By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
With things unraveling in the second half yesterday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Washington Redskins thought they would make another strong push to the finish. The Redskins often overcame difficult situations in the first half of their schedule, and they tried to do it again before finally taking a break.
"When that happened, when we faced those difficult challenges before, we usually made plays," defensive end Andre Carter said. "But tonight, it just wasn't happening. Not against those guys."
The Steelers sent the Redskins into their bye week with a lot to consider after taking control at the end of the first half and dominating after halftime in a 23-6 victory at FedEx Field. Washington failed to deliver the high-caliber performance it envisioned in front of 90,512 fans, many of whom wore Steelers jerseys and waved black-and-gold towels throughout the game.
Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense was to blame, many Redskins players said. The Steelers overwhelmed the Redskins' offense -- especially when pressuring the quarterback. Jason Campbell operated under duress from the outset, was sacked seven times and was intercepted for the first time this season.
Campbell was hit often and threw his first interception of the season in the third quarter, ending Washington's NFL-record streak of games without an interception at 12, spanning 379 consecutive pass attempts. The interception was Campbell's first in 271 straight attempts, which established a team record. He was picked off a second time on the Redskins' final offensive play.
After establishing a personal-best passer rating in a Week 8 victory over the Detroit Lions, Campbell had his lowest rating of the season: 49.2. When the Redskins failed to score from the Pittsburgh 1-yard line with 6 minutes 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter -- Campbell's pass to Lorenzo Alexander on fourth down fell incomplete -- many Redskins fans packed up and headed for the exits.
Despite the return of Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, who missed Washington's last game because of knee pain, and the presence of top wideout Santana Moss, who sat out practice last week because of a sore hamstring, the Redskins had only 221 net yards. Washington limited Pittsburgh to 229 yards, but Pittsburgh made more plays.
"We got to take our hats off to them," Campbell said. "They were giving up different looks. They took away any kind of deep threat we had."
And Clinton Portis's impressive run ended, too. The Steelers limited the league's leading rusher to 51 yards on 13 carries. Portis, who has 995 yards rushing this season, had gained at least 120 yards in his last five games. Portis and O.J. Simpson are the only players in NFL history to rush for at least 120 yards in five straight games twice in their careers.
No running back, however, has gained 100 yards against the Steelers this season. The Redskins, whose team average of 155.2 rushing yards entering the game ranked third in the league, did not come close to that mark, finishing with 60 yards. "I'll tell you what, man, they were tough," Samuels said. "They were physical. They got to our quarterback. We didn't do a good job of protecting him."
Despite having many players hobbled by injuries last week, many of the Redskins (6-3) said they thought they had enough left for one big push in a marquee NFC-AFC matchup. The Steelers (6-2), however, appeared several steps faster, and Washington produced only field goals early in the game when more was possible.
And now, the Redskins will relax. They're off until resuming practice Monday at Redskins Park in preparation to play host to Dallas on Nov. 16 at FedEx, and it seemed they could use some rest.
"They showed up to play, and that's why they're the number one defense," said versatile defensive end Demetric Evans, who was credited with two of Washington's season-high four sacks. "They do a great job on the run, their blitzes are hard to pick up, and they create a whole lot of pressure. Yeah, we made plays, but they made a lot more plays than we did."
On offense, too. Backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, who relieved injured starter Ben Roethlisberger to start the second half, directed the offense well, completing 7 of 10 passes for 129 yards and one touchdown.
"A lot of guys forgot about me," said Leftwich, a graduate of Washington's H.D. Woodson High School. "There's one thing I know: When I'm healthy, I can play in this league."
Late in the second quarter, Roethlisberger scored on a one-yard sneak to give the Steelers a four-point lead at halftime, but he injured his right shoulder on the play, the Steelers announced, and did not reenter. Leftwich impressed on the first possession of the second half, leading an eight-play, 72-yard drive Parker capped with a one-yard run.
Leftwich combined with wide receiver Nate Washington on the biggest play of the drive, a 50-yard completion down the left sideline on which cornerback Fred Smoot was badly beaten in coverage. Place kicker Jeff Reed missed the point-after attempt, so the Steelers had a 16-6 lead.
The Steelers cut the lead to 6-3 on Reed's 35-yard field goal with 8:09 left in the second quarter, and a late Redskins breakdown on special teams led to the only touchdown of the half. Standing at the Washington 26-yard line, punter Ryan Plackemeier was unable to elude the rush, as Andre Frazier broke through the line and blocked the punt. Lawrence Timmons joined Frazier in applying pressure on the punt.
"I don't know where he came from," Plackemeier said. "I saw the eight-man rush. You knew it was coming. Usually, you want to be a little quicker with that."
William Gay recovered the ball at the 17 and gained four yards, putting Pittsburgh at the Washington 13-yard line with 2:11 left in the half. Needing 12 yards on third down, Roethlisberger teamed with Hines Ward on a 14-yard play for a first down at the 1. Pittsburgh kept it simple on the next play, running a quarterback sneak on which Roethlisberger (6 feet 5, 241 pounds) scored easily.
"We're six and three, but you don't want to go into the bye with a taste like this in your mouth," Evans said. "We could have done more, and that's what we're going to think about now."