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Redskins: Lead, Fold, Repeat

For 3rd Straight Week, Team Fails to Maintain Fourth-Quarter Lead

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 1, 2003; Page D01

The Washington Redskins came exasperatingly close again. For a third straight week, they gritted their teeth and crafted a fourth-quarter lead. And for a third straight week, they gave it away and lost, as the New Orleans Saints escaped with a 24-20 triumph yesterday before 76,821 at FedEx Field.

The Redskins (4-8) fell for the seventh time in their past eight games and ensured themselves of a second consecutive non-winning season under Coach Steve Spurrier. They edged in front, 20-17, on place kicker John Hall's 49-yard field goal with 12 minutes 53 seconds to play. But that was their cue to unravel, as the special teams immediately yielded a 52-yard kickoff return and the Saints (6-6) capitalized with a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Brooks to tight end Boo Williams with 9:38 left.

Redskins Matt Bowen (41), LaVar Arrington, on ground, and Todd Franz arrive too late to break up the game-winning touchdown pass to Saints tight end Boo Williams. (Johnathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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"I think we're sort of as good as everybody else," Spurrier said. "But obviously we're not good enough to win a bunch right now. . . . We're a play or two away right now, it seems like."

The Redskins got their first 100-yard rushing performance of the season, as tailback Trung Canidate ran for 115 yards on only 16 carries. They got a decent outing by quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, who threw an interception and lost a fumble but completed 22 of 42 passes for 231 yards in his first NFL start, as a fill-in for the injured Patrick Ramsey. They got a two-yard touchdown run by reserve running back Rock Cartwright and a dynamic 94-yard touchdown on a kickoff return by Chad Morton in the second quarter and led 14-10 at halftime and 17-10 in the third quarter.

But they couldn't stop Saints tailback Deuce McAllister in the first half, when he amassed 122 of his 165 rushing yards in his ninth 100-yard game in a row. And they couldn't stop Brooks when it mattered, as he ran for a pair of touchdowns and threw for another. The refrain has become all too familiar to the Redskins, who handed fourth-quarter leads to their defense in Carolina and in Miami in their previous two games and watched the league's 26th-ranked unit fail to come through in crunch time.

"As a defense, we feel responsible for that," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "Our offense gave us the lead. We have to hold on to it. It's bad enough we can't hold anyone under 20 points. We've had several weeks of faltering in the fourth quarter. We have to learn from that, but we're not learning."

The Saints moved the ball well on their first two drives, but got no points. Place kicker John Carney left a 51-yard field goal try short to end New Orleans' opening possession, and a holding penalty on right tackle Victor Riley pushed the Saints back after they moved to the Redskins 34-yard line on their second drive. They cashed in on their third possession, however.

Wide receiver Joe Horn got a step on Bailey on a first down play from the New Orleans 16. Brooks's pass was slightly underthrown, causing Horn to slow down. Bailey crashed into him for a pass interference penalty and a 40-yard gain. McAllister dashed for 17 yards on a second down carry from the Redskins 41, and ran for another eight yards soon thereafter for a first down at the 8. On second down from the 7, the Saints put Brooks in the shotgun formation with no one accompanying him in the backfield. Even McAllister was split out wide to the right. Brooks took the snap and had plenty of running room in front of him, going untouched by a Redskins defender until he dived into the end zone.

The Redskins, meantime, were sputtering on offense in the early going. Hasselbeck ended their first drive with an interception when he threw a short pass too high and too hard for Canidate; the ball bounced off his hands as he was drilled by linebacker Sedrick Hodge. Cornerback Fred Thomas grabbed the ball on the carom.

Canidate got the Redskins out of trouble, deep in their own territory, with a 38-yard scamper to start their second possession. It was the Redskins' longest run from scrimmage this season. But they bogged down from there, and they also had to punt on their third possession when Hasselbeck fumbled a snap on a third-and-two play and had to fall on the ball.

Hasselbeck finally got the offense going midway through the second quarter. He connected with wide receiver Laveranues Coles for 14 yards on a third-and-seven crossing pattern, then dropped a nice touch pass into Coles's hands for a 21-yard gain and a first down at the New Orleans 4. Cartwright took a pitch to the right on second down from the 2, and used a block by Bryan Johnson to race to the corner of the end zone.

McAllister broke free on the first play of the Saints' next possession for a 52-yard romp before being brought down by safety Matt Bowen.

"He's the best back I've ever seen," Bowen said. "He doesn't fade. He seems to get stronger when you hit him."

Two incompletions by Brooks left New Orleans settling for a 25-yard field goal by Carney and a 10-7 advantage, but the Redskins wasted no time responding. Morton victimized his original NFL team, fielding Mitch Berger's kickoff at the 6 and running straight forward, squeezing through a crevice in the Saints' coverage team and breaking an ankle tackle. That put him into open territory, and he had Patrick Johnson to escort him around Berger on his way to his third career touchdown on a kickoff return. Both of the others came for the Jets in the 2002 season opener against Buffalo.

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