The Redskins make the unbelievable a reality and reality unbelievable.
They turn the elemental into the monumental, the rudiments into the ridiculous, a celebration into mortification.
They were ahead and then they were behind. They ran the ball and then they didn't. They seemed to have tied the game, and then they didn't.
At the end, the Redskins' anything-but-special teams altered the try for an extra point into something out of a cartoon. And it wasn't an extra point but a necessary one.
Having scored a touchdown with nine seconds left, the Redskins needed simply to kick an extra point to tie the game. That's all. Kick the point, force overtime, maybe go on to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Not to be. Like the two missed field goals earlier in the game.
Nick Sundberg's snap back to holder Hunter Smith came in high and hot and Smith couldn't handle it. The ball rolled back near kicker Graham Gano and it really doesn't matter who recovered it. No extra point, no tie, no overtime.
Just a 17-16 loss that seemed both improbable and probable.
Improbable because the Redskins unleashed a rushing attack that married the style of running back in Ryan Torain with holes to run through that hadn't been seen in these parts for weeks, months, years. Torain rushed for 158 yards in the first half alone, putting the Redskins in position to score numerous times.
Probable because they didn't score. Donovan McNabb flipped a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Logan Paulsen in the second quarter but by then Gano had already missed a pair of field goals, clanking a 34-yard try off the left upright and yanking a 24-yard try wide left. Let the other team hang around and this is what can happen.
Probable because the Redskins were on the verge of breaking the game open.
Improbable because suddenly, in the second half, the offense faded away and the lead kept shrinking like cheap fabric in the rain. Torain gained only 14 more yards. The Redskins punted every time they had the ball after halftime – and they had it one less time than they should have after fumbling away the second-half kickoff – until they scored on the game's final drive, only to fail, again, on special teams.
"If anything, I just pushed it a little too hard, trying to be too perfect," Sundberg said of his errant last snap.
What is more probable than an extra point, more improbable than botching one to tie the game in the final seconds?
Perhaps it is missed field goals from close-in range. The Redskins can't even get the gimmes.
"I thought they were good both times because of the way I hit them," said Gano. "I was in shock."
Welcome to the club. Four times in the red zone for the Redskins, 10 points.
So a 10-3 lead got gnawed at by this pesky Buccaneers team. From 10-3 to 10-6 to 10-9 and finally they gained a 17-10 advantage. They scored on a 41-yard pass from Josh Freeman to Kellen Winslow with 3:47 left in the game and then Freeman charged into the end zone for a two-point conversion.
The Redskins had opportunities but they failed to get the proper value from them.
"Obviously," coach Mike Shanahan said, "you want to win a game like that. You take control of it, you got some long drives in the first half and you settle for a field goal, instead of a touchdown. You have opportunities, even at the end of the first half, and we had the ball on the 2-yard line and we can't get it in the end zone."
The Redskins didn't score touchdowns. They did not convert their big plays into points, a continuing theme this season. Torain's first carry, in his return from six weeks of dormancy with a hamstring injury, went 54 yards. All the way to the Tampa Bay 35.
The Redskins got as far as the 16, stalled, and sent Gano out. Doink. Off the left upright. Uh oh.
Gano actually made a field goal, of 25 yards. It came just before the end of the first half, when the Redskins and their clock management conspired to create a timeout, then a delay of game penalty when they couldn't get the play in from offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to McNabb on time. They had been at the 2-yard line and another prime chance for a touchdown vanished into the damp mists at FedExField.
The Bucs (8-5) tightened up defensively in the second half. The Redskins simply tightened up. The Bucs, kicking off in the third quarter, sent a squibber toward Chris Wilson, a linebacker, and he muffed it. The Bucs recovered and that set up a 44-yard field goal by Connor Barth. The Bucs forced a three-and-out by the Redskins and Barth kicked another field goal.
The dagger came late in the fourth quarter when Freeman fired 41 yards to Winslow. Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo was so obviously held (without drawing a flag) that Shanahan showed a picture of the play to the officials. To no avail. It never is.
That there was no penalty left Orakpo "very stunned. That was the most blatant one," he said of the many non-calls for holding.
As the game drew to its close, even more confusion reigned. Somewhere, someone recorded a catch by Anthony Armstrong as a 9-yard gain instead of the 10 yards he was awarded on the field. So as the field officials gave the Redskins a first down, most of the world, it seemed, thought the Redskins were now working on their second-down play and, at the end, appeared to score on fifth down.
Even the NFL.com play by play credited the Redskins with two fourth-down plays.
Which would seem to explain why they scored at all. They just need a little of extra time. But no, it was four downs. They scored within the bounds of regulations but then they didn't. At least they didn't score quite enough. Not kicking the extra point is a bit like failing to complete the necessary paperwork. Until it's done, it doesn't count.
So the Redskins went home, stunned, saddened, soaked and sick. Whatever mathematical chances they had at the playoffs certainly grew longer as their record dropped to 5-8 with their third consecutive defeat. They will fail to have a winning record for the third straight season, miss the postseason for a third straight season, try to find a reason for being in December for the third straight season.
Improbable after where they were three weeks ago. All too probable because of what they do and don't do.
That's the Redskins. They make the unbelievable real and the real unbelievable.
Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.