Walking the Tightrope
Monday, October 20, 2008
Despite everything that went wrong, the Washington Redskins did not expect to find themselves in such a familiarly frustrating position late in the fourth quarter yesterday against the Cleveland Browns at FedEx Field.
But there they were again, awaiting the outcome of another long field goal attempt and potentially facing another week of questions about what could have been. This time, though, Washington left the field with a sense of relief after Browns place kicker Phil Dawson missed a 54-yard field attempt that would have tied the score and the offense finished off the final seconds of a 14-11 victory in front of 90,487.
A week removed from a two-point loss to the formerly winless St. Louis Rams on a long field goal as time expired, the Redskins got the rebound win they desperately needed, many players said. And although the Redskins did not perform as well as they would preferred, they put a bad experience behind them with the best outcome possible, and that was good enough after how things had been recently for them.
"I was looking at the ball and just saying, 'Man, after everything that happened last week, please don't go in,' " strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington said. "I mean, I just wanted to get this win, and I think we all just wanted to get this win. Yeah, it wasn't pretty, but you'll take a pretty one or an ugly one. In this league, every win means a lot, and that's what we got."
The Redskins (5-2) did just enough on offense in a bounce-back performance against the Browns (2-4), and had another mostly impressive showing on defense. Running back Clinton Portis continued to power the offense with a game-high 175 yards rushing -- his fourth consecutive 100-yard performance -- and one touchdown, providing the lift Washington needed as quarterback Jason Campbell struggled in an uneven outing. He also played through a groin injury suffered early in the game.
"Our offensive line blocked great," Portis said.
Portis's short touchdown run in the third quarter put the Redskins ahead after a scoreless first half, and Campbell also found a bit of a rhythm in the second half when he and Santana Moss finally reconnected. Moss had two receptions for 22 yards in the Redskins' previous two games as defenses double-teamed Washington's top wide receiver, prompting Coach Jim Zorn, the team's play-caller, to adjust.
Zorn seemed to find a good mix in his playbook against Cleveland. Moss re-emerged, finishing with four catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. Campbell's 18-yard pass to Moss early in the fourth quarter gave Washington a 14-3 lead.
"When you play in a critical game like we played today, it's going to be rough," Moss said. "I just told myself, 'Be a spark. Try to spark the team, spark the offense, so we can be in the end zone.' It worked."
An 11-point margin seemed even wider with how poorly the Browns had played on offense and how well Washington had done under the direction of defensive coordinator Greg Blache. But in one of his few mistakes in an impressive four-week run, Portis fumbled after a 24-yard run following a goal-line stand in which the Browns failed to score on four plays inside Washington's 4-yard line. Cleveland recovered the ball at Washington's 29-yard line.
Another strong stand led to Cleveland going for a touchdown on fourth down at Washington's 1-yard line, but being in such a tough spot twice in fewer than two minutes proved too much for the defense to handle.
Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson -- who completed 14 of 37 passes in the game for 136 yards -- threw a one-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Joshua Cribbs with 2 minutes 52 seconds left in the fourth. Anderson then located wideout Braylon Edwards for a two-point conversion.
The Redskins punted after failing to gain a first down on their next possession and the Browns took over on their 29-yard line. Anderson moved the Browns to Washington's 36-yard line, and Dawson lined up for his kick with 32 seconds showing on the game clock, stirring bad memories for those on Washington's sideline and many Redskins fans in the crowd.
Place kicker Josh Brown connected on a game-winning 49-yard field goal as time expired in the Rams' 19-17 victory in Week 6. Dawson's attempt "was a longer kick, but you definitely started thinking about what had happened," reserve linebacker H.B. Blades said. "It was a further field goal, it was 54 yards, and the wind was going a little bit, so I thought there was a chance he would miss it.
"But when you fight real hard like that and you deserve to win the game, that's not what you want to see. You don't want to see a last-second thing like that at all."
Dawson's kick sailed wide right. "I kicked it pretty well," Dawson said. "I wasn't really concerned with the distance, but I had a sneaking suspicion that it might not go in because it came off my foot wrong."
Zorn and the Redskins got what they wanted, in large part because the defense limited the Browns to 236 yards total offense. In the loss to the Rams, St. Louis had 200 total yards.
"We came off a loss, and we wanted to rebound," Zorn said. "We did more than rebound today on defense. We just did a wonderful job against a very exciting offense. to keep them out of the end zone like we did, I can't say enough about them."
Campbell, who kneeled to run out the clock, directed an offense that produced 351 yards. He completed 14 of 23 passes for 164 yards and also applauded the Redskins' effort on defense.
"In the first half, we were slow," Campbell said. "Our defense was playing outstanding and they were holding down a great offense."
The Browns were coming off their best game of the season, a 21-point blowout of the New York Giants on Monday night. "They put a lot of pressure on us," Anderson said. "We were frustrated. We had some opportunities in the first half we didn't take advantage of. Going into halftime at zero, zero was bad."
In addition to frustrating Anderson and rushing him with an assortment of blitz packages, the Redskins limited Cleveland's running game to a 3.6-yard average per carry. And they did not give up a big play at the end of the game, which was a problem down the stretch against the Rams.
"I think we had a focused effort for 60 minutes," middle linebacker London Fletcher said. We played physical football, intense football and emotional football, and we were able to finish. The big thing was that we finished the job."