Ailing Defenders Make a Healthy Showing
Smoot, Springs, Griffin Endure Illness, Injuries

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 7, 2007

By the fourth quarter, one Redskins starting cornerback, Fred Smoot, was throwing up blood in the locker room, watching on television as the Redskins attempted to hold onto their lead.

The other starting corner, Shawn Springs, had a lingering back injury and wasn't even supposed to be on the field; when he arrived at FedEx Field last night, his locker was bare, and he had to find and unpack his equipment himself.

Redskins defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, meantime, looked down in the fourth quarter and saw blood streaming from a gash in his right forearm.

"I don't know what happened," he said later. "Just wipe it off and keep going."

And amid such distractions, the Chicago Bears were driving for exactly the sort of fourth-quarter score that had ruined so many previous Redskins games, eventually getting first and goal from the 1-yard line. They needed a touchdown and extra point to tie the game.

Three plays later, Chicago had lost three yards and settled for a field goal; that series helped preserve both Washington's 24-16 victory and its playoff hopes.

Just four days earlier, Washington had coughed up an 11-point second-half lead in a loss to the Buffalo Bills. Midway through the fourth quarter last night, the Bears drove 70 yards on nine plays and were on the verge of erasing the last chunk of what had been a 14-point second-half lead.

"We knew at that moment in time, if they score here, we're going to be in trouble," defensive tackle Kedric Golston said. "We needed to just focus in, knowing this was probably the most important play of the game right there, for momentum and everything."

On first down at the 1, Griffin blasted through the line and stopped Adrian Peterson for a three-yard loss.

On second and third downs, Chicago quarterback Brian Griese threw incomplete. By the time he got the ball back, his team was down by 11.

"Our whole mind-set game-by-game is just to play relentless; that's all I can say," defensive end Andre Carter said. "You know what you have to do. Just do not let them score. Make them kick field goals. Do not let them score."

Washington's defense completed a third straight solid showing without both its Pro Bowl safety, Sean Taylor, and its No. 1 cornerback, injured Carlos Rogers. In those three games, Washington has yielded a total of two touchdowns and an average of 17.3 points a game. That number would rank fifth in the NFL over an entire season.

For the second week in a row, the secondary was littered with newcomers. Smoot had suffered from stomach pain and vomiting since before the game started and finally retreated to the locker room to get three bags of intravenous fluids and reentered on Chicago's final drive by the time the game all but had been decided.

"I just ran back out on the field. They told me don't come, but I still came," he said. "I was like, 'Man, I've just got to find a way to get back out here.' "

With Smoot out, Washington often lined up with both John Eubanks and Leigh Torrence in the secondary.

"Put anybody out there, we're gonna ball," safety LaRon Landry said. "I mean, it's not, 'Aw, this guy's down, we're going to lose this.' Nah. We're gonna go out there and play regardless. We're going to go out there and play Redskins' defense."

Springs, the other cornerback, said he came to the stadium not planning to play. He asked coaches if he could try warming up, and after several defensive teammates told him how badly they wanted him to play, he decided he would suit up.

He wound up making the game's first decisive play, jumping a route to Devin Hester in the last minute of the first half and returning it 53 yards. It was his first interception of the season, although he added another before the half had ended, and it set up Washington's first touchdown.

"It was a huge play," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "It was the first big play that got everything going."

Springs's meandering return, which ranged from one sideline to the other, led to some playful postgame kidding -- "He was kind of slow on that, huh?" quipped Phillip Daniels -- but it was the sort of spark the defense provided throughout the night.

"This was kind of like the playoffs for us," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "We played pretty good. I think we can play a lot better."

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