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Redskins Stay Close to Eagles, But Only for Half

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 22, 2004; Page D01

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 21 -- Coach Joe Gibbs wasn't looking for quarterback Patrick Ramsey to be a savior. So Gibbs asked Ramsey to hand off to Clinton Portis time after time for a smash-mouth approach, and Washington's favorite offensive play became the screen pass to a wide receiver.

The careful approach was good enough to keep the Redskins close for one half as Washington's stingy defense shut out Philadelphia Eagles star wideout Terrell Owens. However, Eagles defenders shut down Portis and Washington's offense was plagued by the same mistakes it suffered under Mark Brunell. And the gloom and doom that was expected against the NFC East leaders occurred in a second-half swoon as the Redskins were routed, 28-6, Sunday.

Redskins receiver Darnerien McCants fails to pull in a touchdown pass as Philadelphia's Michael Lewis comes over for the hit. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)

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"When you play Philadelphia, you've gotta be careful with the things you do," Gibbs said. "They're very good, very aggressive. So we tried to have a good solid game plan based off what they do. I thought [Ramsey] handled it real well. It's a tough play to come and start, to get your first start up here."

By game's end, Owens had executed one of his infamous touchdown celebrations -- the T.O. toe touch -- after a 10-yard score to the delight of 67,720 at Lincoln Financial Field. The Redskins didn't have any touchdowns to celebrate. Despite the quarterback switch, Washington finished with its lowest scoring output of the season to continue one of the worst offensive droughts in franchise history. The Redskins have not scored more than 18 points this season -- the longest stretch the franchise has gone without scoring at least 20 points since the late 1930s.

"What hamstringed us today was that we didn't capitalize on our red-zone opportunities," Ramsey said. "We got the ball down there in the red zone but we were not able to put the ball in the end zone."

The Redskins were down only 7-6 at halftime as Ramsey sparkled in his role as caretaker. But in the third quarter, the Redskins got into Eagles territory on four consecutive possessions and weren't able to capitalize. Washington's offense was often hindered by false-start penalties inside the Philadelphia 20-yard line, when the Eagles' fans were at their loudest.

Gibbs added: "The crowd was a big part of it today for us. We had a ton of penalties. Our guys had a tough time hearing. It affected us when we felt like we had a chance to get a few scores and stuff -- at least kick field goals."

Ramsey displayed accuracy on an array of short throws, completing 21 of 34 passes for 162 yards. (Ramsey's only interception came with less than two minutes left when a pass went off tailback Rock Cartwright's hands.) But Ramsey's longest completion went only 15 yards, and the Eagles turned their weakness -- run defense -- into a strength by keying on Portis, who was held to 37 yards on 17 carries. "They brought all their guys down in the box," right tackle Chris Samuels said. "And they kind of keyed on every run."

The biggest change on offense seemed aesthetic -- when called upon, Ramsey unleashed tight spirals and deep throws. But Ramsey missed the few times he went downfield.

"I felt like for the most part I was fairly accurate," Ramsey said, "but other than that, there are things I can do better."

The Redskins committed 12 penalties for 115 yards, giving second chances to Philadelphia's offense or stifling Washington's promising drives.

"That's kind of been the story of our team this season," Samuels said. "This is one of the loudest places I've ever played, but that shouldn't be an excuse. We're pros."

The Eagles were so intent to get Owens untracked after a zero-reception first half that McNabb was sacked on Philadelphia's first two offensive plays of the third quarter while apparently locked in on his top wideout. On third and 19 from the Philadelphia 18-yard line, Owens made his first catch but it was four yard short of the first down. And Philadelphia's normally raucous crowd turned silent. But the silence didn't last long.

On Philadelphia's third drive of the second half, the Eagles got deep into Washington territory after a penalty by rookie safety Sean Taylor, who did a splendid job shadowing Owens for much of the first half. On third and two from the Redskins 35-yard line, McNabb completed a five-yard pass to Brian Westbrook. At the end of the play, Taylor purposely rammed his body into Owens, who wisely didn't retaliate. Taylor was called for unnecessary roughness that brought the ball to the Washington 15-yard line for a first down.

Three plays later, the Eagles faced a third and 10 from the Redskins 10 when McNabb, under duress, zipped a pass to Owens, who had gotten a step on cornerback Shawn Springs in the end zone. Owens punctuated the play by placing the ball on the ground and touching his toes, then hips before raising his hands into the air slightly behind his back. Owens repeated the moves several times as Redskins defenders sullenly walked off the field, down 14-6 with about five minutes left in the third quarter.

"We knew it was going to be a dogfight playing against a tough defense," McNabb said. "It took some time, but we got the job done."

On Washington's next drive, the Redskins kept the ball for about five minutes, using 13 plays, spanning late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter. However, the Redskins ended up empty largely because of a series of blunders by the offensive line. On second and one from the Philadelphia 11-yard line, Portis gained one yard for a first down. But right tackle Ray Brown was called for a false-start penalty, then Samuels was called for holding, leaving the Redskins at first and goal from the Philadelphia 25-yard line. After two incomplete passes to Portis, Samuels was called for a false start, pushing the ball back to the Eagles 30. Ola Kimrin's 48-yard field goal was wide right, keeping the score 14-6.

"We get that touchdown," Samuels said, "And it's a different game."

Although Ramsey was off the few times he went downfield, he was sharp on just about every other aspect. Washington's favorite pass play was the screen -- or quick hitch -- with wide receivers exploiting holes by blockers for solid gains. The outcome was still undecided when Philadelphia had a third and 10 from the 50-yard line. But Smoot was called for a pass interference penalty when the defensive back slipped after his legs became tangled with wideout Freddie Mitchell. "If you want to see bad officiating, come to a Redskins game," Smoot said.

After the automatic first down to the Washington 20-yard line, Philadelphia scored four plays later when McNabb found tailback Brian Westbrook for a one-yard touchdown pass on third and one. It gave Philadelphia a 21-6 lead with about nine minutes left.

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