By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 26, 2007
The third preseason game traditionally is the one that holds the most merit, best approximating a regular season contest in terms of practice, game plan and preparation. For the Washington Redskins, last night's game -- at least what occurred when the starters were on the field -- essentially was a duplicate of what had already been displayed.
Washington trailed the Baltimore Ravens by one at halftime, with both teams relying largely on their first teams, and ended up with a weather-shortened 13-7 victory at FedEx Field. Coach Joe Gibbs was left with much to consider because his running game again was ineffective, the offense fell stagnant for long stretches -- albeit against the NFL's top-ranked defense from last season -- and the first-team defense, for all of its progress and promise this preseason, again failed to pressure the passer or force a turnover with the starters on the field.
"There's still a lot of things that we're off on," Gibbs said. "We've got a long ways to go."
Neither team looked particularly impressive, and a slow start was predictable given the unusual circumstances that preceded the game. As the squads were warming up around 7:25 p.m., the decision was made to evacuate the field and the stands with a ferocious storm on its way. Kickoff ultimately was delayed 72 minutes -- the skies exploded with thunder and lightning, wind and downpours for 45 minutes -- but eventually the conditions dissipated to a steady drizzle and the game began. With a similar weather pattern en route early in the second half, the field was evacuated again with Baltimore in mid-drive and the Redskins ahead by six, and was officially ended by Commissioner Roger Goodell at 11:55 last night.
"I think it was a great decision," Gibbs said of the termination of the contest. "I certainly agreed with it. It was the NFL's total choice on it, and I think they did the right thing."
The Redskins already were without starting quarterback Jason Campbell (knee), Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels (knee), Pro Bowl tailback Clinton Portis (knee), top linebacker Marcus Washington (elbow) and newly acquired left guard Pete Kendall, rendering attempts to draw too many conclusions from this outing a tricky proposition. Then, with the field slick and unpredictable after the storm, coaches opted to keep top cornerback Shawn Springs on the sideline as well, saying he had a mild Achilles' tendon injury.
With Campbell out, veteran Todd Collins got the start at quarterback, his best opportunity to unseat Mark Brunell for the No. 2 spot. (Gibbs said he expects Campbell to play Thursday against Jacksonville and may rest Collins entirely in that game.) Collins nearly was perfect in the first two exhibitions, with a 115 passer rating, and looked the part again on his opening throw, a 40-yard touch pass to receiver Santana Moss down the left sideline. That ended up being the lone true offensive highlight of the half, however, with Washington netting 40 yards on that play and 75 for the half.
Collins went 7 of 14 for 48 yards after connecting with Moss, and the Redskins settled for a 45-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham on that opening drive and a 25-yard effort by Suisham on the final drive of the half. In between, things were pretty ugly. If not for Baltimore's self-destructive streak -- nine penalties for 49 yards in the half, including a flurry of third-down penalties on the drive that led to Suisham's second field goal -- it may have been worse.
"Our penalties let them keep the ball too long," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said.
The Redskins went three-and-out on three straight drives between the field goals. Their longest run in the half was six yards -- they rushed 12 times for a 2.3-yard average in the half. The defense, meantime, had Baltimore buried in horrible field position much of the first quarter, but Steve McNair was efficient (14 of 19, 98 yards) if not explosive and engineered a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive in the second quarter -- the first touchdown allowed by Washington's starters this preseason.
McNair converted on third and 15 and again on third and goal from the Redskins 6, hitting Derrick Mason in the flat; linebacker Rocky McIntosh and safety Sean Taylor over-pursued on the play, and Mason cut back and scampered into the end zone. The Redskins again struggled to rattle the passer -- McNair generally had time to make plays -- and the starting defense has not intercepted a pass or recovered a fumble the entire preseason after setting a modern record with just 12 takeaways in 2006.
The reserves have had a knack for the momentum-changing play, however. A recovered fumble in the end zone led to a win at Tennessee in the preseason opener Aug. 11 and a bizarre interception near the end zone provided the win last night. Both teams pulled their starters at the half, and on Baltimore quarterback Kyle Boller's first snap of the third quarter, rookie linebacker Dallas Sartz scored on a three-yard interception return. Safety Pierson Prioleau came free on an aggressive blitz and popped the ball loose, it bounced around and ended up in Sartz's hands for an easy score.
The Ravens were marching into Redskins territory with 11 minutes 38 seconds left in the third quarter when the lights began to flicker again, and an announcement was made to clear the field and stands again with another storm on the way. It was a strange ending to a quirky night, with neither team ever able to settle into a routine.
"I applaud both teams," Gibbs said. "I thought they came out and guys were ready to go."