By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 23, 2006
INDIANAPOLIS, Oct. 22 -- The opening 12 minutes of the second half on Sunday exposed all that ails the Washington Redskins. That humiliating sequence of bad football will haunt the franchise throughout the next two weeks, as it sits at 2-5 entering the bye week following a 36-22 thrashing by the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome.
Washington actually led 14-13 at the half despite a nondescript performance, then was so thoroughly outclassed by Indianapolis in the third quarter that it dwarfed everything else. The Colts scored touchdowns on three straight possessions, needing just 15 plays and 7 minutes 14 seconds to do so, with Peyton Manning (25 of 35 for 342 yards, four touchdowns and a sparkling 140.4 passer rating) moving the team at will. During those three drives, Manning completed 7 of 8 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns, starting the half with a 21-yard completion and never slowing down.
Tailback Joseph Addai splintered Washington's woeful rush defense, running seven times for 64 yards during the three drives (he had 11 carries for 85 yards in the game). He gashed the Redskins' soft tackling for 21 yards on his first carry of the second half, punishing the linebackers and carrying cornerback Kenny Wright on his back for five yards. Overall, the Colts amassed an astonishing 202 yards of offense on those three drives (452 yards in the game), while Washington's inept offense (one touchdown through the first 59 minutes) countered for 33 yards on its first two drives of the half, running a total of eight plays.
So, for the third straight year of the second Joe Gibbs era, the Redskins have a three-game losing streak. They have gone 2-5 over a seven-game span in three straight seasons and appear to be lacking on offense, defense and special teams. Again, their playoff hopes are dim with Dallas looming in Week 9, and it will take a monumental reversal to salvage the season, even more dramatic than the five-game run that culminated in a playoff appearance last season.
"It's hard to figure out," said Gibbs, who praised starting quarterback Mark Brunell and said he is not considering giving Jason Campbell his first start. "It certainly is to me. But that's part of football. . . . There's no given to it."
No team spent more lavishly on coaches and players than the Redskins this offseason, but what they got for their money remains to be seen. They have few discernable strengths at this point -- they struggle running and passing the ball, and in preventing opposing teams from doing so -- and have been held to two or fewer offensive touchdowns in four of seven games, while allowing a staggering 110 points in the past four weeks alone. The Redskins look like a $100 million jalopy, with lavish rims, fancy hydraulics and a Mercedes exterior, but a failing ignition.
They compiled just 127 total yards in the second and third quarters, when the game was decided, with associate head coach Al Saunders still trying to maximize his personnel and the players clearly still adjusting to his new offense as well.
"Even the coaches are really figuring out where people fit best and what people do best actually in this offense," tight end Chris Cooley said. "It's taking more time than anyone wanted."
The Redskins simply could not thwart the Colts (6-0) when it mattered, and mustered no rebuttal when they had the ball.
Indianapolis moved 55 yards in 2:01 to open the second half, with Addai gaining 30 yards on successive carries and Manning hitting Marvin Harrison for a four-yard touchdown. The Colts got the ball back and marched 81 yards in four plays, with wide receiver Reggie Wayne (seven catches for 122 yards) easily beating safety Adam Archuleta, a free agent acquisition who has yet to pay significant dividends, and cornerback Kenny Wright, another offseason addition, to grab a 51-yard touchdown. Manning opened the next drive by finding Wayne for 14 yards, then Harrison for 38 yards, and Harrison's one-yard touchdown catch with 2:46 left in the third quarter made it 33-14, effectively ending the game.
"What makes that team go is Peyton Manning," said Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense whose unit allowed the most yards since his arrival in 2004, and has yielded 400 yards or more in two of the last three games. "He made some laser throws, some dart throws, in the third quarter."
A defense that ranked third overall in 2004 and ninth overall last season is now approaching dead last. Washington has forced just five turnovers this season, and none in the past three games.
"For whatever reason, we're not making those plays that we did make the first two years," said linebacker Marcus Washington, a former Colt. "And that's gone. That's history. We can't live on that. The only thing we've got is today and today we weren't good enough."
"We've got to find a way to affect change around here," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "We've got to do something."
Manning began the game on a tear (6 of 7 for 86 yards and a touchdown on the first drive), and was only slowed after being pummeled a few times in the second quarter. The Colts went 92 yards in 11 plays, staying in the same two-wide receiver, two-tight end formation the entire time, shredding the linebackers and safeties in zone coverage, a problem for the Redskins since the preseason. A dazzling punt return by Antwaan Randle El, the most productive of the 2006 free agents thus far, set up Washington's first score, and his 87-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Redskins a 14-10 lead late in the second quarter.
Then a surreal barrage of personal fouls -- including punter Derrick Frost removing his helmet in frustration -- resulted in the Redskins kicking off from their 5 late in the first half. "I've never seen that before," Gibbs said. The Colts had excellent field position and ended up settling for a field goal, but they more than compensated in the second half.