By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 2006
Nearly seven weeks have passed since the Washington Redskins stopped an opponent from scoring on its opening drive of the second half. Nearly seven weeks have passed since the Redskins scored a point in the third quarter. That crippling combination has much to do with the team's plummet to the bottom of the NFC standings, with a 1-4 rut dropping Washington to 3-6 and leveling its playoff chances ahead of Sunday's visit to Tampa Bay.
That's one reason the offense has been forced into a rebuilding mode with 24-year-old quarterback Jason Campbell making his first NFL start -- and first regular season appearance -- against the Buccaneers. There's been no such radical change for a veteran-laden defense that ranked ninth in the NFL last season but has slipped to 30th this season.
The Redskins' inability to make a stand coming out of halftime has resulted in a disastrous swing in momentum each game. Washington has managed to keep almost every game close in the first half, and led entering the third quarter in four games, but it has been outscored 60-17 in the third quarter -- and 53-0 in that quarter over the last five games.
"It's something we've been talking about and trying to get fixed, and we've just not been able to get it done the way we want to get it done," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "It's a mind-set you need, and I think guys are focused on it and I think we've been giving a good effort out there -- I don't see nobody not giving the effort -- but things just haven't been going our way. I don't have a good explanation for it. It's just not going our way, and it's something that if we're going to be the team we want to be, we've got to stop it."
Failures on third-down defense and in pass coverage have doomed the Redskins in the third quarter. They have allowed teams to march down the field to start the second half despite playing stout run defense for the most part -- save for the complete defensive breakdown at Indianapolis in Week 7 -- but that has not been nearly enough to prevent scoring drives.
On the last five opposing drives to start the third quarter, the Redskins have allowed four touchdowns and one field goal, and that field goal came Sunday, when the Eagles already led 17-3 and reached the goal line. Offenses have gone 8 for 11 -- 73 percent -- on third and fourth down on those drives and opposing quarterbacks are enjoying tremendous success.
Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia), Tony Romo (Dallas), Peyton Manning (Indianapolis), Vince Young (Tennessee) and Eli Manning (New York Giants) have combined to complete 19 of 23 passes on those five third-quarter drives for 227 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. They have combined for a 147.3 passer rating on those drives (out of a possible 158.3).
"Obviously, we ain't figured it out yet, because we don't stop anybody in the third quarter or on third down," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "We're still working on it, and I think each game it's a different reason why. We just got to come out and try to do something, and we've just got to do better in the third quarter. There's a lot of different reasons. It's not one thing or one person's fault, just a lot of things we let happen."
The third-quarter collapses began in Week 5 at New York. The Redskins had just come off a thrilling overtime win over Jacksonville to pull back to 2-2. They were getting clearly outplayed by the Giants, coming off a bye, but trailed only 9-3. Then New York came out of the half with a 15-play, 69-yard drive, taking more than eight minutes off the clock and effectively killing the game when Plaxico Burress caught a two-yard touchdown pass a few plays after New York converted a third-and-16 pass. New York ended up taking 20 minutes off the clock in the second half and suffocated the Redskins the rest of the way.
"We just have to find a way to stop that first drive," end Andre Carter said. "I think sometimes we're putting too much pressure on ourselves, and it's the mental things as far as tackling and being in the right spot."
A week later, the Redskins led the then-winless Titans, 14-13, at FedEx Field at the half. But Tennessee's 10-play, 74-yard drive culminated in Travis Henry's touchdown plunge, and Young, a rookie in his third NFL start, completed a 23-yard pass on fourth and two to keep that possession alive. The Titans controlled the ball for 19 minutes 24 seconds in the second half and held on to win, 25-22.
The Colts delivered the most pronounced third-quarter thrashing of the season, scoring three touchdowns in quick succession and outgaining Washington 202-55 in the quarter. The Redskins came out of the half leading 14-13, but then Indianapolis moved 55 yards in four plays for a touchdown and the rout was on.
The Redskins and Cowboys were tied at 12 at the half in Week 8, and, although they won on an improbable turn of events at the end of regulation, the Redskins were still woeful on third-quarter defense. Romo, in his second NFL start, led an eight-play, 75-yard drive capped with a touchdown pass. He hit Patrick Crayton for a 48-yard bomb on the possession, and Dallas held the ball for 10:18 in the quarter.
Against the Eagles, the Redskins at least managed to stave off a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, but Philadelphia converted on fourth and four, went 46 yards in 12 plays before kicking a field goal and had the ball for more than 20 minutes in the half. At this point, holding the Eagles to three points was progress.
"I thought we did a really, really good job on making them kick the field goal," said Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense. "You don't want to give up any points, but we monitor that sudden change when we take over at midfield, and we did a pretty good job in that particular ballgame in those conditions."