By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 15, 2006
SEATTLE, Jan. 14 -- The Washington Redskins' season came to a close in the mist and gloom of the Pacific Northwest on Saturday in a game that in many ways mirrored the team's 2005-2006 campaign.
Most of the breaks in the second-round National Football League playoff game went the Redskins' way, but they could not capitalize on them when it counted. The defense was good, but not good enough; the offense played well in spurts, but disappeared for long stretches. And in the end, the Redskins were left frustrated by their 20-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks even as they expressed optimism that an exhilarating six-week run into the playoffs was something to build on when the new season begins next summer.
Washington's late-season surge that began when the team was 5-6 and being written off reenergized a franchise that had not made the playoffs in six years and reaffirmed Joe Gibbs's reputation as one of the game's great coaches. But the final game raised many questions, especially about the offense. In two playoff games, the unit managed just 20 points and two touchdowns, one of them set up by a turnover created by a defense that has been the strength of the team the past two seasons.
Gibbs accentuated the positive afterward, praising the team for showing character and heart in turning last year's 6-10 record into this year's 11-7 finish. "I told them I couldn't be any prouder of them and how hard they fought today," Gibbs said. "We certainly accomplished a lot this year. . . . Our goal is to keep everybody together. We have a lot to do here to try and get ready for next year and continue to add to our football team and to continue to build something.
"I know that we have the right kind of character and the right kind of players to build around."
Still, on a chilly, overcast afternoon at noisy Qwest Field, the Redskins' resurgence ended on a rain-slicked artificial playing surface against a Seahawks team that prevailed even after losing running back Shaun Alexander, the NFL's top rusher and most valuable player, who suffered a concussion late in the first quarter. The Seahawks fumbled the ball to the Redskins three times, once by Alexander, and two on punt and kickoff returns. But the Redskins could convert the Seattle miscues into only three points, a 26-yard field goal by John Hall in the second quarter.
Gibbs preached all season that the team that forces more turnovers than it commits usually wins the football game, and the Redskins took advantage of many similar breaks in their late-season run. But on Saturday, playing in a hostile, earsplitting environment against the top-seeded team in the National Football Conference, the Redskins were unable to turn their good fortune into points -- especially in the fourth quarter when the outcome was still in doubt.
"You can pat yourself on the back and say, 'Job well done,' " said wide receiver Santana Moss, who had seven catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. "But there's always going to be some emptiness in your heart knowing you got so close and didn't make it."
For Gibbs, who was lured out of retirement two years ago to return to the team he led to three Super Bowl victories in the 1980s and 1990s, it marked only his sixth playoff defeat in 23 postseason games over 14 seasons as an NFL head coach. But improving on that mark will have to wait at least another year for the 65-year-old Hall of Fame coach, who is being lauded around the league for one of the best coaching jobs of his storied career in rallying the Redskins into the postseason.
"I tip my hat to Coach Gibbs, as I always would and will," Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren said. "They battled like crazy."
Seattle, 14-3, has an opportunity to advance to its first Super Bowl in its 30-year history. The Seahawks won their first playoff game since 1984 and haven't lost in nine home games this season. They advanced to the NFC championship game next Sunday, when they will host the winner of the other second-round NFC matchup between the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears.
Despite their offensive shortcomings, the Redskins had things going their way through most of the first half, especially after Alexander was knocked out of the game. He was falling to the ground on a seemingly routine carry when he was hit by linebacker LaVar Arrington and defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, and didn't get up. After several minutes, he had to be helped off the field. He did not return to the game.
"If he came back in the huddle, great," said Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselback, who threw for one touchdown and ran for another. "If not, we'll go with the 11 we got. We won. If we won 3-0, it's fine by me. There is something that makes it even more special dealing with that kind of adversity."
The Redskins had plenty of their own adversity. Starting defensive end Renaldo Wynn was on the sideline with a broken forearm. So was wide receiver James Thrash, with a broken thumb. Ray Brown missed a good portion of the second half with leg cramps, and cornerback Shawn Springs had similar problems, playing despite missing last week's game in Tampa with a groin injury.
Running back Clinton Portis, who had gained at least 100 yards in the Redskins' final five regular season victories, was playing with two very sore shoulders, and the Seahawks focused their defense on not allowing him to beat them. Portis managed 41 yards on 17 carries, and the Redskins had only 59 total rushing yards. Their longest run of the game was seven yards.
Washington managed only three first downs and 74 total yards in the first half. Quarterback Mark Brunell, who played college football at the University of Washington, was constantly scrambling under the pressure of Seattle's rushers and looked, at times, to have difficulty adjusting to the wet and slippery football.
Still, his 20-yard deflected touchdown pass to Moss with 11 minutes 59 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter brought the score to 17-10. Hall recovered a fumble by Josh Scobey at the Seattle 40-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Redskins hope for a tying touchdown. But Washington's drive toward the goal line stalled, and when Hall pushed a 36-yard field goal attempt wide to the left, the 67,551 Seahawks fans in the stadium could finally start celebrating.
"Our guys showed a lot of perseverance," Holmgren said. "We lost Shaun, which stunned us just a little bit, and then we got back on track. We overcame the turnovers. I've always felt that almost always in the playoffs, if you have too many turnovers, you're going to lose, and we overcame that today."