This One Doesn't Get Away
Monday, December 18, 2006
NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 17 -- On the face of it, none of this would have seemed to matter much. The Washington Redskins had long since given up any notion of playing for the platinum-and-diamond reward of the postseason. And the New Orleans Saints, even as they lost to the Redskins, still wound up with the day's prize.
But Sunday's surprising 16-10 victory over the offense-rich, multitalented Saints was far from hollow for the Redskins. For the first time this season, Washington's maligned defense faced a team at the height of its offensive power and heading for the postseason, and was dominant.
It was both a 60-minute flashback to the successes of the last two seasons for assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams and also an encouraging continuance of a month of inspired defensive play by players angry at the idea of being considered losers.
While the Redskins' defense was making a statement, Atlanta's 38-28 loss to Dallas on Saturday combined with Pittsburgh's 37-3 demolition of Carolina on Sunday had given the Saints (9-5) the NFC South division title, even though the Redskins had knocked them on their backs.
"That's fine. I give them their credit. They earned it, but they didn't get in at our expense," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "They can feel good. They can wear their hats and celebrate, but they can't do it the way they wanted to."
But that did not diminish yesterday's win. Quarterback Jason Campbell returned for the first time to the Superdome -- where he won the 2005 Sugar Bowl for Auburn -- and won his second NFL game. Ladell Betts rushed for 119 yards, his fourth consecutive 100-yard game. The Redskins (5-9) rushed for 161 yards as a team.
Perhaps most importantly, however, even if only for a week, the win provided a measure of vindication for a defense that once represented the team's standard. The Saints, having destroyed the Dallas Cowboys a week earlier, watched an energized defense confuse quarterback Drew Brees, holding him to just 207 yards passing.
"I hate losing. When we lose, I don't sleep at all," Cornelius Griffin said. "My wife sleeps and I'm up all night, playing with my daughter. Guys take pride in what they do. People can say, 'It's over.' Screw that. We'll fight you to the end."
For the first time this season, the Saints were held to less than 300 yards of offense. Rookie Reggie Bush rushed seven times for 14 yards and caught five passes for 19 yards.
The moment that best crystallized the Redskins' defensive effort was on the Saints' final drive, when New Orleans appeared poised to snatch a victory from the Redskins. On third and six at the Redskins 15 with 1 minute 1 second remaining, Brees hit Bush on a screen pass to the right. Bush appeared to have room -- moments earlier he had taken a screen 15 yards -- but found himself cornered by Griffin and defensive end Andre Carter, who had both sprinted from the far side of the field to knock Bush back for a loss of a yard.
"It's always satisfying, no matter when it happens," Williams said. "We're professionals. It was one of the things we talked about in the locker room. Was I shocked that we gave this kind of effort? None of us were. This is what we do. Everybody in the locker room talked about it."
Individually, the players and coaches spent the week leading up to this game wrestling with various anxieties. Carter finished with eight tackles, a sack, a quarterback hurry and two tackles for losses.