Monday, December 12, 2005
TEMPE, Ariz., Dec. 11 -- The 12-minute halftime respite could not end fast enough. The Washington Redskins had wasted two quarters of a vital game, putting their playoff hopes in jeopardy with a slew of careless mistakes against an inferior opponent, and were eager to return to the field. In the visitors' locker room at Sun Devil Stadium, the players chatted about the need to reclaim the season right then.
The Redskins opened the second half with an emphatic touchdown drive -- refocusing on running the ball to tie the score -- and then won it, 17-13, on Antonio Brown's 91-yard kickoff return late in the third quarter. In doing so, Washington (7-6) remained a game behind a handful of teams chasing the final NFC wild-card spot, making their upcoming game against rival Dallas (8-5) even more significant.
There was little flair to this outing, with the Redskins again being plagued by penalties and turnovers in the first half, and deviating from the game plan of pounding the ball on the ground. The offense produced just three points despite the Cardinals' four turnovers (one more than Washington in the half). The defense allowed a few costly third-and-long plays and offensive lineman Chris Samuels called his teammates to attention during halftime in an effort to rectify the situation.
"We threw the ball away with a lot of turnovers, and that's been killing us all season long," Samuels said. "At halftime I just told the guys, we got ourselves into this mess, let's get ourselves out. Everybody went out and played with a lot of heart and passion. We just got it done. I'm happy."
More than anything, the Redskins needed a prolonged drive to start the third quarter. Quarterback Mark Brunell had thrown three interceptions, including two in the red zone, and had a 22.5 passer rating. "It was one of the worst halves I've ever had," the 13th-year veteran said. And Clinton Portis had a five-yard average per carry, yet Coach Joe Gibbs had called passes on 12 of the final 18 plays in the half.
The staff decided to recommit to attacking Arizona's suspect interior line with "downhill, power running plays," running backs coach Earnest Byner said. The Redskins churned out 80 yards on 13 plays -- 10 were runs -- to tie the score at 10 and keep the Cardinals' defense on the field for nearly eight minutes. That set the tone for the remainder of the game, and drew repeated ovations from the throng of Redskins fans in the sparse crowd.
"It was like a load off our back on the drive," guard Randy Thomas said. "We know if we just stick with it, the running game will get us downfield. That seems to be what's happening lately."
Gibbs went to the run on third and one during that possession, then called for another power run on fourth and two from the Arizona 32, with backup runner Ladell Betts converting. That sent a message to the team about Gibbs's confidence in the short yardage game after generally opting to kick or punt in those situations.
"Once it got down to it," Portis said, "we knew what our bread and butter was."
The drive was punctuated by Portis's 15-yard touchdown blast. Tackle Jon Jansen kicked out to the right, creating a hefty hole, Portis took a pitch outside and H-back Mike Sellers, the lead blocker, plowed ahead. Sellers steamrolled upfield, upending another Cardinal around the 5, and Portis (26 carries for 105 yards) reached the ball over the goal line before tumbling out of bounds.
"I'm running downfield and all of a sudden I feel him on the waist of my pants," Sellers said of Portis. "He was just directing me this way or that way, and I told him I would take care of it. He knew with me blocking for him, ain't nobody going to try to take me out."
The Cardinals, the NFL's worst rushing team, took to the air on the ensuing drive, as expected (nine passes to one run), and former league MVP Kurt Warner went repeatedly to premier wideout Anquan Boldin, who had another big game (nine catches for 114 yards) while the defense, and rookie cornerback Carlos Rogers in particular, neutralized Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona's other 1,000-yard wideout.