By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 13, 2006
PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 12 -- Mathematically, the Washington Redskins will remain in the NFC playoff race for several more weeks, buoyed by the faintest of statistical probabilities. But from a mental, physical, and realistic standpoint, the meaningful portion of their season likely ended with a loss to a division rival on a rainy and blustery afternoon.
The Redskins failed to rekindle any spark from their plucky, last-second win last week, trailing the Philadelphia Eagles throughout an ugly 27-3 loss on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. The Redskins (3-6) are 1-3 against the NFC East and 1-4 against all NFC opponents and are struggling offensively and defensively.
Also lost on the dismal day was running back Clinton Portis, who set a franchise rushing record last year but has been beaten up much of this season. He broke the fourth metacarpal bone on his right hand in the first quarter and is expected to be out at least three to four weeks.
The Redskins are among the biggest disappointments in the NFL, with their Super Bowl aspirations and offseason spending spree yielding nothing to date. Their record after nine games is precisely as it was in 2004, Coach Joe Gibbs's first year back from retirement, with few tangible strengths to point to and an undisciplined streak that has Washington again atop of the league in penalty yardage. The Redskins are in last place in the NFC East.
"I think we need to take a long hard look at everything," Gibbs said.
Despite all of their problems, the Redskins were still in the game in the second half, with the erratic Eagles getting booed by their fans; with much of the conference similarly mediocre, Washington could sneak into the postseason with a late run.
But the club stumbled, committing 70 more yards in penalties. "That was discouraging for me," Gibbs said.
The Redskins held the ball for 20 of 30 minutes in the opening half, yet trailed 17-3, faltering near the Eagles goal line and converting just 2 of 10 third-down attempts. Washington's pass defense again gave up big plays -- six plays of 10 yards or more on the Eagles' first three drives -- and that early margin would have been more than enough for Philadelphia (5-4) to snap its three-game losing streak.
"We let people do that to us every week," defensive lineman Renaldo Wynn said. "Somewhere along the line we've got to decide when we're not going to allow those huge plays. It's up to us."
Eagles tailback Brian Westbrook (113 yards rushing) paired an 18-yard run with a 17-yard reception to lead the opening drive, which resulted in a 37-yard field goal. On the next drive, quarterback Donovan McNabb, just 4 for 16 in the first half, hit wide receiver Donte Stallworth for an 84-yard bomb right over the middle, where teams have feasted on Washington's secondary all season. Linebacker Lemar Marshall and safeties Sean Taylor and Troy Vincent all chased Stallworth as he pulled away for the final 45 yards.
The Redskins, who have gone 21 full quarters without getting a takeaway, forced a fumble on Philadelphia's next possession, but even that was of no help. McNabb hit Reggie Brown for a 20-yard gain on third and 15, and cornerback Shawn Springs dislodged the ball. But it popped directly to trailing running back Correll Buckhalter, who shrugged off Taylor's diving tackle attempt and ran 37 yards for a 17-0 lead.
"We talk about everything and we try to correct it," Springs said of the repeated defensive failures. "It's just not getting done."
Washington's defense, and Taylor in particular, gave away yardage to the Eagles with penalties throughout the game, but it buckled down for a spell in the second quarter. The Redskins' anemic offense -- 16 touchdowns in nine games -- failed to capitalize, however, with false starts and an intentional grounding penalty sapping any momentum. They were held without an offensive touchdown for the third time, and have two touchdowns in four NFC East contests.
"You can move the ball up and down the field," fullback Mike Sellers said, "but if you don't get in the end zone it really doesn't matter."
Philadelphia reached the goal line on the first drive of the second half, but came away with just a field goal to make it 20-3. On the ensuing drive Brunell, under fire throughout his Redskins career, forced a sideline pass to Santana Moss. Cornerback Sheldon Brown jumped the play easily and ran 70 yards for the touchdown.
"I'd like to have that back," said Brunell, who had a 49.4 passer rating Sunday. "We had some opportunities, but we just weren't very good."
That play, and the team's record, is likely to intensify the calls for quarterback Jason Campbell, a first-round pick in 2005, to start after being inactive for 27 games. Gibbs said he had no immediate thoughts about making a quarterback change, although he did have veteran backup Todd Collins warming up in the final minutes with the outcome no longer in question.
Playing without Portis, who is likely to have pins surgically placed in his broken finger, will burden whomever is behind center, while the defense requires widespread adjustment. The Redskins have allowed 126 points in the past five games, and 390 yards per game in that span. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 17 touchdowns against Washington this season, and been intercepted only twice.
Only Arizona, Detroit and Tampa Bay, next week's opponent, have fewer wins among NFC teams.