LANDOVER, Md.—— In the moments immediately afterward, when only reporters' questions broke the silence in the locker room, many Washington Redskins players sat motionless at dressing stalls, their blank expressions telling the story of a stunning 19-17 loss Sunday to the formerly winless St. Louis Rams.
Anger was the emotion most expressed as place-kicker Josh Brown connected on a 49-yard field goal as time expired, the final blow in a day's worth of jarring moments for the Redskins and a home crowd of 90,376. After stirring such excitement in their four-game winning streak, the Redskins experienced disappointment for the first time in a while, and it was clear who deserved much of the blame.
"We all do," defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander said. "You come in here, you see how somber it is, because it's hard when you believe you should beat a team, and then you have something like this happen."
Much went wrong for Washington (4-2) against the Rams (1-4), who ranked 30th overall on offense, 31st on defense and had been outscored 147-43. There were breakdowns on special teams — the ongoing struggles of rookie punter Durant Brooks has become a major concern — long, unfocused stretches on offense, and the defense failed to deliver a big play down the stretch.
The biggest change from Washington's previous four games, however, was the turnovers it committed. The offense, which set a league record in having no turnovers in the first five games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, lost three fumbles — including one by left guard Pete Kendall just before halftime that cornerback Oshiomogho Atogwe returned 75 yards for the Rams' only touchdown.
Kendall took a few steps with the ball after catching a tipped pass, but "my first thought, which I should have went with, was knock it down," he said.
Even after Brooks's continued shoddy punting, a mostly lethargic performance on offense and the turnovers, it appeared the Redskins would rally to another victory behind running back Clinton Portis, who had 129 yards and rushed for two touchdowns in his third consecutive 100-yard game. Portis rushed for 43 of the 73 yards Washington gained in scoring the go-ahead touchdown — he finished the drive with a 2yard run — late in the fourth quarter to take a 17-16 lead.
But the Rams, at the direction of former Washington play-caller Al Saunders, made good use of the final 3 minutes 40 seconds. The Rams moved the ball from their 24-yard line to Washington's 31, gaining two first downs against a Redskins defense that limited them to eight in the game.
Needing 13 yards on third down from the St. Louis 41-yard line, quarterback Marc Bulger and wide receiver Donnie Avery teamed on a 43-yard pass. Avery, who adjusted nicely to an underthrown pass, beat cornerback Leigh Torrence down the right sideline.
The Rams, after a series of timeouts and an unsportsmanlike penalty, backed up Brown for a long kick, then walked off the field smiling for the first time this season.
"You just have to train yourself, somehow, to block out everything," said Brown, who was perfect on four field goal attempts, including three of at least 44 yards. "Nothing else matters but that two-second moment."
For the Redskins, there was nothing to celebrate, and a lot on which to reflect.
"Unfortunately for us, I think we relaxed," kick return specialist Rock Cartwright said. "You should never relax when you're playing a team like that" because that's when they're dangerous.
The Rams began the game in a manner indicative of a winless team that ranks near the bottom of the NFL's statistics. On the second play of the second possession of the game, strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington stripped the ball from running Steven Jackson and LaRon Landry recovered it on the Rams 3.
Portis scored one play later, helping the Redskins take a 7-0 lead with 10:50 remaining in the first quarter.
Given that the Rams have, well, been awful, the Redskins thought they were in a good position, which was part of the problem.
"Just knowing that you didn't play your best as a team, to prevent some of the things that they capitalized on, as far as offensively, that's hard," said wide receiver Santana Moss, who had two receptions for 22 yards.
Brooks continued to hurt his team, too. After netting 50 yards on his impressive first punt, he failed to provide the distance and hang time coach Jim Zorn and special-teams coach Danny Smith have said he must to retain his position.
"We must have better punts," Zorn said. "So we'll address that, absolutely. I'll address that with him, with Danny Smith."