Washington Redskins’ offense begins to click

November 20, 2011

As time ticked away in regulation, the guy leading a huddle was a quarterback who’d been holding a clipboard just a couple of weeks ago. The running back had been sent to the unemployment line last month by the team on the opposing sideline. And the wide receiver who was dashing toward the corner of the end zone spent the previous Sunday grocery shopping.

This wasn’t exactly how the Washington Redskins thought their offense might look, but for the first time in more than a month, it seemed to be working. Rex Grossman hit Donte Stallworth with a four-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the score. Though the Cowboys won, 27-24, with a 39-yard field goal in overtime and handed the Redskins a sixth straight loss, the Washington offense finally showed signs of life. In fact, Sunday’s loss marked the most points put up by the Redskins’ offense this season.

“We did a lot that we can build on today,” said wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, who posted a season-high 115 yards, “and if we play a little bit more thorough, we’ll pull it out.”

The losing streak has been a statistical black hole for the offense, though Sunday’s game featured some improvement in several categories. For the first time during the slump, the Redskins won the time of possession battle, and they also posted their most passing yards (289), best red-zone performance (3 for 3) and most third-down conversions (six).

The Redskins had scored just one touchdown in the previous three losses — 20 points total; on Sunday, they had three. Against the Cowboys, they scored a first-half touchdown for the first time since Oct. 2 at St. Louis, and they also posted their first lead since that Rams’ game.

“I thought we kept our poise a lot more,” Coach Mike Shanahan said. “We didn’t panic. Guys are more comfortable with each other, knowing the system, knowing the terminology.”

Grossman had his best outing since regaining the starting quarterback job. He was 25 of 38 passing for 289 yards, two touchdowns, another running the ball, an interception and a passer rating of 95.2. “I think Rex was more comfortable today,” fullback Darrel Young said.

While the Redskins have fallen behind in each of their past six games, on Sunday they managed to battle back. Grossman ran in a touchdown in the second quarter and threw a second to Gaffney.

“It just felt good to be back on a roll and scoring points,” said left tackle Trent Williams, who suffered a knee injury on the Redskins’ missed field goal in overtime and will undergo an MRI exam on Monday. “We never thought the game was over.”

Even when Dallas pulled ahead, 24-17 in the fourth quarter, Grossman’s confidence didn’t waver. The Redskins began their final scoring drive at their 9-yard line and needed nearly a dozen plays before Grossman spotted Stallworth in the corner of the end zone. Grossman was 8 of 11 for 92 yards and targeted six different players on the drive.

“Sometimes football can have a lot of momentum to it,” Grossman said. “I don’t know why. One good play kind of leads itself to another.”

Running back Tashard Choice, claimed off waivers from the Cowboys on Oct. 31, was stuffed near the goal line. As time ticked away, Grossman faced third and goal from the 4-yard line. He sent Stallworth on a fade route to the corner, a far cry from the wide receiver’s role just seven days earlier.

The Redskins released Stallworth Nov. 8. He returned to his South Florida home and watched some of the Redskins game at Miami on television, before abandoning the television and going to the grocery store with his girlfriend.

As the days passed, the 31-year-old Stallworth couldn’t help but wonder whether he’d get another opportunity in the NFL. He’d had just seven receptions since 2008, including five this season before the Redskins released him. But after rookie Leonard Hankerson suffered a season-ending knee injury last Sunday, Stallworth’s phone rang. Fortunately, he hadn’t packed up his apartment and hadn’t yet cut the electricity and cable.

“When I got the call, I just wanted to make sure that whatever I wasn’t doing last time, make sure I did it,” Stallworth said.

So he ran the fade route the Redskins had struggled with in recent years and Grossman lofted one of his best throws this season. Stallworth pulled down the catch and dragged his toe on the grass as momentum carried him out-of-bounds, his first touchdown since 2008.

“I’ve always been a positive person,” Stallworth said. “Try to stay positive about everything, try to take positives from any situations regardless of what it is.”

Stallworth and his teammates aren’t happy with any loss, but when they review film on Monday, they’ll finally be able to spot more than a couple of positives.

Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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