HERNDON, Va. -- When the Washington Redskins think about how they let their bid for a perfect season get away Sunday, they'll certainly remember the "Hail Mary" pass, the Emmitt Smith draw play and the onside kick.
In the final analysis, though, what cost the Redskins their unbeaten season was their inability to run the football.
"We've had trouble rushing the ball for three weeks, really, [and] it finally got us. We were throwing the ball so well, and people were up there close to the line of scrimmage, [but] any time you don't run the football, it's going to get you sooner or later," coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday.
It finally got the Redskins Sunday in their 24-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, when they rushed only 17 times for 50 yards.
They rushed for only 108 and 97 yards against the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers the previous two weeks, but it didn't make any difference because those teams overplayed the run and the Redskins bombed them with the pass.
@4 But the Cowboys stopped the run cold and the Red
skins were forced to throw on passing downs when the Cowboys were ready for the pass.
Although Earnest Byner has had only one 100-yard game in the past nine weeks and gained 23 yards in 12 carries against the Atlanta Falcons (he hurt his knee in that game), 9 yards in five carries against the Pittsburgh Steelers and 22 yards in eight carries against the Cowboys in the past three weeks, Gibbs didn't fault his running. He said the problem was the blocking of the line.
"Earnest has been a product of just not having a lot to run to," Gibbs said.
Gibbs blamed "a lot of small things, a block here, a block there," for the problems.
When quarterback Mark Rypien and the receivers didn't bail the runners out on third down to keep drives alive, the running game didn't get a second chance to get started.
But Gibbs worries more about the running game and it didn't help that Smith rushed for 132 yards against the Redskins, although he got 32 of those yards on the draw play for a touchdown.
"Any time you give up running [yardage], that concerns me You've got to be able to run the football and you've got to be able to stop the run. Those are the two things as far as offense and defense that you kind of hang your hat on. In the passing game, you can have some good days and bad days, but I think the running game can be more consistent. That's the reason you like to have it," Gibbs said.
He added: "In order to be a good offensive football team, you can't lean on the pass. You've got to be a good running team."
Offensive line coach Jim Hanifan said he couldn't single out one lineman for the blocking failure.
"It wasn't the same guy all the time. The whole group was inconsistent," Hanifan said.
Gibbs is looking for a rebound against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday.
"We can block anybody," he said.
But he's not taking anything for granted even though their next two foes, the Rams and Phoenix Cardinals, have losing records.
"Everybody wants to start counting things before the counting is done. If you start counting your chickens before they're hatched, they're in trouble," he said.
The Redskins also have some injury problems. Tight end Ron Middleton was on crutches yesterday and is doubtful for the Rams' game after suffering a knee sprain against the Cowboys. A Magnetic Resonance Imaging test didn't reveal any structural damage, although it's too early to decide if he'll go on the injured reserve list.
Meanwhile, defensive lineman Charles Mann's right knee is still bothering him. He suffered a stretched knee ligament against Atlanta two weeks ago and will have an MRI test today.
"I don't want to be 45 and walking around with a cane," said Mann, who wants to find out if he'll aggravate the injury if he keeps playing.
Mann said he was disappointed because he started the season "on a roll," but said, "Now I'm out there hobbling."
NOTES: Gibbs turned 51 yesterday, but wasn't able to do much celebrating. "It wasn't exactly a top-of-the-line birthday," Gibbs said after the loss. . . . WR Ricky Sanders said he didn't mean to taunt Issiac Holt of the Cowboys when he spiked the ball after scoring a touchdown in the final minute. Sanders said he didn't even see Holt on the ground near him when he spiked it.