By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 6, 2008
PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 5 -- With the Philadelphia Eagles off to a fast start and the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field having much to celebrate early Sunday afternoon, the Washington Redskins continued to follow the lead of even-keeled Coach Jim Zorn.
Even as Washington's deficit quickly grew to 14 points and quarterback Jason Campbell had not completed a pass in a frustrating first quarter, players remembered the word Zorn had repeated so often: patience.
"He always tells us, 'Never too high, never too low, no matter what happens in a game,' " Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels said. "I'm telling you, after hearing him and watching him all the time, I don't think anybody on the sideline had any doubt about what we would do."
The Redskins thus enjoyed another significant accomplishment in Zorn's five-game career as a head coach, overcoming their biggest deficit of the season as they rallied past the Eagles, 23-17, and extended their winning streak to four games in front of 69,144. Washington overcame Philadelphia's impressive opening act that included running back Brian Westbrook's nine-yard touchdown run and DeSean Jackson's 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first seven minutes.
Despite playing without three injured starters on defense -- end Jason Taylor, strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington and cornerback Shawn Springs -- the Redskins, for the most part, shut down the Eagles after they were sharp in scoring on the game's first possession. Philadelphia produced 119 total yards in the first quarter. The Eagles had only 135 yards the rest of the game.
Cornerback Carlos Rogers drew the difficult assignment of Jackson, the Eagles' speedy rookie wide receiver. Jackson had one catch for eight yards. Washington also contained Westbrook, a former DeMatha star, limiting him to 33 yards rushing and a 2.8-yard average.
Washington amassed 203 yards rushing among 388 total yards, believing in Zorn's one-play-at-a-time approach, players said, taking small steps that eventually led to 23 straight points and control of the clock. The Redskins had an advantage in time of possession of nearly 10 minutes.
Place kicker Shaun Suisham made all three of his first-half field goal attempts (from 41, 48 and 50 yards) as the offense began to find its groove. A week after its impressive performance led to running back Clinton Portis's first 100-yard game of the season in a rare win over the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium, Washington's offensive line was even better against the NFL's top defense against the run entering the game.
Portis rushed for a season-high 145 yards (he had a 5.0-yard average) and one touchdown, setting the tone for change as the Redskins took control after halftime.
"Clinton is running the ball like a mad man right now," said Campbell, who had his fewest yards passing (176) in a Redskins win but set a franchise record with 175 consecutive passes without an interception. "The offensive line is just doing an outstanding job of giving him an opportunity to get those rushes, and also giving me time to throw the ball."
Portis's four-yard run with 14 minutes 54 seconds left gave the Redskins a nine-point lead. Tight end Chris Cooley had his most productive game with 109 yards and caught his first touchdown of the season from wide receiver Antwaan Randle El on an end-around play. Zorn, in his role as Washington's play-caller, showed he listens to the players, too.
The Redskins needed a yard on fourth down with fewer than three minutes remaining in the fourth, and Zorn, at the request of Portis, called a draw play for Portis from a shotgun formation.
"He wanted that play so bad, he asked [Zorn] to give it to him," center Casey Rabach said. "It's the same play we scored that four-yard touchdown on. He had faith in us, we had faith in him, and he ran his [butt] off."
Portis gained three yards, the Redskins got a first down, and then Campbell finished things in a familiar way. He has kneeled to run out the clock in each victory during the winning streak, adding the final touch to outcomes that have become less of a surprise each week. Washington (4-1) has been among the league's best teams, its season-opening loss to the New York Giants a distant memory.
The Redskins have completed, on paper, what appears to be their most difficult stretch, having played three NFC East opponents on the road in their first five games. Consecutive victories over the Cowboys and Eagles (2-3) have helped put the Redskins in a strong position as they face the St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions -- a combined 1-11 -- in their next three games.
The Redskins are rolling behind Zorn, and owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, were upbeat in the locker room after the game. The Redskins remained cool in a tough spot, which is how they roll with Zorn, players said.
"All that stuff happened, they did all that stuff in the first [seven] minutes of the game, and we knew we had a lot of football left," defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander said. "Coach always talks about staying right there in the middle. You see he does it that way, so that's what we do. But, man, it was fast."
Westbrook sat out the Eagles' previous game because of an ankle injury. He showed no lingering effects on the opening possession Sunday, capping a 12-play, 80-yard drive with his nine-yard touchdown run. Then Jackson, standing at Philadelphia's 32-yard line, got under a ball that punter Durant Brooks kicked 37 yards without the hang time special teams coach Danny Smith would prefer.
As Washington's punt-coverage team pursued, Jackson cut back away from the sideline, spotted a seam and accelerated to the middle of the field. Once there, Jackson outran Washington's defenders to the left sideline and went untouched for his first career touchdown on a punt return.
Only 27 seconds elapsed on the game clock between Westbrook's run and Jackson's punt return. The Redskins faced their second-biggest deficit of the season, having trailed the Giants 16-0 in the first half of their 16-7 loss at Giants Stadium.
"We were a little bit shocked," Zorn said. "We didn't do anything. They came out with an incredible drive. They mixed it up, they kept us off-balance, and put it away. Then with the return, sometimes things like that happen. I'll tell you what our players did: They stayed poised.
"We didn't try to grab bag and then change our whole game plan. We just stayed with what we had. Then when we got the first field goal, the thing I started saying on the sideline was, 'One score at a time. That was number one, now we just have to work on the second one.' "
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson relied on his normal assortment of blitz packages, which caused problems at first. The Redskins, however, began to pick up the blitzes well, and Campbell burned the Eagles often with passes to Cooley in the middle of the field.
"They brought every blitz you can name in the playbook," Campbell said. "Our guys continued to stay calm and just weather the storm early, which is what he [Zorn] always talks to us about. They hit us in the mouth early, but we were patient. That's what we were. That's what Coach Zorn wants us to be."