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Redskins Cut Off at the Pass

Eagles' Interception Late in 4th Quarter Thwarts Rally: Eagles 17, Redskins 14

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2004; Page D01

Patrick Ramsey had been picking out Chris Cooley all over the field. Whenever the quarterback needed a big play, his eyes settled on the sure-handed rookie H-back, so it was no surprise that with less than two minutes to play and the Washington Redskins trailing Philadelphia by three Ramsey was aiming for him again.

But this pass, unlike many that came before it, was wobbling into double coverage in the back of the end zone and landing in the hands of Eagles safety Brian Dawkins. That play cemented Philadelphia's 17-14 victory at FedEx Field and effectively ended any chance the Redskins (4-9) had of reaching the playoffs in the first season of Joe Gibbs's return to coaching. It also brought a conclusion to another solid outing for Ramsey (29 of 45 for 251 yards), who hit Cooley five times for 75 yards including a huge completion to set up Washington's second touchdown. Their chemistry failed them on the final attempt, however, as Gibbs opted for a rare long pass from the 27 with the Redskins closing in on game-tying field goal range and 1 minute 46 seconds to play.

The Redskins went for a game-winning touchdown with 1:46 left, but Patrick Ramsey's pass, intended for H-back Chris Cooley, was picked off by safety Brian Dawkins. (Reuters)

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"I told Patrick, 'Hey look, it's part of life,' " Gibbs said. "He made the play to get us down there. We're all in it together. It's not any one person; it's not any one play."

The 6-foot-3 Cooley, who had just gotten open for a vital 31-yard reception, was heading to the back of the end zone in coverage, and Ramsey thought he could out-jump the defense given his substantial height advantage, but the pass was off target.

"They did a pretty good job of covering it," Ramsey said. "I expected [Cooley] would go up and get the ball, but it just didn't work out."

The Redskins (2-5 at home) were trying to prove their offense could thrive on consecutive Sundays and that their season-long problems were behind them, and Ramsey, running back Clinton Portis and wide receiver Laveranues Coles (12 catches for 100 yards) all provided quality play but not enough long plays or points to win (Washington is the lowest-scoring team in the NFL). The Eagles, meantime, scored 47 points last week and boast a bevy of dynamic offensive players including quarterback Donovan McNabb, wide receiver Terrell Owens and running back Brian Westbrook, all of whom are having Pro Bowl-caliber seasons, but could not muster much against Washington's dominant defense.

That unit, undermanned all season, lost another stalwart late in the fourth quarter as cornerback Shawn Springs was leveled on a block by Eagles fullback Josh Parry and had to be carted off the field. Springs suffered a concussion and will be fine, Gibbs said. Bubba Tyer, the team's lead trainer, said X-rays on Springs were negative and that he was moving and talking. He was taken to Virginia Hospital Center for further testing and his status will be reevaluated today. Springs was just the latest starter to go down on the NFL's second-ranked defense, but still, the Eagles could muster little against the collection of no-name defenders.

Philadelphia took the lead on the first possession of the second half, putting together a modest drive capped off by David Akers's 38-yard field goal, then went up 17-7. Owens cut across the middle on third down, avoided cornerback Fred Smoot's lunging attempt and gained 16 yards. Westbrook ran for 20 yards, taking the ball to the 26, Chad Lewis ran a slant pattern down to the 1 and Dorsey Levens got into the end zone on the next play.

The Eagles needed only to run out the clock, but McNabb threw a weak pass into coverage that was tipped by Taylor and intercepted by Springs. The Redskins took over at the 49 and Portis caught a deflected pass and gained 15 yards; a face-mask penalty on former Redskins linebacker Jeremiah Trotter tacked on 15 more. Washington was lucky that an option pass by Portis was not intercepted in the end zone and Ramsey threaded a pretty pass to Cooley at the 1 and. Portis scored from there -- his fifth rushing touchdown of the season -- to make it 17-14 with 12 minutes to play.

The Redskins, who can finish no better than 7-9 (which would tie Gibbs's worst record ever), should have started that drive at midfield after a muffed punt, but H-back Mike Sellers committed his third personal foul of the game, pushing them back 15 yards. Washington committed 12 penalties for 137 yards in all, a problem that continues to stunt their progress.

"We can't have personal fouls," Gibbs said. "We'll address that. We'll look at that real close."

Washington got its last real shot at a comeback with about four minutes left, starting at its 36. Ramsey was dropped for nine yards on a sack but Cooley was left all alone in the middle of the field on the next play and the quarterback gunned it to him for 31 yards. A video replay challenge helped Washington gain another first down -- Cooley had been wrongly ruled out of bounds short of the first down -- but Ramsey overthrew Cooley on the next play and was picked off, making for the most heartbreaking of endings.

The Redskins could not have asked for a better beginning to this game. Ladell Betts caught a short kickoff, found a crease to his right and began rumbling toward the end zone. He was finally forced out at the Eagles 14 but a face-mask penalty against the Eagles brought the ball to the 7 and Portis was in the end zone two carries later. For the second straight week -- and fourth time this season -- the Redskins scored a touchdown on their opening drive.

Philadelphia promptly answered on its first possession, marching 66 yards on five plays in just 85 seconds. The drive was immediately aided by Sellers's 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the kickoff and McNabb had ample time in the pocket to hit Owens, the NFL leader in touchdown catches, streaking down the right sideline in single coverage with Springs. Washington suffocated Owens in the previous game, holding him to two catches, but Springs's pass interference penalty on this play resulted in the ball being placed at the 2 and L.J. Smith caught a touchdown pass on the ensuing play, tying the game at 7.

McNabb connected with Todd Pinkston on an 80-yard bomb at the end of the first quarter, as the receiver sprinted far beyond safety Ryan Clark, but Pinkston tripped over his own feet and stumbled to the ground at the 4. It was the longest completion of McNabb's career and the biggest play given up by Washington's defense this season, but Pinkston's failure to get in the end zone would be profound. Owens caught a screen on the following play but had nowhere to go along the sideline and linebacker Antonio Pierce hit him hard, knocked the ball loose and recovered it himself.

"My only thought was to go for the ball," Pierce said. "And he gave it up pretty easily."

Philadelphia got back inside the 25 midway through the quarter, but the no-name defense would not let them score. Ron Warner, a former Canadian Football League lineman who has been in and out of the lineup, sacked McNabb for a nine-yard loss, and when the Eagles gained eight yards on the next play, rookie linebacker Chris Clemons, who was recently activated from the practice squad, nailed McNabb from behind and caused a fumble. Philadelphia recovered.

Akers now had to kick from 48-yards out and his field goal attempt came up short.

The Redskins took over at the 38 with about three minutes in the half, but their propensity for penalties (nine totaling 112 yards in the first half alone) would loom large again. Coles, who looks much more dangerous since Ramsey took over at quarterback, made a 20-yard catch, then a holding penalty on receiver Darnerien McCants and a false start on Rod Gardner dropped the ball back to the 39. Ramsey barely overthrew Cooley in the end zone on Washington's lone deep pass of the half. Place kicker John Hall, who has battled a lingering groin problem, sent a 43-yard field goal attempt wide right to end the half with the score still tied at 7. It could not have been more evenly played.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company