Running Game Grounds to a Halt in the Clutch

Philadelphia's Takeo Spikes (51) and Darren Howard stop Washington's Clinton Portis, who ran 30 times for 137 yards but was kept out of the end zone.
Philadelphia's Takeo Spikes (51) and Darren Howard stop Washington's Clinton Portis, who ran 30 times for 137 yards but was kept out of the end zone. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 12, 2007

The Washington Redskins entered the weekend 4-0 when rushing for at least 100 yards, and 1-3 when failing to reach that mark. Yesterday, Washington had 100 yards by the third quarter.

The Redskins entered the weekend having won seven straight games when Clinton Portis rushed for at least 100 yards. Yesterday, against the Philadelphia Eagles and their seventh-ranked rushing defense, Portis finished with 137, giving him his best back-to-back showing in nearly four years.

"Usually when you run the ball like that," guard Todd Wade said, "you win the game."

That the Redskins didn't win could be blamed on several shortcomings on both sides of the ball. But again and again, key members of the offense lamented one fact: A rushing game that had proved effective the length of the field twice stalled just short of the Philadelphia end zone.

Portis "ran the ball great today, great, and then we get on the 2-yard line and we can't score. Come on, it doesn't make sense," an emotional Rock Cartwright said. "My teammates know. They see it. It's black and white. You can see it yourself. Anybody can see it. When you're in the red zone, you need seven points, you don't need three. You need seven. Bottom line, it's clear as day. Anybody can see that. Come on, man, it's simple. It's simple. Seven instead of three."

In fact, the Redskins made five trips inside the Eagles 20-yard line and came away with points each time: three Jason Campbell touchdown passes, and two short Shaun Suisham field goals. But as they reflected over their second home loss to a division opponent, key members of the offense lingered over those latter two situations.

On the Redskins' first possession of the third quarter, they faced second and three from the Philadelphia 7-yard line. Portis was stopped a yard short of the first-down marker, then fullback Mike Sellers was denied as he tried to leap over the line.

"We felt like [Sellers was] our strongest runner at that situation down there inside the 10-yard line," said Al Saunders, associate head coach-offense. "We felt like we would get the first down, but we didn't."

Late in the fourth quarter, with Washington on the verge of putting the game out of reach, an Eagles penalty presented a perfect opportunity for a brutish show of rushing force: first and goal from the 3-yard line. Portis got to the 1 on first down, but he lost a yard on his second attempt. A false start cost Washington five more yards, and a draw to Portis then fell three yards short.

Saunders said the team ran the ball in an effort to avoid a mistake and possibly catch Philadelphia by surprise, and Coach Joe Gibbs said he thought Philadelphia "might be playing soft" and expecting a pass, but players focused on the end result.

"I think that was the turning point in the game," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "We score the touchdown, I think we can pretty much hold them off and win the game. But we couldn't punch it in. . . . They came in and made the tackles in the backfield, so we definitely got beat up front."

Portis left the locker room before it was opened to the media, and Sellers declined to speak with reporters. Several offensive linemen credited the Eagles with playing exceptional goal-line defense; Philadelphia entered the game as the second stingiest NFL defense inside the 20-yard line, and its constant goal-line shifting -- with defenders slanting out and pinching in -- was effective, according to several Washington linemen. Still, they took responsibility for the Redskins failing to score those critical touchdowns.

"It's all on us," Wade said. "If we all did our job, then we would have scored, that's all it comes down to."

"It's hard to get an answer for that," center Casey Rabach said. "You've got to give some credit to them, they played well down there, but the plays that we had, we should have put them in."

Washington's only previous home loss, to the New York Giants in September, ended with the Redskins failing to run the ball into the end zone from inside the 5-yard line. And players suggested that there was no particular mystery about how to avoid such narrow misses going forward.

"You start making those plays, you start getting seven when you're in the red zone instead of three," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "It's on us, and we've just got to find a way."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company