By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 6, 2008
SEATTLE, Jan. 5 -- The ball was heading directly into the arms of Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant, with the intended receiver, Santana Moss, having failed to track the ball after it left the hand of quarterback Todd Collins. No one could intervene now, and Trufant grabbed the interception easily, then quickly cut a sidewinding path back down the left flank.
"I never seen the ball," Moss said. "I'm looking up and I don't see anything. I'm almost about to start trotting back towards the huddle, and I peek back and he's catching the ball."
Seventy-eight yards later, Trufant's journey concluded in the end zone, giving the Seahawks a two-touchdown lead Saturday at rowdy Qwest Field with less than six minutes to play, and crushing Washington's dreams of a long playoff march. What just a few minutes earlier appeared destined to be another miracle outcome for the Redskins, overcoming a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take the lead, instead marked the last chapter of a season that will be remembered for the resiliency the organization showed following the slaying of star safety Sean Taylor nearly six weeks ago.
Critical errors haunted Washington in this 35-14 defeat, unlike in the previous four weeks. The running game collapsed and the special teams, so stout all season, faltered amid a missed field goal and poor punts on a damp and windy day. Repeated penalties added to the field-position woes.
The interception was the first of the season for Collins, who had not started a game in 10 years before replacing injured starter Jason Campbell five weeks ago. Collins had thrown 142 passes this season without being intercepted, and his last NFL interception came in 1997, but he later threw another one with 27 seconds to play that also was returned for a touchdown.
The loss stung, but Hall of Fame Coach Joe Gibbs says he will remember this team profoundly for its triumph over adversity.
"I told them I was extremely proud," Gibbs said. "They have great heart and great character."
But the team lacked precision Saturday, when it faced what many consider to be the loudest crowd in the NFL (Seattle is 8-1 at home this season and travels to Green Bay next weekend). They looked like the Redskins of the first 12 weeks, dropping balls, chasing the game, wilting amid Seattle's heavy pass pressure. Five of the Redskins' first 30 plays went for negative yardage -- with Seattle's speedy defense wrecking perimeter plays -- with the lost yards resulting in third-and-long situations, conducive to blitzing (Washington was 4 of 18 on third down).
A special teams penalty -- the first of many -- negated a great punt in the first quarter, and Derrick Frost's second effort resulted in Seattle's drive starting in Washington territory and ending on fullback Leonard Weaver's 17-yard touchdown run. The Seahawks went ahead 10-0 in the second quarter when Josh Brown boomed a 50-yard field goal.
The Redskins finally generated improved field position late in the half, but wasted it on two drives. They began a drive with just more than five minutes left in Seattle territory but went three-and-out, then later, needing just a yard for a first down, failed again. Fullback Mike Sellers, a Washington state native, got the handoff on fourth down but was stuffed.
"We had our opportunities in short yardage, but we just couldn't get off on the ball," said tailback Clinton Portis (20 carries for just 52 yards), referencing the noise. "We didn't get off on the snap count, and they got a jump."
Seattle went ahead 13-0 late in the third quarter after wide receiver D.J. Hackett beat cornerback Shawn Springs for 35 yards to get into field goal range. Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach-defense, again challenged his cornerbacks, playing man coverage with just a single deep safety while blitzing roughly 80 percent of the time. "They came after me and I didn't play particularly well," Springs said.
Another special teams penalty negated Rock Cartwright's return, and Washington started at its 16 -- five of its first 10 drives began inside the Redskins 19, and three began inside the 9 -- with the coaches finally implementing a no-huddle offense to limit the impact of the crowd. A pass interference penalty on fourth down prolonged the drive, and Collins (7 of 9 for 65 yards on the possession) hit Antwaan Randle El for a seven-yard touchdown to open the fourth quarter.
"I think Todd fought his guts out," Gibbs said.
Rookie safety LaRon Landry -- thriving in Taylor's old role -- alertly jumped a pass and intercepted it on the next drive, and Washington had the ball at the Seattle 42. Collins threaded a beautiful 30-yard touchdown pass to Moss, who gained a step on two defensive backs, and the Redskins went ahead 14-13. The wind began whipping wildly on the kickoff, and the ball avoided all 11 Seahawks and was recovered by Redskins wide receiver Anthony Mix. Suddenly the Redskins had the ball at the Seattle 14, but the offense stalled and Shaun Suisham's 30-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
"They came out of a real good situation with no points," Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren said. "It's tough to overcome those things."
On the next possession, Hasselbeck rocketed two long passes to get the Seahawks back into Washington territory before Landry swooped to the sideline and intercepted a pass at the 9. "On both of those [interceptions] I grabbed that coin," Williams said of the coin bearing Taylor's likeness that Williams always kept in his pocket. "He looked just like the other guy."
But the Redskins again were backed up in Seattle territory, and Frost's weak punt gave Seattle the ball at the Redskins 42. Hasselbeck found Hackett, who had beaten defensive back Pierson Prioleau, for a 20-yard score and the two-point conversion gave Seattle a 21-14 lead with just more than six minutes remaining. The game was slipping away, the Redskins' postseason ending in Seattle for the second time in three years, but the players and coaches believe much was accomplished this season, both on the field and in matters much deeper than football.
"You take the positives out of it, and you had a franchise come together," said Portis, who made the emotional phone calls to his teammates from Miami to inform them of Taylor's death. "You had a bunch of guys show love for one another and appreciation for one another. That's the best thing that can happen in sports. This organization turned from a team to a family."