On Final Drive, The Defense Stalls

Brian Westbrook drags Vernon Fox on a 12-yard run for the Eagles' final first down. The possession ran off the final 4:58, the team's longest of the game.
Brian Westbrook drags Vernon Fox on a 12-yard run for the Eagles' final first down. The possession ran off the final 4:58, the team's longest of the game. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 11, 2006

Before their final possession yesterday afternoon, the Philadelphia Eagles had failed to gain a first down on half their possessions. Only one drive had lasted longer than three minutes. Their two fourth-quarter possessions had netted a total of seven yards and lasted a total of 149 seconds.

"We felt our offense was starting to gain some momentum, and we wanted to get the ball back to 'em," Washington Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington said. "We definitely felt like we were gonna get off the field."

The defense never did. On that last possession the Eagles chewed up the final 4 minutes 58 seconds with their longest drive. They ran 10 plays, their most of the day. And after cementing a 21-19 victory, they left Washington's defense wondering how it had once again failed to do enough.

"Actually we thought we were going to go out and stop 'em, get the ball back and win it," defensive lineman Phillip Daniels said. "They got a few plays and that killed us. We've just got to find a way in the end."

In some ways, yesterday was one of the defense's finest performances of the year. Philadelphia gained 263 yards, the second fewest the Redskins have yielded. The Eagles held the ball for barely 22 minutes, and gained just 14 first downs. Prior to their final possession, the Eagles had 53 yards in the entire second half.

But the Redskins' postgame thoughts focused on the same problems that have consistently undermined a defensive unit that was once among the league's best. The defense didn't force a turnover, gave up a crucial deep pass and couldn't force a punt at the end of the game.

The Redskins, last in the league in takeaways, came up with just one turnover yesterday, and that was on special teams. Carlos Rogers dropped a would-be interception on the game's first offensive play, and Washington later saw a ball go through his hands twice.

"Sometimes it seems like the ball is just kind of picking at you a little bit, kind of just messing with you," Washington said.

"When you're on the defensive side of the ball you have to find a way to make a play, stripping the ball, swarming around the ball," Andre Carter said.

"We've just got to come up with some big plays," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said.

And, the familiar lament continued, the defense again struggled to limit big plays. This time the long-distance damage was done in the second quarter, when Eagles wide receiver Reggie Brown got behind Vernon Fox and Carlos Rogers for a 60-yard catch. It was the 12th pass play of at least 40 yards that the Redskins have yielded through 13 games.

"Gave me a double move and kind of ran towards the middle of the field; can't do nothing about it," Rogers said.

"That's the one thing that's killed us all season," Daniels said.

Still, the defense was given that last opportunity. Several defenders said they expected Eagles running back Brian Westbrook to pound the ball on the final possession. Instead, Philadelphia came out throwing. Jeff Garcia threw short to Brown, and after a Westbrook run, Garcia found fullback Thomas Tapeh for a first down.

"We were playing nine- and 10-man fronts, and give Coach [Andy] Reid some very, very good kudos, they did a very good job on their approach," Williams said. "Garcia got it out of his hands very, very fast, which was good on his part, because if he'd delayed it a little bit longer we probably would have been able to close the cushion enough to prevent that play."

Another Westbrook run led to another pass and another first down, and two more Westbrook runs effectively ended the game, triggering another round of defensive what-ifs.

"Today we played good, except for maybe four or five plays," Cornelius Griffin said. "We've got to be consistent. We've got to play for 60 minutes. When we play for 60 minutes, I think we'll be dominant again."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company