ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Almost exactly a year ago, when his Redskins fell to 3-6 after an embarrassing loss to a deeply flawed opponent that had one previous victory, coach Mike Shanahan sounded close to throwing in the towel — and Washington promptly went out and won its next seven games.
Well, here Shanahan and the Redskins are again: They're 3-6 after an embarrassing loss to a deeply flawed opponent that had one previous victory. There was no reason to think in 2012 that Washington was ready to go unbeaten the rest of the way in the regular season en route to an NFC East title. And there was little real reason for optimism Friday at Redskins Park, either, based on the team's latest lead-blowing, mistake-filled performance, a 34-27 defeat at the Minnesota Vikings.
And yet this time, Shanahan sought to put a positive spin on his problematic team. Asked at his news conference Friday whether he was concerned that there are mistakes being made in all phases, Shanahan ignored the premise of the question and launched into a list of what he said were aspects worthy of praise:
— the offense is "doing some good things" in the running game; — "at times, we've been very effective" when passing; — the defense "played some good halves over the last three or four games"; — the special teams "made some strides" and "coverage teams are much better."
Against Minnesota, though, all of those areas let the Redskins down as they gave up 20 consecutive points after leading 27-14. The Vikings (2-7), remember, were without more than a half-dozen original starters because of injuries and dressed only 44 players, instead of the allowed 46.
"When we were 3-6 a year ago, we had one goal, and that was to improve and become 4-6," Shanahan said. "To do that, we have to have a group effort." This time, there were no grand pronouncements along the lines of last November, when Shanahan declared after getting beaten 21-13 by Carolina, "You lose a game like that, now you're playing to see who obviously is going to be on your football team for years to come. I'll get a chance to evaluate players and see where we're at."
Shanahan, who is 24-34 with Washington, probably can find plenty of reasons to "evaluate" what happened Thursday. The "unacceptable" penalties, to use Shanahan's word, including an unnecessary roughness call on linebacker Perry Riley that set up the Vikings with a first-and-goal at the 2.
The clock-management issues, including when Washington was whistled for delay of game right after spiking the ball. (A week earlier, the Redskins managed a delay of game call right after a timeout.) The offense, directed by Robert Griffin III, scored on its first five possessions — something the Redskins hadn't done in nearly 30 years — and then never again. Three sacks in a five-play span didn't help. A 13-point lead evaporated, much in the way advantages of 13 (in a loss to Denver) and 10 (in an eventual overtime win against San Diego) faded in Washington's previous two games.
The defense appeared to be, as linebacker Brian Orakpo put it, "sleepwalking at times," making Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel look better than they have all season. And special teams? An area that's been consistently bad might have reached a new low Thursday. The third quarter featured the sort of sequence that could come to define Shanahan's tenure in Washington, much in the way Jim Zorn's disastrous head coaching stint is associated with his calling for the same fake field goal twice in a row, both before and after the opponent called timeout, resulting in an interception.
Leading Minnesota 27-21, the Redskins lined up to punt on fourth down. Punter Sav Rocca attempted a pass that fell incomplete because intended receiver Niles Paul did not realize a throw would be coming his way. The play, however, did not count, thanks to another foul-up by Washington: a false-start penalty on Jerome Murphy, who was moving when the ball was snapped. Given a reprieve, the Redskins punted, but wound up allowing a 20-yard return, with another 15 yards tacked on because of an unnecessary roughness penalty on Darrel Young.
The Vikings started with the ball at Washington's 41 and wound up scoring the go-ahead TD on that drive. "It was shocking," Young said about the night's final result, "just because we felt we were going to win this game. Coming out of halftime, the only thing that could stop us was ourselves — and we did."
Griffin, for his part, said, "If there's guys in that locker room that need something to believe in, they can look at last year and see what we did. I think everybody believes." Asked why he believes the Redskins can make another season-saving run, the quarterback replied: "We can put points up, and our defense has played well at times this year."
Notes: Shanahan said rookie RB Chris Thompson will go on injured reserve because he needs left shoulder surgery. ... LB London Fletcher was fined $15,750 by the NFL for a horse-collar tackle on RB Danny Woodhead during Washington's victory over San Diego last weekend.
AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
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