bowen was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty, putting the Browns' in range for kicker Phil Dawson. Dawson converted a 30-yard field goal to tie the game at 3-3.
A few minutes before halftime, the Redskins jumped back ahead with an impressive 12-play, 78-yard touchdown drive. Gibbs employed a solid mix of the run and pass to set up the score, but it was a key fourth-down conversion that was the key play of the drive.
On 4th and six from the Browns' 37-yard line, Gibbs elected to go for it instead of trying a long field goal or punting. Brunell dropped back to pass, waited in the pocket, then found Coles streaking wide open across the middle of the field. Coles shook off a Browns' tackler and burst to the 7-yard line for a 30-yard pickup.
Two plays later, Portis pushed the ball across the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown run and a 10-3 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, the Browns tied the game by taking advantage of Portis's fumble. It occurred on the Redskins' first offensive series of the second half. Portis was tackled into a pile of defenders by Browns' defensive lineman Mike Myers. The ball popped loose and it was recovered by another defensive lineman, Andra Davis.
The Redskins challenged the fumble, contending that Portis was down by contact, but the ruling was upheld, costing Washington a time out.
"I thought I was down, but the refs did not see it that way," Portis said. "I just have to hold on to the ball better."
The Browns began the drive on the Redskins' 31-yard line. Garcia completed passes to tight end Steve Heiden and fullback Terrelle Smith, then found tight end Aaron Shea wide open in the right flat. Shea raced 15 yards into the end zone before a Redskins defender was able to reach him.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Redskins took the lead again on a 26-yard field goal by Hall. The score was set up by a 45-yard pass from Brunell to Coles and culminated a 9-play, 80-yard drive.
Holding on to a slim 13-10 lead, Washington's defense rose up and forced a three-and-out. But the offense was unable to generate any first downs to wind down the clock and the Redskins were forced to punt.
Cleveland put together a solid drive, with strong running by Suggs and a 23-yard pass from Garcia to wide receiver Andre Davis that put the Browns at the Redskins' 3-yard line. Suggs burst across the goal line for a touchdown on the next play for the 17-13 advantage.
The Redskins' offense had one last opportunity to drive downfield for a go-ahead score. But the drive was stopped due to Coles' fumble and Browns QB Garcia had only to kneel three times to run out the clock.
Despite the fumble, Coles produced a solid game, finishing with seven catches for 122 yards. Brunell was 17-of-32 passes for 192 yards and Portis logged 58 yards on 20 carries. The offensive line did not yield a sack.
But the offense was unable to sustain many drives, going 1-for-11 on third-down conversions.
On defense, Pierce led the way with eight tackles and safety Sean Taylor had seven tackles. Backup defensive linemen Ron Warner and Demetric Evans, playing for injured starter Phillip Daniels, were also solid, each recording a sack.
Those statistics were ultimately undone by the turnovers.
"I think we have character guys," Gibbs said. "They are smart. They understand how we are losing football games. I'm not worried about the players. We have to find a way to correct this. It's up to us."