Relief, From Head to Toe
Suisham Rewards Gibbs's Faith, Redskins Survive Upset Scare

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 5, 2007

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Nov. 4 -- The Washington Redskins needed only a few inches to secure a first down in overtime, just a nudge from quarterback Jason Campbell on an afternoon when Washington had rushed for 296 yards. Instead Coach Joe Gibbs called on place kicker Shaun Suisham for a 46-yard field goal attempt.

A game -- perhaps the season, too -- was at stake, and maybe even a large chunk of Gibbs's reputation. But as Suisham's kick fell safely over the crossbar, giving the Redskins a 23-20 victory at Giants Stadium, tension gave way to joy. Washington was 5-3 -- aesthetics be damned -- their 52-7 loss to New England was behind them, and the one-win Jets had not beaten them.

It required five field goals and an extra period to overcome New York, but Gibbs was resolute in his belief that Suisham's unproven leg offered the best chance of winning.

"I'd hate to have a penalty or something take away a chance from winning the ballgame," Gibbs said. "And that was a chance to win it on one play. I've had bad experiences in the last three years with holding penalties and things like that. I didn't want to pass up a chance to win the game right then."

The successful ending came after the Redskins again had inspired their usual assortment of emotions Sunday, falling behind 17-3, going ahead 20-17, conceding a tying field goal with 15 seconds left.

A gutsy onside kick triggered their resurgence in the second quarter, with Gibbs employing a bludgeoning offensive approach even when trailing, running the ball 48 times and passing only 23.

Tailback Clinton Portis (36 carries for 196 yards, his most as a Redskin) led the one-dimensional attack, while the defense returned to its aggressive approach, albeit with mixed results. Jets quarterback Kellen Clemens, in just his second NFL start, withstood the heavy pressure and nearly brought the Jets a comeback victory.

The Redskins' running game finally burst forth after dropping to 25th in the NFL, with Gibbs demanding run-blocking drills in practice this week. Yet other concerns lingered. Portis scored the Redskins' only touchdown Sunday -- Washington has 14 offensive touchdowns in eight games -- while Campbell (53.2 passer rating) was often engulfed by the Jets' blitz and the wide receivers again sputtered. Special teams provided highlights -- five field goals; the onside kick -- but Suisham's opening kickoff was also short and New York's Leon Washington took it back 86 yards for a touchdown, his third return for a score this year.

The Redskins established their offensive pattern on their next possession, beginning a promising drive against the NFL's 30th-ranked defense, but managing only a 46-yard field goal.

The Jets established their pattern on the next possession, converting on third and long (New York converted 11 of 18 third downs) and pulling ahead 10-3 on Mike Nugent's 29-yard field goal. The drive was prolonged by a personal-foul call on rookie safety LaRon Landry on third down.

The Jets added a touchdown for a 17-3 lead in the second quarter. Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, called for more blitzes in the first half Sunday than he had all season, attacking Clemens after rarely challenging the bevy of accomplished quarterbacks the Redskins faced last month. Williams sent Landry often, also deploying safety Sean Taylor and the linebackers, but on the Jets' scoring drive Clemens hit a 30-yard pass on third and 12 against stiff pressure, and later threw a one-yard touchdown pass.

"I like the aggressiveness we played with today," linebacker London Fletcher said. "But you've got to give [Clemens] credit. He found his hot routes against our pressure."

Washington cut the lead to 17-6 -- this drive stalled at the New York 21 -- and, needing a spark, Gibbs signed off on special teams coach Danny Smith's call for an onside kick. Early in the week, Smith showed Gibbs game film of Jets safety Rashad Washington, who lines up wide on the right side on kick returns. On 62 kickoffs, Washington almost always "left early," according to players, meaning he jumped the kickoff to begin sprinting upfield to block opposing players.

The Redskins worked on onside kicks to Washington's spot relentlessly at practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with Smith devising a scheme to prey on Washington's tendency. Suisham was to kick the ball into the hole created by Washington's departure; Redskins safety Pierson Prioleau would sprint to that spot and try to catch the ball as soon as it rolled the mandatory 10 yards. On Sunday, Suisham did not hit the ball as he had hoped, and it rolled slowly as Jets safety Abram Elam sprang for it.

"I'm waiting for the ball to go 10 [yards], and [Elam] did an excellent job attacking the ball," Prioleau said. "But he was unable to recover it."

Redskins tailback Rock Cartwright, a special teams standout, read the short kick also, and instead of sprinting ahead as usual opted to "slow play it" and hover back. When Elam failed to catch the ball, Cartwright recovered it at the 33, and the Redskins drove to the 4 before making it 17-9 on Suisham's third field goal.

"I talked to Rashad before the game and wished him good luck," said Cartwright, a college teammate of Washington's at Kansas State. "But we knew we were going to call that play, and that was a great time to execute it."

Suisham's 40-yard field goal cut the deficit to 17-12 early in the third quarter, and after Eric Barton intercepted Campbell -- who was hit as he threw -- the Jets mounted a drive. But Prioleau and cornerback Shawn Springs sandwiched receiver Jerricho Cotchery the instant he caught a Clemens pass at the Redskins 18 -- "I just tried to hit him as hard as I can," Springs said -- and Landry returned the ensuing fumble 15 yards.

On the drive, the Redskins finally found the end zone. Portis surged for 32 yards -- the first run of 20 or more yards by a Redskins running back all season -- then edged the ball over the goal line with 11:11 left. Washington led 20-17 after Campbell connected with Antwaan Randle El for a two-point conversion.

Portis rushed 36 times in a game for the first time since 2004 -- 20 was his high this season -- and topped 100 yards for the first time since October 2006.

"I'm ready to carry the team," Portis said, "and I've been telling coach that."

Still, it almost was not enough. Clemens led New York within 11 yards of the end zone with time expiring -- converting four straight third downs -- but he finally seemed rattled at the end of that drive.

"We were kind of rushed with the clock running down," he said. The Jets could muster only Nugent's 30-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.

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