NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 30 -- The Washington Redskins crafted the sort of solid performance that they had not been able to manage while their playoff hopes still were alive and beat the New Orleans Saints, 40-10, tonight at the Louisiana Superdome.
The Redskins (7-8) kept open the possibility of a .500 season with a win in Sunday's season finale against the Arizona Cardinals at FedEx Field.
Stephen Davis reacts after scoring a six-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Davis had 111 yards on 21 carries before leaving in third quarter with a sprained knee.
(Dave Martin - AP)
"I'm very proud of this football team," Redskins Coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "I think they've got a tremendous amount of heart in them. There is no quit in them."
Schottenheimer's future with the team remains uncertain, given that owner Daniel Snyder could hire a general manager in the offseason and Schottenheimer has not said whether he would want to remain as coach under those circumstances. But this triumph increased the likelihood that Snyder won't fire Schottenheimer as coach. Sources close to the situation said last week that Snyder did not intend to dismiss Schottenheimer as his coach unless the Redskins continued to stumble badly in their final two games, and tonight it was the Saints (7-8) who were uninspired in a matchup that had been drained of playoff implications.
Tailback Stephen Davis rushed for 111 yards on 21 carries before leaving the game in the third quarter with what Redskins officials called a mild right knee sprain. The Redskins played without linebacker LaVar Arrington, who was on the inactive list because of a knee injury, and lost wide receiver Michael Westbrook to a sprained right ankle.
But they overcame an early 10-point deficit with 40 unanswered points. Davis had a six-yard touchdown run in the opening moments of the second quarter, and quarterback Tony Banks and reserve tailback Ki-Jana Carter ran for two-yard touchdowns during the Redskins' 17-point third quarter. Carter added a one-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Place kicker Brett Conway provided four field goals, including a 53-yarder that bounced through off the crossbar.
"They were giving us the short field and we took advantage of it," said Banks, who completed 9 of 15 passes for 94 yards. "I know 8-8 looks a lot better than 7-9. . . . A win -- I don't care how you do it -- does more for building than a loss. Winning the way we did, by scoring a lot of points against a quality team, is a good win."
Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to running back Deuce McAllister on a first-quarter screen but helped the Redskins with three interceptions, including one by defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson. The Redskins also kept tailback Ricky Williams in check, with 74 rushing yards but also a fumble.
The Saints were eliminated from playoff contention when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won on Saturday, but they were sharp at the outset tonight as they moved 66 yards for a touchdown on their opening drive.
Williams ran for six yards and a first down on a third-and-six play early in the march, and Brooks made a superb throw on the move to connect with tight end Lamont Hall for nine yards and another third-down conversion. A holding penalty pushed back the Saints.
But on first and 20 from the Redskins 22-yard line, Brooks flipped the ball to McAllister on a screen. The rookie running back had center Jerry Fontenot in front of him as a blocker, and no Redskins defenders in sight. Fontenot leveled safety Keith Lyle at the goal line and McAllister eased into the end zone to put New Orleans in front.
Things got worse for the Redskins almost immediately. They faced a third and seven from their 26 -- and a Saints blitz -- on their first possession. Banks tried to get the ball to wide receiver Kevin Lockett in the middle of the field, but cornerback Kevin Mathis was in the way and made the interception. Lockett committed a face-mask penalty on Mathis's return, and the Saints took over at the Redskins 11.
Brooks appeared to find wide receiver Willie Jackson for a touchdown with a third-down lob over Redskins rookie cornerback Fred Smoot. But Smoot complained immediately to the nearest official that Jackson had not gotten the required two feet in bounds on the catch. The Redskins challenged, and the replay review revealed that Jackson had gotten only one foot in bounds. The touchdown was nullified, and New Orleans had to settle for place kicker John Carney's 29-yard field goal and a 10-0 advantage.
But the Redskins didn't wilt. Banks found one tight end, Walter Rasby, for a 15-yard completion to start the next drive, and hit another, Zeron Flemister, for a 12-yard gain a few plays later. Lockett beat Mathis for a 17-yard catch and run on a third-and-11 play, and Davis covered the final 13 yards with three runs. He kept churning behind the right side of the Redskins' offensive line on first down from the 6 for his fourth rushing touchdown of the season.
"The more opportunities I get, the more I can do," Davis said.
Carney sent a 42-yard field goal try wide left, and the Saints' special teams hurt them again after they were backed up deep in their own territory on their next possession. Toby Gowin's 25-yard punt put the Redskins in business at the New Orleans 40. They moved only five yards, but Conway's kick hit the crossbar and bounced over for a 53-yard field goal. Conway was due, having missed three field goal attempts that struck uprights this season.
Williams lost a fumble but had the miscue wiped out by a replay review that showed his knee was on the ground before he lost the ball. No matter. Brooks threw an interception to cornerback Champ Bailey on the next play, and the Redskins got the ball at the New Orleans 21. A scramble by Banks and two runs by Davis gave them a first down at the 9.
But guard Matt Campbell, lined up as an extra tight end near the goal line, dropped a would-be touchdown pass from Banks, and the Redskins could get only Conway's 22-yard field goal.
Smoot intercepted Brooks's desperation heave to end the first half, and Davis provided runs of 11 and 21 yards to set up Conway's 34-yard field goal for a 16-10 lead nearly 3 1/2 minutes into the third quarter. Brooks continued his generosity, throwing an ill-advised pass as he was backpedaling toward his end zone and being hit by blitzing cornerback Darrell Green. Green deflected the ball high into the air, and Wilkinson grabbed the carom for his second interception of the season.
The Redskins started at the New Orleans 18 and capitalized. On third and goal from the 2, Banks ran to his left and got into the corner of the end zone.
Brooks's fourth-and-one pass from the Washington 49 was batted by defensive end Marco Coleman and fell incomplete, and the Redskins kept rolling. Banks found rookie wideout Rod Gardner for a 15-yard completion, and Davis got free for a 25-yard run on his final carry of the evening. Carter took over and got the ball into the end zone from the 2 to make it a 30-10 game. Williams's fumble led to Conway's 37-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.