It got worse for the Washington Redskins before it got better. But just when their season was on the verge of unraveling completely, wide receiver Laveranues Coles provided hope with a momentum-shifting hustle play. Two immense fourth-quarter gambles by Coach Steve Spurrier paid off handsomely and the Redskins took a step toward turning around their season by beating the Seattle Seahawks, 27-20, yesterday before a disgruntled-then-gleeful crowd of 80,728 at FedEx Field.
Following a week of local and national ridicule after his team looked disorganized and overmatched in a defeat at Dallas eight days ago, Spurrier handed the keys to his precious offense to assistant coach Hue Jackson, making his young offensive coordinator the primary play-caller. But Spurrier made the two decisions that really mattered -- leaving his offense on the field for a successful fourth-and-inches conversion from the Redskins 25-yard line with about six minutes to play, then capping that decisive drive with a trick play on which halfback Trung Canidate caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Rod Gardner with 1 minute 57 seconds to go.
Despite tight coverage by Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant, Laveranues Coles makes leaping catch in back of end zone for 15-yard touchdown to start Redskins' comeback from 11 down.
(John McDonnell - The Washington Post)
"It's a lot more fun to win," said Spurrier, whose Redskins (4-5) had lost four straight. "It was a good win for us. Hopefully we can build on it. . . . I still think we're right in there, as good a team as most of them, but we certainly haven't played like a real good team thus far. . . . Maybe this will give us a little momentum, confidence, whatever, to get a spark going."
The Seahawks (6-3) started fast, and for a while it appeared that they wouldn't look back. They grabbed a 14-3 lead in the first quarter and were about to make it 21-3 in the second quarter when safety Damien Robinson stepped in front of Coles to intercept a pass from Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey. Robinson raced toward the end zone, but Coles didn't give up. He chased Robinson, caught him at the 2-yard line and knocked the ball loose. Redskins guard Randy Thomas fell on the fumble in the end zone, and Ramsey said, "We knew we'd caught a huge break at that point."
The Redskins tied the score at 17 on a 14-yard touchdown dart from Ramsey to wide receiver Rod Gardner six seconds before halftime, and the teams traded second-half field goals before Spurrier eschewed coaching convention and put the game -- and perhaps his NFL coaching future -- in the hands of Rock Cartwright on fourth down. The fullback plowed for a first down when being stopped would have handed the Seahawks a gift-wrapped go-ahead field goal or touchdown.
"He kind of rolled the dice there and made it," Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren said. "Gutsy call, and I give credit to him."
Spurrier interjected himself again on a third-and-five play from the Seahawks 10. The Redskins had a more conservative play ready to go when the Seahawks called time out, giving Spurrier a chance to reconsider. He ordered up a play that the Redskins have practiced regularly but had not unveiled. Ramsey threw a long lateral to Gardner. The former high school quarterback grabbed the ball at the 15-yard line, backpedaled to the 19 and lobbed the ball across the field to Canidate for the touchdown, with no Seattle defender in the vicinity.
"You see them practice it all the time," Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey said. "It always works in practice. But to do it in a game takes a lot of guts."
Said Spurrier: "We had another play called and I sort of said, 'Hey, this is the time.' . . . We've been working on it, and we'd been talking about calling it the whole game. I sort of said, 'Hey, let's go, fellas. It's time to let this one go.' I thought they'd be in a man-to-man scheme, and they were."
Cornerback Fred Smoot's interception of a tipped pass with 39 seconds left sealed the triumph, and the Redskins had plenty of congratulations to go around. They managed to keep Ramsey upright; he wasn't sacked and barely was hit. Seahawks defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes blitzed infrequently, ignoring the blueprint that the Cowboys and others had utilized to tie Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense in knots. Ramsey completed 17 of 32 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns.
They won because they committed only four penalties, because Cartwright bulldozed his way to 81 rushing yards and because Coles and Gardner again became factors in the offense by combining for 13 receptions for 206 yards and two touchdowns. They won because their defense gathered itself following a shaky beginning, harassing Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and limiting the Seahawks to a pair of field goals after the first quarter. And they won because Spurrier stepped aside for Jackson -- a third-year NFL assistant whom Spurrier retained from the staff of former coach Marty Schottenheimer -- and permitted the team to spend most of the day running a buttoned-down offense that focused on protecting the quarterback and balancing the run and the pass.
"That's a credit to him," said Jackson, who also delivered a hang-in-there speech to the Redskins players at their hotel in Greenbelt on Saturday night. "A lot of guys wouldn't do that. I'm thankful I work for a guy like him who said, 'Go run with it.' "
Spurrier said: "I was willing to try anything. What we'd been doing lately hadn't been working very well so I said, 'Have a go at it. I'll be right there with my [play] sheet.' He asked every now and then, 'Do you have anything you like?' But basically he called most of it."
The Redskins got a break on the opening kickoff, which was fumbled by Seattle's Maurice Morris and recovered by David Terrell at the Seahawks 18. But the Redskins could manage only a 20-yard field goal by John Hall for a 3-0 advantage. Terrell committed a penalty on the ensuing kickoff, and the Seahawks needed to go only 43 yards for a touchdown and a 7-3 edge. Hasselbeck threw a five-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Bobby Engram. The Seahawks marched 90 yards on their next possession, with tailback Shaun Alexander muscling into the end zone from the 1-yard line.
Coles provided his heroics on the Redskins' first possession of the second quarter, drawing comparisons from some of the club's veteran players to linebacker LaVar Arrington's interception return for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers in 2001 to turn an 0-5 beginning under Schottenheimer into an 8-3 finish to the season.
"I just tried to make a play," Coles said. "I had to try to strip him. I knew if I just tried to tackle him, his momentum would carry him into the end zone."
Ramsey had another interception later in that drive wiped out by a Seahawks' pass-interference penalty, and Coles made a superb catch in the back of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown that got the Redskins to 14-10. Another personal foul on the kickoff -- this one on rookie cornerback Ade Jimoh -- helped the Seahawks to a 27-yard field goal by Josh Brown.
But on the following drive, Coles absorbed a hard hit to hold on to a pass from Ramsey for a 31-yard gain, and Ramsey capped that drive by zipping a throw to Gardner for a tying touchdown just before the break.
Coles's 64-yard catch and run gave the Redskins a scoring chance early in the third quarter. But on a third-down play from the Seattle 6, Ramsey rolled to his right and threw the ball directly to Seahawks linebacker Anthony Simmons for an interception. No matter. Seattle receivers dropped two of Hasselbeck's passes, and Coles's 14-yard run on an end-around set up Hall's 34-yard field goal. Brown left a 49-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter short, but dropped a 48-yarder just over the crossbar five minutes into the fourth quarter to tie the game at 20. The Seahawks botched a third-and-one play midway through the quarter when Hasselbeck and Alexander collided on a handoff, producing a two-yard loss and the punt that led the Redskins' winning drive.
"We've been talked about from coast to coast," said Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith. "We decided that the only people we could count on were the people in this [locker] room. The character of the individuals in this room made a difference. . . . We've been doing it all year: We've almost had to get punched in the mouth before we start fighting. . . . You have to win one before you can win two. Hopefully, we can get on a streak here."