Defeat is typical of stupor season


December 27, 1992|By KEN ROSENTHAL

WASHINGTON -- Can't beat the Los Angeles Raiders? Can't put away the sore-armed Jay Schroeder and the 37-year-old Vince Evans? Once and for all, the Redskins should take a hint: This isn't their year.

Oh, they still can make the playoffs, if Green Bay loses today at Minnesota. But if logic prevails, the Packers will be rewarded for their breakthrough season, and the Redskins will be left to heal their many wounds.

Of course, yesterday's 21-20 loss to the Raiders at RFK Stadium didn't decide anything -- the NFL would have needed a day after Francisco Cabrera's pennant-clinching single to figure out if Atlanta made the World Series.

But for the Redskins, it was typical of a year gone sour. No question, this is a team with great character and heart. But a post-Super Bowl decline was inevitable, and try as they might, the Redskins never got over the hump.

Injuries obviously were one reason, and the inconsistency of quarterback Mark Rypien was another. The Redskins seemed to revive the past four games -- their only loss was a heartbreaker at Philadelphia -- but yesterday they again fell apart.

The offense took nearly three quarters to score its first touchdown against a Raiders team half in decay, half in disarray. The defense couldn't hold a 10-7 lead going into the fourth quarter and a 20-14 lead with 1:57 to play.

Evans completed 15 of 22 passes for 214 yards after replacing the injured Schroeder late in the first half. The Redskins blew an 18-point fourth-quarter lead in Phoenix earlier this season, but under the circumstances, this was worse.

Coach Joe Gibbs called it "one of the biggest heartbreaks we've had around here" -- especially coming off last week's 17-13 loss at Philadelphia, where the Redskins could have clinched a playoff berth.

Now Gibbs and Co. must cross their fingers as they gather around televisions to root for the Vikings, a playoff team whose only incentive today is to generate momentum for the postseason.

Hard to believe this is a team that won the Super Bowl last season, but isn't it always that way? The Redskins' 9-7 record actually was quite an accomplishment, considering all the obstacles they had to overcome.

"Last year was last year," linebacker Andre Collins said. "As soon as you come to training camp, it's a new season. For the most part, we played like a 9-7 team. We didn't make the plays when we had opportunities."

Indeed, the Redskins ended the regular season with nearly 200 fewer points than last year, when they were the fourth-highest-scoring team in NFL history. Rypien, playing most of the season behind a makeshift offensive line, never regained his form.

Yesterday, he completed passes of 49 and 43 yards to Art Monk to produce one touchdown and set up another. But he also missed Gary Clark in the end zone in the fourth quarter, forcing the Redskins to settle for a field goal after they had first-and-goal from the 6.

As usual, he wasn't completely to blame, not when the injuries kept coming. The Redskins began the day without wide receiver Ricky Sanders, then lost his backup when Desmond Howard separated his left shoulder in the second quarter.

Running back Earnest Byner missed the entire second half with a bruised back, ending his season 2 yards short of 1,000. Monk also had a stiff back, and Gibbs was stunned he could play in the second half, much less catch two passes for 92 yards.

The Redskins ran out of weapons, and they ran out of gas. They summoned all their emotional resolve against division rivals Dallas and Philadelphia the previous two weeks. Yesterday, they simply had nothing left.

The sad part is, for all their problems this season, the Redskins still would appear to stand a decent chance of winning a playoff game. Their opponent would be Minnesota, a team that is eminently beatable, especially right now.

The Redskins have already won at the Metrodome this season, using five field goals by Chip Lohmiller to defeat the Vikings, 15-13. Granted, the NFC Central champions are 10-5. But only two of their victories came against teams with .500 records -- and both were by three points.

Lest we forget, Vikings coach Dennis Green has rotated his quarterbacks three times in the past five weeks. If ever a team were ripe for an upset, this is it. But oddly enough, the Redskins won't get the chance -- unless the Vikings win today.

It has been that kind of season.

Time for it to end.

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