By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 19, 2007
IRVING, Tex., Nov. 18 -- The Washington Redskins' offense moved with methodical grace, mounting another comeback drive, armed with substantial timeouts and ample time as it deconstructed the Dallas Cowboys' defense. Quarterback Jason Campbell was slinging it out with the Cowboys' Tony Romo and the Redskins were back inside the red zone, trailing by five with under two minutes to play.
Campbell, having his best game as a pro in his 17th start, had the Cowboys reeling, but on third and 10 from the 19, with an expanse of green before him, he forced a pass to wide receiver Antwaan Randle El. The ball sailed behind Randle El, cornerback Terence Newman stepped in front and his interception at the 12-yard line effectively secured a 28-23 victory for the Cowboys on Sunday at Texas Stadium.
"I should have just tucked the ball and run as hard as I can," said Campbell, who was despondent despite completing 33 of 54 passes for 348 yards, the most by a Redskin since Joe Gibbs returned to coaching in 2004. In the end, all of Washington's resilience and spunk was for naught as the Redskins (5-5) blew a halftime lead for the 14th time under this coaching staff, and fourth time this season.
"We were definitely in a great position to win that game and Jason played a hell of a game," center Casey Rabach said. "We just came up short. It's kind of the story of our year so far."
The Cowboys (9-1) rode a monster day from wide receiver Terrell Owens (eight catches for 173 yards), largely at the expense of Washington's young safeties, after bottling up Dallas's stellar pass attack for three quarters. Owens caught touchdowns of 4, 31, 46 and 52 yards (the latter two in the fourth quarter) and the Cowboys turned the day in their favor after Coach Wade Phillips's challenge overturned an interception from Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh that would have given Washington the ball on the Dallas 3 with a 10-7 lead and just under four minutes left in the third quarter. From then on, the Redskins were chasing the game, and they came up just short.
"We've got to find a way to make a couple of more plays," said Gibbs, whose team has lost three of its last four games and is 3-4 against the NFC and 1-3 against division foes.
McIntosh dived in front of the pass to tight end Jason Witten, rolled on the turf and rumbled to the 3, thinking he had caught the ball. ("We were in dire straights," Phillips said, acting on linebacker coach Paul Pasqualoni's suggestion to challenge.) Officials ruled the ball had hit the ground, and McIntosh's protests were mild at best. ("I cupped the ball, that's all I know," he said.)
Dallas, its hopes renewed, targeted second-year safety Reed Doughty, who made his first career start with Sean Taylor injured. He was hit with a 51-yard pass interference call on third down. (Doughty was benched in favor of veteran Pierson Prioleau in the fourth quarter.) Then on third and 19 from the 31, rookie safety LaRon Landry crept in rather than staying deep, allowing Owens to catch the ball easily in the end zone.
"With both of those guys on the back end, [the mistakes] came in an untimely fashion," said Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, who had better success in man coverage early and late in the game, while the zone packages struggled. "I appreciate their fight, but we looked inexperienced a couple of times."
Dallas led 14-10, and the Redskins' offense bogged down near the goal line and settled for a field goal. The Cowboys were merciless by then, with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett getting more aggressive in the second half, and Owens caught a 46-yard touchdown pass, beating the Redskins' cover-2 scheme. Linebacker London Fletcher -- responsible for defending the pass over the seam -- let his technique slip, swinging his hips the wrong way, and Owens was wide open in the end zone again.
"We knew what was coming, but I didn't do a good enough job of getting down the middle," Fletcher said, realizing it was identical to a play the Eagles ran on his defense a week before. "I turned the wrong way."
Again, the Redskins matched that score with only a field goal -- Gibbs repeatedly went for the kick on third and one in this game, as has been the norm -- so they trailed 21-16 with 10 minutes to play. This time Owens responded with the 52-yard bomb, running a route down the right sideline. Prioleau was late getting to him -- few safeties in the NFL can replace Taylor's range and superior closing ability -- and he dived feebly at the wide receiver's legs around the 30, then watched him cruise the rest of the way to the end zone for a 28-16 lead.
"You make the wrong decision in a split-second and you lose the football game," Prioleau said. "You make plays you win football games and you give up big plays and you lose them. Sometimes it's not about the other team; sometimes it's about me, this person right here. It's about the guy next to me and us in this locker room, what we do to win football games and what we do to lose football games."
Campbell nearly made the biggest plays of them all. He thrived with top wideout Santana Moss (nine catches for 121 yards and a touchdown) back from injury and relished the chance to utilize no-huddle formations and spread the field with four-receiver packages. He nearly matched Romo, one of the best passers in the league in just his second season as a starter.
Campbell led a 12 -play 74-yard drive -- capped with a five-yard rocket to Moss in the end zone -- to get Washington to 28-23, then got the ball back with just under three minutes to play. He connected on passes of 11 and 10 yards to get within the red zone, then on third down let one pass get away from him. "We've got to find a way to finish," Campbell said.
The Redskins began the game as they had none other this season -- with a touchdown on their opening possession -- and Romo and the Cowboys looked sluggish most of the first half and suffered from repeated errant snaps. Shaun Suisham missed from 49 yards when Gibbs declined to try a fourth-and-one play -- points that would later loom large -- and then, as the half was ending, Campbell led a 32 yard drive to set up Suisham's 45-yard field goal, for a 10-7 lead.
Washington was primed to score to start the third quarter, but Campbell was sacked, fumbled and Dallas recovered, and after McIntosh's interception was overturned the Redskins would never lead again.