By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 31, 2005
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Oct. 30 -- As the third quarter wound down Sunday afternoon, the Washington Redskins had as many turnovers as first downs, had amassed a total of 86 yards on offense and already allowed New York Giants running back Tiki Barber to pile up a career-high 206 yards on the ground. The Redskins trailed, 36-0, the eventual margin of defeat, having been undone by a crisis of fundamental football.
What was supposed to be a clash for NFC East supremacy quickly devolved, with the Redskins (4-3) falling to New York (5-2) at Giants Stadium after being thoroughly outclassed in all facets of the game. The NFL's second-best offense -- and the league's leading quarterback-wide receiver combo (Mark Brunell and Santana Moss) -- accomplished nothing against the NFL's 31st-ranked defense, led by former Redskins linebacker Antonio Pierce. Barber, meantime, took his first carry 57 yards to his off-
ense's left side (a constant refrain), and Washington's fourth-ranked defense never recovered. Once the NFL standard against the run, the Redskins have declined steadily over the last five games.
Coach Joe Gibbs was shut out for the first time in 207 regular season games, and Washington suffered its most lopsided loss in a shutout since falling , 37-0, to Green Bay on Sept. 24, 2001. The defense allowed the most points since this staff took over in 2004, with the right side wilting on play after play of blown assignments and poor tackling. The offense faltered with turnovers, penalties and eight dropped passes, and failed to generate a play of 30 yards or more for the first time this season. To top it off, there are growing injury concerns on defense and offense (tackle Chris Samuels will have an MRI exam on his injured right knee Monday).
"That's as bad a performance on a team I've been a part of in all of my life," said tackle Jon Jansen, the longest-serving player on the club. "From not protecting the quarterback to turning the ball over to stupid penalties to giving up big plays, all around it was a bad day for the Redskins."
The Giants -- playing in honor of co-owner Wellington Mara, who died Tuesday -- dominated the line of scrimmage, out-rushing Washington 262-38 (Clinton Portis had a career-low nine yards).
"It was obviously a very emotional game," Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey said. "We know he's up there smiling."
The Redskins, who crushed San Francisco, 52-17, a week ago, saw no positives in this effort.
"Something like this starts with me," Gibbs said. "Certainly that's my responsibility. I think it was all of us together."
It started, in fact, on the opening play from scrimmage. The Giants pitched the ball to Barber, a Pro Bowler who had had one 200-yard effort in 55 previous NFC East games, and he raced to his left, untouched, for 57 yards, setting up a field goal. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress blocked cornerback Walt Harris, who struggled in the game, out of bounds; safety Sean Taylor took a poor angle on the run; right end Phillip Daniels dived and missed; and linebackers Lemar Marshall and Warrick Holdman, who was benched in the second half in place of LaVar Arrington, never came close to Barber.
"They were checking away from certain [defensive] players and formations," Marshall said. "That long run really gave them momentum, and once that happened we couldn't stop it."
Barber went two yards better early in the second quarter, running left for 59 yards. Harris was blitzing and was unable to contain the run, Holdman darted to the inside, misreading the play, and Barber cut back and raced down the sideline to the 1. Giants running back Brandon Jacobs ran it in two plays later for a 13-0 lead. Of Barber's 16 runs in the first half -- for 171 yards, more rushing yards than any team had compiled in 22 previous games against the Redskins under this staff -- 13 went to his left,.
"I don't know," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said when asked why that side was so vulnerable. "I haven't talked to Miss Cleo today."
Pierce, the quarterback of Washington's defense as middle linebacker last season, gave New York's offense a primer on the Redskins' tendencies, and Washington sagged without defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, an effective run-stuffer, and with injuries depleting the entire line. The Giants opted to station Shockey primarily on their right side, drawing Pro Bowl linebacker Marcus Washington to the "strong" side, then ran the other way to the "weak" side patrolled by Holdman. The Redskins often drop a safety near the line on the strong side, overloading it on the blitz, and Barber prospered in the opposite direction.
"We saw that during the week, and that was going to be something we were going to try to take advantage of," Giants center Shaun O'Hara said. "They try to get you to not run the ball 'strong' by bringing that safety down to shut down your strong-side run game, and I'm glad we were able to capitalize on it."
Despite Barber's efforts, New York led just 19-0 at halftime, with Jay Feely hitting four field goals. But Washington's offense could not move the ball through the air or on the ground, yielding five sacks for the game.
"We didn't come to play," H-back Chris Cooley said.
The Redskins' concentration waned, as Moss was stripped easily for a fumble, and Brunell closed the first half by throwing his first interception in 135 attempts -- to Pierce. Moss, the NFL's leading receiver, had a run of three straight 100-yard games snapped with just four catches for 34 yards.
"We never got in a rhythm for four quarters," said Brunell, who gave way to backup Patrick Ramsey for the second straight week with a blowout unfolding.
"That's what happens when you know what they are going to do," Pierce said.
Ladell Betts fumbled the second-half kickoff, leading to Shockey's 10-yard touchdown. A fumble by Cooley resulted in Barber's four-yard scoring run late in the third quarter. After that, his workday was finished, while 16 more minutes of agony awaited the Redskins.