By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 8, 2007
If the Detroit Lions were going to wriggle back into this football game, this was the time. The Washington Redskins had bested them in every aspect of play, but Detroit trailed just 14-3 late in the third quarter, with its quick-trigger offense finally getting a field goal after Washington had missed a field goal attempt and the defense stuffing Washington on third and one to force a punt.
A hush came over FedEx Field as Detroit began a drive from its 8, with the Redskins playing their first game since blowing a 14-point lead at home in Week 3, and yesterday afternoon beginning to assume the eerie feel of other games that have slipped away. But on the second play of that possession, defensive end Andre Carter sacked Lions quarterback Jon Kitna in the end zone for a safety that began a barrage of 20 unanswered points as the Redskins pounded the Lions, 34-3, in the sticky heat.
"What happens in football games is that you have emotional swings at different times," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Certainly, that was one I think that was a huge play for us."
It led to a victory that was all-encompassing. Quarterback Jason Campbell was nearly flawless in his 11th NFL start, completing 23 of 29 passes with two touchdowns and a 125.3 passer rating, and fullback Mike Sellers had a career-best game, rushing for one touchdown and catching a pass for another.
The Redskins (3-1) bested the Lions 366-144 in total yards even though Santana Moss missed the game with a groin injury and Antwaan Randle El was forced out in the first half with a hamstring injury after catching seven passes for 100 yards. Washington's defense, which lost linebacker Marcus Washington to a hamstring injury, shut down Detroit's NFL-leading pass attack -- anchored by its line -- sacking Kitna five times, limiting the Lions (3-2) to 76 passing yards and just one third-down conversion in 10 chances.
Wide receiver James Thrash, starting in Moss's place, returned a punt 62 yards to set up a fourth-quarter score, and corner Carlos Rogers returned an interception 61 yards for a touchdown to cap the scoring as the Redskins scored four touchdowns after producing just five through three games. They also reversed a streak of losing four straight home games in which they led at the half -- dating from last season.
Carter's burst symbolized the outing for the defensive line. Washington's fortunes rested with its front four against a pass-happy opponent that used minimal personnel to protect Kitna, needing them to skew Detroit's rhythm on offense. Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, called few blitzes, instead unleashing his front four to rush the passer most every play, prodding them to pierce Detroit's languishing offensive line.
"We played the pass first and reacted to the run," defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said.
Carter was blocked off the edge when Detroit (0-21 all-time in Washington) faced second and 11 from the 7. But Carter kept his legs pumping, spun inside after being pinned, then tossed 305-pund tackle Jeff Backus aside and pounced on Kitna. "I'm just thinking, 'How can I get this guy [Backus] off of me?' " said Carter, who had two sacks. "I just reacted coming out, and it was there for the taking."
Linemen produced four of Washington's five sacks yesterday (the Redskins have 12 this season after producing a franchise-low 19 in 2006). Griffin repeatedly collapsed the interior and denied Kitna the chance to step into the pocket. End Demetric Evans had another standout game in a versatile role, often playing inside, and end Phillip Daniels came back from a separated shoulder to help derail Detroit's offense before it could get going.
"A lot of people have taken knocks at them, but this is what we ask them to do," Williams said of his line. "We worked all offseason trying to get those guys in position to be a more effective four-man rush. They were very disruptive today."
Williams moved top cornerback Shawn Springs around often on Detroit's tall receivers in the slot, and used some man-to-man tactics on underneath patterns; the Lions never adjusted. Safeties Sean Taylor and LaRon Landry kept to their deep role in the system, negating any big plays. Detroit came in averaging 313 passing yards with three of the top receivers in the NFC. But the defensive backs were physical with those wideouts -- jamming them off the line -- and Kitna did not complete a pass of more than 16 yards.
"We matched up well in the zone coverage," Springs said. "We didn't do anything too exotic, we just made plays."
Washington's offense, however, did delve into the unusual -- putting Campbell as a wideout at times on direct snaps to tailback Clinton Portis -- and played with a swagger, led by Sellers forging ahead to convert fourth-down rushes, and pummeling safety Kenoy Kennedy on a 24-yard reception. The Redskins went ahead 7-0 on a 14-play, 80-yard drive with Campbell hitting tight end Chris Cooley on a seven-yard score.
Sellers's 24-yard rumble over Kennedy came on the next drive, and Sellers completed that 83-yard march with a one-yard touchdown burst, carrying linebacker Ernie Sims with him (the first time someone other than Cooley or Portis had scored a touchdown for Washington this season). Washington held the ball for more than 22 minutes in the first half and amassed 236 yards to Detroit's 41, but no one on the Redskins' sideline felt at ease until the second-half barrage began.
"We've been beating a lot of teams in time of possession, but we don't score any points," tackle Chris Samuels said. "That's one thing we need to address and keep doing."