By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2008
As the ball hung in the air early in the fourth quarter yesterday at FedEx Field, Washington Redskins cornerbacks Leigh Torrence and Carlos Rogers were drawn together in the moment.
Torrence closed well in a two-man sprint against Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Steve Breaston and tipped quarterback Kurt Warner's pass high, leading to Rogers's key interception and long return that helped set up the go-ahead score in Washington's 24-17 victory in front of 90,060.
"Those were two big game-changing plays right there," free safety LaRon Landry said. "We talk a lot about getting turnovers and getting the ball back to the offense in a good spot to do something with it. When two guys step up on one play like that, you can't ask for anything better."
Two plays after the Torrence-Rogers combination energized the Redskins and their fans, quarterback Jason Campbell threw a short screen pass to wide receiver Santana Moss, who maneuvered through Arizona's defense for a 17-yard touchdown. Moss's touchdown tied a team record -- he has at least one scoring catch in five consecutive games, six including a playoff loss to Seattle -- and gave Washington's defense the lead it was eager to preserve.
With defensive ends Jason Taylor and Andre Carter applying pressure to the end, the Cardinals ran seven offensive plays in the game's final 12 minutes. Overall, Taylor deflected three of Warner's passes at the line of scrimmage.
Struggling rookie punter Durant Brooks performed better this week, with a 42-yard net average and improved hang time on four punts, but his lack of concentration while holding on a field goal attempt late in the fourth angered Coach Jim Zorn.
Brooks, who botched a hold in a 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints in Week 2, called for the ball before the official gave it to long snapper Ethan Albright, disrupting the timing of the kick.
"I was shellshocked a little bit," said Brooks, whom Zorn berated on the sideline after place kicker Shaun Suisham missed a 52-yard kick with 3 minutes 29 seconds remaining in the game.
"He thought I was out of the game [mentally], and it was a critical time in the game. I came off to the sideline, and he got really upset. I should have made sure that Ethan had the ball. I can take the blame for that."
For the second time in as many weeks, Campbell effectively directed the offense as Washington (2-1) ran out the clock. After the two-minute warning, Campbell teamed with tight end Chris Cooley for a 26-yard reception that gave the Redskins a first down and all but ended the Cardinals' hope of a comeback.
In large part because of its productive passing attack led by Warner and star wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona (2-1) had a perfect record after two games for the first time since the 1991 season. Washington's secondary absorbed some blows from the trio but stood strong, and Torrence and Rogers provided timely inspiration for a team that has consecutive victories after its shaky opener.
"When you see something like that, when you see those guys creating turnovers and getting the ball back for the offense to have an opportunity to score, you have to like it," said Campbell, who completed 22 of 30 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns and has no turnovers in three games.
"You see defensive guys and offensive guys high-fiving each other. That shows team unity."
After making many big plays in the second half of the victory over the Saints -- including connecting with Moss on a go-ahead 67-yard touchdown pass late in that game -- Campbell was perfect on the opening possession against Arizona. He completed his six passes to five receivers for 37 yards on the drive, which running back Clinton Portis (68 yards on 21 carries) capped with a three-yard touchdown run.
It appeared the Redskins were on their way to taking another big step in Zorn's version of the West Coast offense. Quickly, however, the Redskins regressed, generating 47 yards on 17 plays for the remainder of the first half. They took a 10-7 lead into halftime.
Fortunately for the Redskins, the Cardinals' offense did not resemble the high-powered bunch from their first two victories. Boldin and Fitzgerald -- who had seven receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown -- are considered among the game's best wideout tandems, but defensive coordinator Greg Blache devised an effective scheme of zone and man-to-man coverages against them.
"We knew it was going to be tough," Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "They executed and made a lot of plays."
Less than three minutes before halftime, Warner found Boldin for a short touchdown pass. In the third quarter, Campbell and tight end Todd Yoder teamed on a two-yard touchdown reception to end an 11-play, 80-yard drive, helping Washington take a 17-10 lead.
Then came the breakdown. With Washington's secondary in two-deep zone coverage, Fitzgerald caught a 62-yard touchdown pass from Warner with 1:53 left in the third, and Arizona pulled even at 17 after place kicker Neil Rackers's successful point-after attempt. Strong safety Reed Doughty made a costly mistake on the play, falling for Fitzgerald's fake on a corner route, "which is designed to mess with the safety," Doughty said. "And it did."
Said Blache: "We had high school, two-deep coverage. We just blew it."
Torrence and Rogers were in the right spots the next time Warner took a deep shot. Playing man-to-man defense on the left side, Torrence, Washington's nickel cornerback, lined up in the slot against Breaston. Rogers was playing "over the top [in zone], and Leigh was an underneath guy," Rogers said. "Leigh was one of the guys that we had one-on-one."
Breaston made a good break off the line and quickly got behind Torrence, who had to rely on his "catch-up speed," he said. "Thank goodness I had the ability to catch back up to it."
Warner helped. The ball he threw hung in the air, and Torrence closed on Breaston and knocked the ball upward. "Then 'Los did a great job," Torrence said, coming out of zone coverage and pursuing the ball.
Rogers leaped toward the ball and caught it at Washington's 43-yard line as he landed on the field. Untouched, he sprang to his feet and raced down the sideline for a 42-yard gain to Arizona's 15. Portis lost two yards on the first play of Washington's possession, and then Moss scored on the pass from Campbell.
"Luckily, Leigh tipped the ball high, and I was able to stop to get the tip," Rogers said. "I didn't think I was going to get there. It came into my hands, and I fell into a pick."
In his fourth season in the league, Rogers has been a target of criticism for his lack of interceptions. He has five in his career but has dropped many would-be interceptions. After the team failed to capitalize on interception opportunities in the season-opening 16-7 loss to the New York Giants, Zorn conducted a drill in which he threw balls to the defensive backs at different angles.
"I may do it one more time," Zorn said. "Can you improve hands over one drill one time? I don't know that. But what we were doing was emphasizing the fact that if they could make those catches, they would" have a better chance to intercept passes during games.