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Cowboys Gut Punch Redskins, 18-16

Cowboys upend Tim Hightower and Redskins, 18-16. Ray Carlin/Icon SMI

This is one that could come back and haunt Washington at the end of the season. Facing an injury-depleted Cowboys team -- a squad that couldn't line up properly, had repeated bad snaps in shotgun, was down to using no-names in the secondary, and had a quarterback playing at maybe 50% health -- the Redskins managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and suffered their first loss of the season.

Responsibility for the loss is rightfully spread across every offensive and defensive unit. Everyone made good plays at times; everyone made bad plays as well. On offense, Rex Grossman continued the pattern of his career. He made good throws with regularity -- some better than good. But he also made two critical mistakes that resulted in turnovers -- one a horribly thrown interception that set Dallas up for a field goal -- the other a Grossman-esque fumble that ended the team's final drive.

Now in his 9th NFL season, Grossman still has not learned the basics of ball security. Both of his runs last night showcased the same problem. The first, coming with a minute left in the first half, came when Dallas' Anthony Spencer flushed Grossman from the pocket and gave chase. Grossman picked up 6 yards before stepping out of bounds, but what happened at the end of the play foreshadowed Washington's final offensive possession: Spencer swiped at the ball, which Grossman was carrying with one hand as if to be ready to throw. Which would have been a penalty since he was past the line of scrimmage. Grossman lost control of the ball, although it didn't count as a fumble since he was already out of bounds.

The final play was an exact echo. Spencer beat Jammal Brown and flushed Grossman from the pocket. This time, Spencer caught Grossman more quickly, and when he hacked the ball loose it was a true fumble. The Cowboys recovered, and the game was over.

While Grossman's penchant for turnovers hurt Washington, the rest of the squad shares responsibility for the loss. The offensive line -- facing a quality front seven -- had a bad game. The team managed just 65 rushing yards and gave up 3 sacks. Both Spencer and Demarcus Ware regularly pressured Grossman. The Skins were lucky to avoid holding calls -- on at least two occassions, Trent Williams was beaten by Ware and dove from behind to grab Ware around the legs. Inexplicably, the refs called neither penalty.

It was nice that the Redskins defense kept Dallas out of the end zone, but they allowed 375 yards of total offense to a team that couldn't line up properly, couldn't run the correct routes, and couldn't snap the ball properly. They allowed 115 rushing yards to a running back playing with a bum shoulder -- 125 rushing yards to a team with a makeshift offensive line featuring two undrafted free agents. They allowed 255 passing yards to a quarterback playing with a broken rib, who was throwing to receivers who literally didn't know what to do out there.

The defense's biggest failure was on the critical 3rd & 21 from the Dallas 30 with just over two minutes left in the game. The Win Probability graph at Advanced NFL Stats is illustrative. When the play started, Washington had an 0.87 Win Probability (WP). In other words, a typical NFL team would be expected to win about 87% of the time from that situation. After the Redskins called their third consecutive all-out blitz, and DeAngelo Hall was beaten by Dez Bryant for 30 yards and a first down, AND Hall was flagged for a face mask, the Skins' WP had shifted to 0.24.

Let that sink in. On a single play they went from an 87% chance of winning to 24%, a swing of 63 percentage points. They didn't need a sack or a turnover in that situation. They were leading by a point with the ball solidly in Dallas territory. All they had to do was prevent the Cowboys from gaining 21 yards on the next two plays. The reckless play call from defensive coordinator coupled with a good play from Romo and poor execution from Hall and the Redskins cost Washington the game.

Of course, special teams played a role too. Graham Gano and Sav Rocca both had great kicking games. But, Rocca dropped a well-snapped ball that hit him square in the hands, which cost the Redskins 3 points. And, the return game stunk in part because Brandon Banks apparently was auditioning for "So You Think You Can Dance" instead of getting up field. His incessant juking and jittering cost the Redskins field position throughout the game.

All morning, I've been hearing the "it's only one game" refrain. The problem with that mindset is that the NFL has a short season. Every game is important -- a single NFL game is the equivalent of slightly more than 5 NBA games or 10 games in Major League Baseball. Would the Yankees be worried if they were on a 10-game losing streak? You bet.

This was a game Washington should have won. That they didn't is something they're likely to regret when the season is over.

The only bright side is that the NFL is a week-to-week league. What happened last night should have no carryover into next week's contest against the Rams. One loss to the Cowboys -- even a game they should have won -- doesn't decimate the season. Washington can get back on track by playing well and winning. That's what they'll need to do banish the sour taste from this one.

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