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Winning FG Into Stiff Wind Is 'the Story of Our Season'

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 22, 2003; Page D01

CHICAGO, Dec. 21 -- The wind was blowing so hard that not only were the flags atop the goal posts flapping, but the uprights themselves were swaying. Chicago Bears place kicker Paul Edinger already had missed two shorter field goal attempts at that end of Soldier Field. The Washington Redskins figured they were headed to overtime.

But, as with so many other things in their dismal season, they figured wrong. The football all but came to a stop in midair after leaving Edinger's foot but sliced through the breeze just enough to clear the crossbar by a foot or so, and the 45-yard field goal with five seconds remaining gave the Bears a 27-24 triumph on Sunday.

"I thought it was overtime all the way," said Rod Gardner, center, of improbable game-winning 45-yard field goal into a swirling wind with 5 seconds left. (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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"It's the story of our season," Redskins left tackle Chris Samuels said. "Everything is going good. It looks like we're going to be able to win, and then something happens and we lose."

Samuels's lament was repeated often after the Redskins (5-10) lost for the ninth time in their last 11 games. They were far more competitive than they had been a week before in being dismantled, 27-0, by the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field. But they still found ways to suffer their sixth defeat of the season by a margin of four points or fewer.

"A lot of guys played extremely hard and played as well as they could," right tackle Jon Jansen said. "That's been a trademark of this team: We play hard but we come up short."

Said cornerback Fred Smoot: "I almost cried, like we missed the playoffs by one game. The kick, from when he kicked it to when it landed, tells you the whole story of the season -- so close and yet so far away."

Quarterback Tim Hasselbeck rebounded from his calamitous performance against the Cowboys, when he had a passer rating of 0.0. He did 116.9 points better Sunday, when he completed 16 of 25 throws for 209 yards and two touchdowns.

Wide receiver Rod Gardner threw his second trick-play touchdown pass of the season when he connected with running back Chad Morton in the first quarter, and nearly got number three in the final moments of the second quarter on a throw to Hasselbeck. The officials ruled that Hasselbeck didn't make the catch cleanly, but the quarterback regrouped and threw a 14-yard touchdown dart to wideout Laveranues Coles on the next play to give the Redskins a 17-10 lead at halftime.

The Bears (7-8) took control in the third quarter with an 11-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Rex Grossman to wide receiver Justin Gage and a three-yard scoring run by tailback Anthony Thomas. The Redskins got even early in the fourth quarter on Coles's second touchdown reception. But a pair of critical fourth-and-inches plays down the stretch -- one by the Redskins on which rookie left guard Derrick Dockery was called for a false start to force a punt, and one by the Bears on which Thomas moved the pile just enough to get a first down -- went Chicago's way to set up Edinger's winning kick.

"We have a fourth and one, and something happens and we don't get it," Jansen said. "They have a fourth and one and something happens, and they get it. The kid makes a terrific kick. That's the way our season has gone."

Grossman was solid in his matchup with his former University of Florida mentor, Redskins Coach Steve Spurrier. A week after beating the Minnesota Vikings in his first NFL start, Grossman threw an early interception to Smoot that handed the Redskins a field goal. But he settled down and victimized Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey for a 59-yard touchdown pass to wideout Marty Booker, and finished with 19 completions on 32 throws for 249 yards.

Bailey suffered a concussion and a cut on his face on Booker's touchdown and was forced from the game. The Redskins later lost starting safety Ifeanyi Ohalete to a sprained knee and a sprained ankle, and ended up with rookie cornerback Ade Jimoh and second-year safety Andre Lott playing significant roles. The Redskins failed to make much of a case that embattled defensive coordinator George Edwards should keep his job, allowing 429 yards to a Chicago offense that was ranked last in the NFL entering the game. The Bears rushed for 191 yards, 141 of them by Thomas.

But Spurrier refused to blame the defense, saying: "We're disappointed in our record. We're not pointing any fingers at anybody. Offense, defense, special teams -- we should have done better."

The Bears committed turnovers on their first two possessions. Gage lost a fumble, and the Redskins couldn't cash in. But after Bryan Barker's punt pinned Chicago at its 2-yard line, Grossman had a throw deflect off Booker's hand to Smoot, who made a one-handed interception. Smoot got to his feet and ran the ball into the end zone, and the officials initially awarded him a touchdown. But the Bears won an instant-replay challenge, and Smoot was ruled down by contact with Booker at the Bears 9. Hasselbeck threw three wild incompletions -- one of which sailed high over the head of an open Gardner and clanked off the left upright -- and the Redskins had to settle for place kicker John Hall's 27-yard field goal and a 3-0 edge.

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