For a team with so much talent and chemistry, the Redskins sure have a knack for coming up limp when the sun goes down.
On Sunday at FedEx Field, for the third time since September, the 'Skins had a chance to make a statement in a nationally televised night game. And for the third time, this is what rookie coach Jim Zorn's team told the football-watching world: Our defense is good enough to keep us in any game, but our offense isn't ready for prime time.
As with previous clunkers against the Giants and Steelers, Washington's 14-10 loss to the Cowboys exposed a collective tightness under the lights, a disturbing trend for a team that looked so bold and assertive earlier this season in consecutive road victories against the Cowboys and Eagles.
"We're so wishy-washy, and it's very frustrating," veteran defensive end Andre Carter said after Sunday's game as he dressed in a near-deserted locker room. "This team is so blessed in so many ways, and we've come so far as a group.
"We have it – it's so there – we just need to fix a couple of things. The main thing I think we need to do is just tone it down. Sometimes you've just got to slow your heart rate down, clear your head and say, 'Let's go.' "
Now would be that time. The Redskins (6-4), who once fashioned themselves as contenders for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, have slipped three games behind the Giants in the NFC East and are now part of what is shaping up as a nine-team scrum for two wild-card spots.
Can Zorn's offense, which has produced just six touchdowns in the 'Skins' past five games (and 23 points in those three prime-time games), get it together when he returns to Seattle this Sunday? And sustain that momentum down the stretch? Will Washington shrink up again the next time it plays a night game – which, barring an NBC schedule change, wouldn't come until the playoffs, when the lights are the brightest?
Hey, I'm not a psychic; I just play one on the Internet. As always, however, I'm relentlessly inquisitive, seeking answers in a best-to-worst-team kind of way:
2. New York Giants: If the Ravens can't stop their running game, can anyone?
6. Dallas Cowboys: Is this team talented enough to overcome its habitual sloppiness?
7. Washington Redskins: By failing to subdue the Cowboys, did they just recreate a monster?
10. Indianapolis Colts: After the way their last two games ended, is it fair to say they're No. 10 with a Bullitt?
13. New England Patriots: If someone had told you in August that the Pats would open as one-point favorites over the Dolphins in a mid-November revenge game, would you have fitted him/her for a straightjacket before or after delivering the Thorazine shot?
15. Atlanta Falcons: Did you see the massive hole on Michael Turner's 28-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Broncos, and was it further confirmation that this is the NFL's most improved offensive line?
16. Baltimore Ravens: How impressive is Matt Stover's NFL record for consecutive extra points – and, to put it in perspective, what are the odds that you could do anything (take a bite of food without spilling; park the car downtown without tapping someone's bumper; put the trash out for collection day) successfully 372 times in a row?
17. Chicago Bears: Did Brian Urlacher bait Aaron Rodgers into throwing that interception while covering Donald Driver deep, and is there another over-30 middle linebacker who could possibly get away with that?
20. New Orleans Saints: Is .500 as good as it gets, or can this team outscore the Packers and make a run?
22. Buffalo Bills: Which Dick was more paranoid and conservative – Nixon during his presidency, or Jauron on the Bills' final drive Monday night?
27. Kansas City Chiefs: Even though they keep losing … and losing … and losing … don't you get the feeling this team could be pretty good in '09?
29. San Francisco 49ers: With a 35-3 lead after two quarters Sunday, did Mike Singletary consider pulling down Jim Haslett's pants at halftime?
32. Detroit Lions: If I screamed out "Quarterback draw!" before Daunte Culpepper received the two-point conversion snap while trailing 24-22 late in their game at Carolina, what do you think the odds are that the Panthers' defenders were thinking the same thing?