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Last One Standing

After Trailing by 17, Redskins Win a Donnybrook in Atlanta

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 15, 2003; Page D01

ATLANTA, Sept. 14 -- The crowd was roaring. The quarterback was getting beaten up, and the Washington Redskins' hopes of their first 2-0 start in a dozen years were close to being extinguished in the second quarter today at the Georgia Dome.

But they overcame a 17-point deficit by riding the gritty offensive exploits of quarterback Patrick Ramsey and wide receiver Laveranues Coles to a 33-31 triumph over the Atlanta Falcons in the sort of strong-willed performance in an unfriendly environment that could serve as a springboard to bigger things.

Linebacker Jessie Armstead finds Falcons quarterback Doug Johnson alone in the end zone, and the two-point sack gives Redskins their first lead, which they would not lose. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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"We got off to a rough start," Coach Steve Spurrier said, "but our guys hung in there and kept playing. . . . I was proud of our guys. I was proud that they hung in there when it was bad early."

Spurrier handed game balls to Ramsey and Coles after their career-best days. Ramsey stayed in the game after suffering a sprained left shoulder late in the first half and completed 25 of 39 passes for a career-high 356 yards in his seventh NFL start. Coles suffered a sprained neck but finished with career bests of 11 catches for 180 yards. Ramsey endured six sacks and lost two first-half fumbles but threw second-half touchdowns to Coles and fellow wideout Rod Gardner.

It was far from a two-man show, however. Tailback Trung Canidate ran for 89 yards on only 15 carries, and Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright provided second-quarter rushing touchdowns. Gardner had nine catches for 118 yards. John Hall drilled a 54-yard field goal just before halftime.

Linebacker Jessie Armstead put the Redskins ahead for good by sacking the Falcons' Doug Johnson for a safety late in the third quarter. Cornerback Champ Bailey put the clamps on wide receiver Peerless Price, and safeties Ifeanyi Ohalete and Matt Bowen had interceptions. Defensive end Bruce Smith pressured Johnson into incompletions on consecutive plays when the defense made a second-quarter stand that kept the Falcons from pushing their lead to 20 or 24 points.

"We came out a little bit shaky, but we settled down," Ramsey said. "The guys really came together in the second half . . . . We're never going to quit. We always believe in our ability to win a football game."

The Redskins last were 2-0 in 1991, when they went on to win the Super Bowl. The Falcons were playing without starting quarterback Michael Vick and both their starting safeties, but the Redskins were delighted to put together such a comeback on the road.

"We were down 17 on the road, and that was huge coming back like that," Canidate said.

The Redskins' offense sputtered in the first half as Ramsey had trouble having his audibles heard by his teammates above the din of the 70,241 fans. He absorbed a series of heavy hits, and twice lost the ball. The Falcons (1-1) fell on the first of those fumbles on the Redskins 1-yard line and quickly capitalized with a touchdown that raised their advantage to 17-0.

Atlanta had another chance soon thereafter when Ramsey lost another fumble at the Redskins 25. But Smith summoned two badly needed pass rushes after linebacker LaVar Arrington dropped tailback Warrick Dunn for a two-yard loss on first down, and Falcons kicker Jay Feely yanked a 45-yard field goal attempt wide left.

The tone for the Redskins' sluggish start was set on their opening drive when left tackle Chris Samuels committed a false-start penalty and Ramsey was sacked to force a punt. Johnson -- who completed 16 of 36 passes for 197 yards in his matchup against Spurrier, his former coach at the University of Florida -- took the Falcons to a field goal and a 3-0 edge.

Canidate had a pair of 11-yard scampers, and Ramsey connected with Coles for 16 yards before the wide receiver was hurt for the first time on a hit by safety Kevin McCadam. The Redskins reached the Atlanta 24 but were pushed back when guard Dave Fiore was beaten by defensive tackle Ellis Johnson for a sack, and a high snap led to Hall missing a 51-yard field goal try.

Price shook free from Bailey momentarily to gain 19 yards on one of his two catches, and Johnson lobbed a pass to tight end Alge Crumpler for 28 yards. Tailback T.J. Duckett bulled into the end zone from 13 yards out, following a crushing block by guard Travis Claridge.

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