Kick and Momentum Sent Sailing Away

Khary Campbell (50) reacts to a missed field goal by Shaun Suisham (6) in the fourth quarter, which prevented the Redskins from extending a one-point lead.
Khary Campbell (50) reacts to a missed field goal by Shaun Suisham (6) in the fourth quarter, which prevented the Redskins from extending a one-point lead. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 6, 2008

SEATTLE, Jan. 5 -- It seemed like it could happen again. As they had done often in their improbable march to a postseason berth, the Washington Redskins overcame so much so quickly against the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter of an NFC first-round playoff game.

After scoring two touchdowns and capitalizing on a Seahawks blunder on special teams, the Redskins lined up for a 30-yard field goal that would have increased their lead with fewer than 12 minutes remaining in the game. But the Redskins unraveled even faster than they came together, and the Seahawks finally shut the door.

Place kicker Shaun Suisham's attempt sailed wide left, and the Seahawks finished with a burst in a 35-14 victory Saturday afternoon before a sellout crowd of 68,297 at Qwest Field.

Momentum swung to the Seahawks after Suisham could have given the Redskins a four-point lead ("I just missed it," Suisham said), and even rookie safety LaRon Landry's second interception in as many Seahawks possessions wasn't enough to hold back Seattle's late charge. The Seahawks stunned the Redskins, scoring 22 points in the game's final 6 minutes 6 seconds, including returning two of Todd Collins's interceptions for long touchdowns.

In the locker room afterward, many players expressed disbelief about the sequence of events during a late-game letdown that left the Redskins wondering about what could have been in their last game of the most difficult season in franchise history.

"That momentum really shifted," middle linebacker London Fletcher said. "We get the go-ahead score, then we recover the kickoff, and you say to yourself, 'Man, this is our destiny. Things are about to go our way.' He misses the field goal, but LaRon still got another interception after that, so we're thinking it's still going to be a great ending for us. And from there the momentum did swing. From there, it was downhill for us."

Trailing 13-0, the Redskins finally made their move offensively in the final quarter. Collins teamed with wide receiver Antwaan Randle El on a seven-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter, and Suisham kicked the extra point to cut the Seahawks' lead to 13-7.

On Seattle's next possession, Landry stepped in front of a pass quarterback Matt Hasselbeck intended for wide receiver Bobby Engram and returned the ball two yards. Three plays later, the Redskins had their first lead after Collins and wide receiver Santana Moss connected on a 30-yard touchdown pass and Suisham made the point after.

Then on the kickoff, Suisham lifted the ball high in the air and Seattle return men Nate Burleson and Josh Wilson overran it while Washington's coverage closed in. Anthony Mix, a wide receiver signed from the New York Giants' practice squad on Nov. 20, scooped up the ball at the Seattle 14-yard line.

Although the Redskins gained only two yards, there was excitement on their sideline as Suisham moved into position to attempt the field goal. In the regular season, Suisham converted 82.9 percent (29 of 35) of his field goal attempts and made 8 of 10 from 30 to 39 yards.

"You could feel it," cornerback Leigh Torrence said. "You could feel that electricity flowing through the sideline."

A four-point lead, even with as well as Washington's defense was playing during the rally, might not have been enough for a knockout blow, some players said, but it would have maintained the Redskins' momentum. "Obviously, when we missed a field goal, they got a little excited," Fletcher said. "How often do you get a recovered kick like that? I'm thinking that we're about to take this game over and we're heading to Dallas next week. That's what I was thinking, and I'm sure that's what everybody on the sideline was thinking."

There were no problems with the snap of long snapper Ethan Albright or the hold of punter Derrick Frost. "It was just me, and it's definitely a momentum swing when you miss a field goal," Suisham said. "That's what was so frustrating. I don't miss too many of those."

It appeared that the Redskins still were in control after Landry made a nifty play on the sideline to keep his feet in bounds while intercepting another pass at the Washington 9-yard line on Seattle's next possession. The offense, however, failed to gain a yard, and Frost's 33-yard punt gave the Seahawks the ball at the Washington 42.

Hasselbeck led the Seahawks on a five-play drive, capped by his 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver D.J. Hackett with 6:06 to play. Seattle took a 21-14 lead on Hasselbeck's two-point conversion pass to tight end Marcus Pollard, and it would only get worse from that point for the Redskins.

"After we did what we did on that kickoff return, we've got to score," Randle El said. "We can't come away with nothing. That was the game right there. That was the momentum shift. We had the momentum, they got it back and went right down the field and scored."

So after struggling to cope with the death of Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor in November, overcoming the loss of many starters because of an inordinate number of season-ending injuries and ending the regular season with a four-game winning streak, the Redskins couldn't deliver the closing kick they needed against Seattle.

"I think deep down inside, all of us felt like if we won the Super Bowl, it would kind of make up for everything that happened to us this year," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "But even winning the Super Bowl, my friend [Taylor] wouldn't be here tomorrow."

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