Redskins Let It Slip Away

Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell fumbles the ball after being sacked by Mathias Kiwanuka. Chris Cooley recovered for Washington.
Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell fumbles the ball after being sacked by Mathias Kiwanuka. Chris Cooley recovered for Washington. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 24, 2007

The final indignity came in the arms of running back Ladell Betts, who lay on the grass, ball against his chest, just two yards short of tying a game the Washington Redskins still didn't believe they were about to lose.

At the moment it must have seemed like two miles.

All around him the New York Giants celebrated, men in blue shirts ripping off helmets, leaping on the sideline. And as the scene cleared near Betts, still lying on the FedEx Field turf, the aisles of the huge stadium quietly filled. And 90,803 people shuffled to the parking lot.

How this had happened befuddled the Redskins players almost as much as the fans who walked away shaking their heads. For the next two weeks before Washington's football team plays again, this 24-17 defeat yesterday will be spliced, dissected and agitated over on talk radio shows and around office coolers like few losses in recent seasons. On an afternoon when the Redskins held a 17-3 halftime lead and the hopes of football fans across the region, they simply collapsed.

There was no other way to explain it, both the 21 straight points New York scored in those final 30 minutes and the Washington offense that went cold. All of it crashed down at the worst possible time. The Redskins players, clad for the day in the gold helmets and bright gold pants they once wore in the 1970 and 1971 seasons, stared glumly at the grass as they walked into the tunnel and away from the field.

In the locker room, Betts stood by his chair, his shirt off, and wore and expression that half an hour after the game still looked like shock.

"We felt like we were controlling the game," he said. "The second half? I don't know what happened. It's like we were a different team."

What happened, Giants Coach Tom Coughlin later explained, was that the New York coaches figured out what the Redskins were doing during halftime -- both on offense and defense, which had been equally as dominating -- and then came up with a quick solution to stop it. He would not be specific as to what those adjustments were. Only that they had been made. And he seemed to note, with about as much of a smile as the often irascible Coughlin could muster, many of them had worked.

Mostly what yesterday's defeat did was cast doubt on a Redskins team that had generated so much euphoria through the season's first two weeks with close victories over Miami and Philadelphia. This time, against a Giants team that lost its first two games, Washington looked hopeless in its second-half collapse, failing to gain a first down in that period until there was just 1 minute 22 seconds left to play and the Redskins were on their final, frantic drive to tie the game.

The Redskins' defense, which had shown so much promise in the first two games and the first half on Sunday, suddenly frayed. Its older players looked worn, several left for moments of time with minor injuries while the Giants kept pushing on sustained drives.

In the second half, New York outgained Washington 206 yards to 81. And most of those 81 yards came on the Redskins' last, futile gasp at game's end.

As he stood behind a podium in a press conference long after the game, Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs tugged at a burgundy baseball cap but showed little other emotion.

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