By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2008
DETROIT, Oct. 26 -- A sense of anticipation spread among the Washington Redskins as wide receiver Santana Moss moved into position to field a punt early in the fourth quarter Sunday at Ford Field.
Despite Moss's stirring 50-yard touchdown reception during the previous quarter and the Redskins' other accomplishments on offense in the second half, the winless Detroit Lions still were making things difficult for Coach Jim Zorn. So with another victory in reach at the midpoint of Washington's schedule, Zorn put Moss in position to deliver another big blow.
"When coach told me, 'Do I have one in me? I just told him, yeah,' " Moss said. "When I'm out there, when I have the ball in my hands, I pretty much pretend I'm a punt returner at all times. You see guys coming at you, but you know one sudden move here or there, can make 'em stop. Then you can burst again and kind of run away from 'em."
Moss did that while eluding the punt coverage, stopping only when he reached the end zone after an 80-yard touchdown that helped the Redskins rally for a 25-17 victory. He added to the long list of frustrating moments for the hapless Lions and their long-suffering fans in a crowd of 54,312, maintaining his balance after initially colliding with rookie wideout Devin Thomas and then outracing his pursuers.
"That's his job," defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander said. "He's one of the big-time players, one of the big-time stars, on our team, and that's what we need him to do. And when he does it, you see how it just gets guys even more ready to go back out there and do their jobs."
The Redskins had their first double-digit cushion, helping to ease tension on the sideline following an animated exchange in the first half between Zorn and running back Clinton Portis ignited by miscommunication and the offense's failure to finish drives well. With the flare-up behind them, Zorn and Portis contributed to the Redskins' second-half surge.
Portis finished with 126 yards, his fifth consecutive game with at least 100 yards rushing. The league's leading rusher has gained at least 120 yards in five consecutive games twice during his career, joining O.J. Simpson in holding that NFL mark.
After eight games, Washington (6-2) is tied for the league lead in victories (the 6-0 Tennessee Titans face the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night). The Redskins last had six victories at this point through their schedule in the 2000 season. Although they could have done many things better against the Lions and in their first seven games, the Redskins' impressive record is what matters most, coaches and players said.
"We were 3-1 in our first four, and now we're 3-1 in our second four," Zorn said. "We're feeling very solid about our record, anyway, about being 6-2 starting into this second half. This is the push here where the teams begin to find themselves, halfway through the season. And so, we're hopeful that we can keep this going."
The consistency of quarterback Jason Campbell has been key in the first six victories. On Sunday, Campbell was outstanding against the Lions (0-7), whose pass defense ranks among the worst in the league.
He completed 23 of 28 passes for 328 yards and the touchdown to Moss. He established a personal-best 127.4 passer rating, benefiting from Zorn's approach of "just taking what the defense gives us," Campbell said. "If it's the passing game, we go with it. If it's the running game, we go with that. We just have to be prepared for all scenarios and every situation."
In addition to his timely punt return, Moss had a season-high nine receptions in his third game this season with at least 140 yards receiving. "Santana is the type of guy that can spark our team, spark our offense," said tight end Chris Cooley, who had six receptions for 74 yards. "We need that, we need that every week, from him. He's a great team guy, he knows what he brings to us, and what he does is huge. Both of those plays were so big. That's why we won this game."
Despite playing without injured Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, Washington's top offensive lineman, the Redskins had 439 total yards on offense. Place kicker Shaun Suisham made four field goals, including three of at least 42 yards. His 42-yarder with 1 minute 56 seconds remaining in the game capped the scoring.
On defense, veteran cornerback Shawn Springs and rookie strong safety Chris Horton also missed the game because of injuries, but the Redskins limited the Lions to 274 total yards. With Springs sidelined, cornerback Carlos Rogers, who is having his best season, drew the difficult assignment of Calvin Johnson, the Lions' star second-year wide receiver. Johnson caught a 17-yard touchdown pass in the fourth and finished with four receptions for 57 yards.
It was Moss, however, whose performance had the biggest impact on the Redskins' ability to avoid the Week 6 letdown they experienced in a two-point loss to the then-winless St. Louis Rams. On Sunday, Washington had a significant statistical edge in the first two quarters, but Detroit had a 10-6 halftime lead. The Redskins more than doubled the Lions' yardage total, 250 to 95, but penalties and miscues took a toll.
And then there was the heated exchange between Zorn and Portis early in the second quarter. On Washington's final possession of the first quarter, Portis did not inform coaches he had gone to the sideline for a break and backup running back Shaun Alexander had replaced him for a play, Portis said.
"It was one play," Portis said. "I think it was just blown out of proportion. He was excited, and I was excited. When two grown men get excited, and two grown men eager to win, you have that miscommunication."
Moss's final big play lightened the mood for good. With primary punt returner Antwaan Randle El continuing to struggle against Detroit (he averaged 4.8 yards on four returns), the Redskins turned to Moss on special teams. The touchdown was Moss's third on a punt return in his career. He last accomplished the feat against the San Diego Chargers in the 2002 season while he was a member of the New York Jets.
"I'll be honest with you, and this is nothing against Randle El, but when I see Santana back to return a punt, I feel like there's a chance he's gone," Cooley said. "He's just a major threat, and you see what he meant to us today.
"This is my fifth year here, and I haven't [previously] been part of a 6-2 team. But now, we have to look at it like we're starting all over again."