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Redskins' Secondary Had It Covered for Most of Game

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By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2007

An hour after the Redskins' fourth straight loss, 17-16 to the visiting Buffalo Bills, safety Reed Doughty stood by himself in a FedEx Field hallway, waiting to do a television interview. At that moment, inside the Redskins' locker room a few feet away, 10 television cameras were trained on a tribute that had been set up inside Sean Taylor's locker.

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The focus was on Taylor throughout yesterday's events, from the pregame ceremonies to the team's somber postgame remarks. And Josh Reed's 30-yard catch down the middle of the field, which put the Bills in position for the winning field goal, provided yet another visceral reminder of Taylor's absence. Still, aside from that play, Doughty and his mates in the defensive secondary turned in their second straight solid performance, without their leader and star.

"I don't think they have anything to hold their heads down about," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "I thought they laid it on the line, gave us everything they had. I thought they played their butts off."

Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, when Taylor was sidelined with a knee injury, the Redskins permitted just 93 passing yards. Before Reed's last-minute catch yesterday, the Bills had amassed a modest 227 passing yards. The Redskins have now played eight consecutive quarters without yielding a passing touchdown and have kept two straight opponents to less than 20 points without their Pro Bowl safety.

"Minus two or three plays in the ballgame, we kind of played the way we wanted to play," said Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense. "We played a lot of different packages and tried to utilize [the] spot that [Taylor] normally plays. You probably saw three different guys rotate to those spots that he [played], depending on the packages. And from a coaching standpoint, we had to do a couple more things with substitutions there, because [with] his versatility, you don't worry about that. You just leave him out there and you let him go."

That such a rotation was even possible was impressive, as a secondary that was among the league's deepest has steadily been stripped thin. Starting cornerback Carlos Rogers is out for the season with a knee injury, fellow cornerback Fred Smoot has battled hamstring problems much of the season and Shawn Springs missed yesterday's second half with a bruised back.

Without Taylor, Williams turned to a rotation that at times included former practice squad member John Eubanks, undrafted free agent Leigh Torrence and Doughty, a second-year pro who had never started a game before Taylor's knee injury.

"He's irreplaceable," reserve safety Pierson Prioleau said of Taylor. "We all have capabilities and strengths and weaknesses, and we just have to play to our strengths, come together as a defense and play."

Before Springs left the game for good, the defense had done as much as anyone could have asked. At halftime, the Bills' offense had failed to score, and Bills rookie quarterback Trent Edwards had thrown for 57 yards. But Edwards finally got untracked in the fourth quarter, helped by a pass over the middle to Fred Jackson that went for 54 yards. Before spiking the ball to stop the clock and set up Rian Lindell's game-winning field goal, Edwards had completed 8 of 11 passes.

"They were able to make plays down the stretch," said Springs, who predicted he would be ready to play against the Chicago Bears on Thursday.

None was bigger than Reed's 30-yard catch, which came in a crowd that included several defenders. Doughty said he thought he was poised for an interception before Reed slashed in front of him and into a hole in the zone.

"That very last pass was almost like slow motion," Williams said. "We had guys all around the ball."

Members of the secondary were mostly reluctant to discuss the process of replacing Taylor on the field, or the rigors of playing a third straight game without him. Doughty said his goal was to hustle, play hard and "be accountable to the rest of the 10 guys on defense," and his teammates sounded a similar message.

"We've got two different issues here, and one's a lot more important in the long run," Torrence said. "We wanted to go out there and win today, and we came up short. We lost another game that we probably should have won, but [Monday] we're going down to Florida, and I think that's something that's a lot more important and pressing on guys' spirit right now."

"I really can't say," Eubanks said, when asked how much the secondary missed Taylor on the field. "We miss him, period. On and off the field, we miss him."

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