This was Homecoming and the Redskins danced with the wrong date.
High schools and colleges can schedule a patsy, a designated victim, for the big celebration in front of the alumni. The Redskins were dealt the Indianapolis Colts by the NFL.
The Colts. Super Bowl runners-up last season. Powered by Peyton Manning, the potentate of passing. Homecoming? This could make someone run away from home.
Redskins alums from Mike Bragg to Otis Wonsley gathered for a variety of ceremonies honoring long-time guard Russ Grimm, who received his Hall of Fame ring at halftime. Neither of the two halves of football that surrounded the pomp and circumstance favored the home team.
The Redskins absorbed a 27-24 loss that could have been much worse and surely could have been much better. They gave up huge plays (a 57-yard touchdown pass, a 46-yard run) in a performance that has come to define them this season. They hemorrhage yards defensively, but then come up with a big play or two that washes away the previous sins.
They score, but they make it a field goal and not a touchdown. They face desperation in one form or another as the clock ticks down.
That's living on the edge and it's a tough neighborhood. Maybe it seemed all romantic as the Redskins (3-3) clipped the Green Bay Packers in overtime last week and won on the last play a couple of other times but not now, not here, not on this night.
The Redskins would fail to make anything of two possessions in the final three minutes of the game, turning the ball back to the Colts on downs the first time and on an interception the next. They needed only three points to tie and gained no yards.
They had their chances. They tried to manufacture their own destiny. Colts kicker Adam Vinateri missed a 38-yard field goal and had another blocked. The defense produced two turnovers and special teams added another. Ryan Torain rushed for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns. There wasn't a player happy to have lost but neither was there a sense of despair. Just the agony of knowing that not making a couple of plays, easily makeable plays, cost them the chance to beat the Colts.
"We had wide-open layups and didn't make the layups," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said.
How they needed them. How much would any of those first-half non-interceptions or a late drive have helped?
"We had some opportunities in there," head coach Mike Shanahan said. "I thought offensively we had some opportunities as well to put the game away a couple of times, yet we couldn't get them and we let them go."
When opportunities presented themselves, they went through the Redskins' hands. Literally. Three "take me, I'm yours" interceptions failed to be intercepted in the first half by the Redskins defense. The Colts (4-2) scored on a 57-yard pass play immediately after intercepting a Donovan McNabb pass in the first quarter. McNabb threw two picks and offered this observation afterwards: "They caught mine."
Yet the Colts could never quite gallop away and the Redskins couldn't catch them either.
"It seemed like it was always a two-possession game," defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. "All three units probably left plays out there and all three units made plays."
Despite those missed interception in the early part of the game, the Redskins would force three turnovers. Two set up scores and one prevented a seemingly-certain Indy score. Even though the Redskins got as close as 17-14 in the third quarter after Ryan Torain's second touchdown run, the bulge soon expanded back to 10.
The Redskins allowed 469 yards to the Colts, including a stunning 170 on the ground to what has been an ineffective rushing team. Manning passed for 307. To contain Manning, the Redskins used a variety of defensive alignments, often putting four linebackers and six defensive backs on the field. That allowed the Colts to run and Joseph Addai piled up 128 yards.
"I think stats can be a little deceiving," linebacker London Fletcher said. "You can give up a few yards as long as we are not giving up points. We knew we weren't going to be able to dominate this offense because of what they do. We just tried to mix it up and make it hard for them."
The Colts scored touchdowns on two of their first four possessions and tried field goals on the next three, successfully converting only one. That's not really making it hard for them.
Then, in the fourth quarter, the Redskins allowed only 60 yards but scored only once and that was with 2:46 left to play.
"We should have made more plays than we did," said tight end Fred Davis, who got more playing time after Chris Cooley (concussion) went out. "We'll probably see on film where we could have probably had another field goal or another touchdown or something. That's probably one of the things you kind of look back at."
It's a memory now, just like high school and the prom and other seminal events that maybe didn't quite unfold as well in real life as in fantasy. This was homecoming and the Redskins left the dance alone.
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.