Taking a Giant Step Forward

Redskins vs. Giants
Clinton Portis, who threw a touchdown pass in the first half, ran for 108 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. (Reuters)
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 25, 2005

Beleaguered backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey had not completed a pass since garbage time of a 36-0 loss against the New York Giants eight weeks ago, with his Redskins' career seemingly winding to a quiet conclusion, when he was summoned to save Washington's season yesterday afternoon.

Starter Mark Brunell had been knocked from the game with a knee strain in the third quarter, with Washington clinging to a four-point lead, and the remainder of a crucial NFC East game against the Giants was suddenly in the hands of the 26-year-old passer who had been stripped of his job only 19 minutes into the season.

The apprehension, sacks and interceptions that plagued Ramsey previously never materialized yesterday. He hit Pro Bowl wide receiver Santana Moss for a 72-yard touchdown on his third attempt of the game, led another scoring drive in the fourth quarter, and played mistake-free football as the Redskins won, 35-20, before 90,447 at FedEx Field to move even closer to the franchise's first postseason berth since 1999.

The victory avenged a horrible loss to the Giants at the Meadowlands and kept alive chances for winning the division title, should Washington (9-6 overall, 9-2 in the NFC and 4-1 in the NFC East) win Sunday in Philadelphia and the Giants lose at Oakland.

A win over the Eagles would secure no worse than the final wild-card position for Coach Joe Gibbs, and the Redskins may still be able to make the playoffs even with a loss, should Dallas and Minnesota each lose another game (the Vikings, who play the Baltimore Ravens tonight, have two left).

Regardless, the team will need solid play from its passer -- whether it be Ramsey or Brunell, who has a sprained right medial collateral ligament and declined to comment. The understudy exceeded expectations yesterday, going 5 for 7 for 104 yards and a touchdown (and near-perfect 153.3 rating) with the Giants threatening a comeback.

"Here's one of the biggest games that I'm probably going to be in, and Patrick goes in and has to try and win it for us," Gibbs said. "That's how important that second [quarterback] position is, and I've appreciated the way Patrick has handled this all year. It's a tribute to him and his character, and I think he was ready."

As Ramsey pointed out, he had plenty of help. The offensive line stymied New York's expert defensive ends, and Clinton Portis set a franchise record with his eighth 100-yard game in a sea son -- and fourth straight -- while Moss had 160 receiving yards and three touchdowns. The defense blitzed away at young quarterback Eli Manning, rattled the Giants and prevented Pro Bowl running back Tiki Barber from duplicating his 200-yard effort from October. "We made sure he had no place to go," end Phillip Daniels said. The special teams unit blocked a field goal.

The Redskins, who have scored 70 points in the last two games, were playing for their season, again, and rattled off their fourth straight win with a host of new heroes -- 43-year-old guard Ray Brown, replacing injured Randy Thomas, among them.

"We just had a bunch of guys who said, 'We have our destiny in our control, let's go out and do something about it,' " right tackle Jon Jansen said. "And we made up our minds that we wanted to win today."

Brunell was having another effective outing (99.2 rating) when linebacker Nick Greisen dived at his legs for a third-down sack on the opening drive of the second half, knocking him from the game. Brunell will have an MRI exam tomorrow.

The Giants drove to the 12 on the next possession, but end Renaldo Wynn blocked Jay Feely's 29-yard field goal attempt, which would have cut the score to 21-20. Special teams coach Danny Smith stationed Wynn more to his left than usual, exploiting a weakness he saw on film. "Danny moved me over one gap, and I got my hands up," Wynn said. "Great call on Danny's part."

Ramsey entered, but personnel and formation issues caused two quick timeouts. He came out of the second one, found Moss in single coverage with slumping cornerback Will Allen and lofted the ball for him. Moss spun while grabbing the ball, Allen fell, and Moss jogged the final 40 yards for his third score of 70 yards or longer this season.

"The only way I was going to go to Santana is if they played what they did," Ramsey said. "It was a little bit of a high throw, and he made a great play."

New York countered with a 38-yard field goal to make it 28-20, with Daniels, dominant again after a four-sack effort last week, preventing further damage with a sack and pass deflection. The Giants, meantime, were tiring and Portis (34 yards at the half; 108 in the game) got hot. He held off Greisen just enough to convert on third and two at the 21, then took his next carry 19 yards for a touchdown.

Washington stacked its line to the right and sent Moss in motion to that side; Portis cut back to the left, was isolated with Allen, raced outside him and was untouched for a 35-20 lead.

"They were over-pursuing the whole time," Portis said. Twice the Giants failed on fourth down in the final minutes, sealing the defeat.

"We did not make the plays we had counted on making," Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said. "We just thank God we have one more opportunity."

New York fell behind early and never looked the better team. Washington marched 80 yards on 13 plays on its first possession -- running 10 times as a statement of intent -- with Moss (36 yards shy of Bobby Mitchell's franchise record of 1,436) going twice in motion before beating Allen on a receiver screen for a 17-yard touchdown. Feely nailed a 47-yard field goal, then the Giants went ahead when rookie linebacker Chase Blackburn -- replacing injured former Redskin Antonio Pierce -- returned a pass 31 yards for a touchdown, snapping Brunell's streak of 136 straight attempts at home without an interception.

That 10-7 lead faded when Washington got the ball back. Moss ran what appeared to be a straight route, then stuttered and headed inside. Allen misplayed the ball, overrunning it, and Moss was able to turn, collect it and complete a 59-yard touchdown play before diving into the crowd in celebration.

"The ball fell at the right time," Moss said, "and I attacked it at the right time."

Washington went ahead 21-10 late in the first half. Linebacker Lemar Marshall scooped up Manning's low, misguided pass to tight end Jeremy Shockey and rambled to the 17. Portis, long an advocate of the halfback option pass, took a pitch and lobbed the ball into the end zone, where H-back Chris Cooley made a fingertip catch.

"I told Cooley all week that I was going to put the ball on the money," Portis said.

The Giants scored once more before the half, cutting it to 21-17, with Amani Toomer catching a tipped pass, but Ramsey stayed composed and for the fourth straight weekend, with everything at stake, the Redskins kept making plays until the end.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company