By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 8, 2008
BALTIMORE, Dec. 7 -- One by one they went to the sideline late Sunday night, key members of the Washington Redskins no longer able to contribute during their latest challenging situation. And with each injury, the Redskins' once-promising season seemed to slip away faster.
The Baltimore Ravens became the latest opponent to deliver a significant blow to the Redskins' playoff chances, racing to an early lead and remaining in charge throughout a 24-10 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
Washington's offense often appeared overmatched against the NFL's second-ranked defense even when at full strength at the outset, and the Ravens' task only became easier when left tackle Chris Samuels and right tackle Jon Jansen were forced from the game with injuries.
Jansen left in the first half because of a sprained knee and Samuels -- the Redskins' top offensive lineman -- suffered a triceps injury at the beginning of the fourth quarter that finished his night.
Rookie safety Chris Horton also played sparingly and had his right arm in a sling after the game, and top running back Clinton Portis, who has been slowed by knee, hip and neck injuries among an array of physical problems, had a limited role as the Redskins (7-6) lost for the fourth time in five games and dropped to last place in the NFC East.
Horton declined to discuss his injury. Portis, however, intimated he was benched by head coach and play-caller Jim Zorn in favor of backup Ladell Betts. Because Portis didn't practice this week, Zorn said, the Redskins weren't not going to lean as heavily on him on third downs and in pass protection.
"There ain't nothing wrong with me," Portis said.
Amid the mounting injury concerns and questions about how roles will be filled in the final three games, what was known Sunday was that the Redskins' downward spiral has continued. They have three games remaining and still aspire to qualify for an NFC wild-card berth, but achieving that goal has become much harder, many coaches and players acknowledged.
"We've got to get to 10 wins and see what happens, but that means we've got to win our last three games to make it happen," middle linebacker London Fletcher said. "Is there time? There is, but we don't have any time to waste. We have no choice. We can't lose again.
"Yeah, we have some injuries now, but injuries are part of the sport that we play. Each team has injuries and the next guy has to be ready to play. You would like to have your top guys in the game, especially now, but you just have to adjust and go from there."
Jansen went out late in the second quarter and was replaced by Stephon Heyer. Samuels, who has been slowed by a right knee injury, grabbed his arm at the start of the fourth. He had been battling standout linebacker Terrell Suggs, without much success, and was replaced by little-used reserve Justin Geisinger.
With the Redskins needing seven yards on third down at the Baltimore 12-yard line, Suggs beat Geisinger, who had no help from a tight end or running back, for a 13-yard sack of quarterback Jason Campbell (21 of 37, 218 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions). Shaun Suisham then kicked a 43-yard field goal that cut the Ravens' lead to 17-3 with 13 minutes 40 seconds remaining.
"It's tough," said Samuels, who said he would undergo an MRI exam Monday. "You want to be in there, but it is what it is. It's never over until it's over. We've got three games; we're just looking for a win at this point."
On a cold night (the temperature at game time was 29 degrees), many Ravens fans in a crowd of 71,438 -- the largest to attend a game in the stadium -- watched Baltimore (9-4) win its third in a row and remain one game behind the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North.
The Redskins' playoff picture does not look as promising. They have a long, hard climb in front of them, with little time remaining in the regular season, to get back into the NFC wild-card race. The Carolina Panthers, who face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night, have the best record of non-division leaders at 9-3. The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are 8-5, and the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints also have 7-6 records. The Philadelphia Eagles (7-5-1) are ahead of the Redskins in the division and the playoff race.
"We have three games now. It is sudden death," Zorn said. "Unfortunately, losing four out of the last five games does not help confidence. We got to dig down deep. I can't honestly say, 'We're going to restart this season, and we're going to pound everybody and browbeat everybody.' "
The Ravens jumped to a 17-0 lead through three quarters on an eight-yard touchdown run by fullback Le'Ron McClain, safety Ed Reed's 22-yard return of a fumble recovery and place kicker Matt Stover's 32-yard field goal.
"He's got great game-changing impact," Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said of Reed. "What else can you say? He's been doing it for a lot of years."
Baltimore limited the Redskins to 254 total net yards, but the Redskins hung around until late in the game, in large part, because the Ravens' offense wasn't much better for long stretches (281 net yards).
But the Redskins' defense did something it has not done often enough this season, coming up with two turnovers in second half. Suisham's field goal was set up by LaRon Landry's interception of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco late in the third quarter.
On Baltimore's next possession, Willis McGahee fumbled as he was hit by Landry, and DeAngelo Hall recovered the ball. On a fourth-down play, Campbell and Antwaan Randle El teamed on a five-yard touchdown pass. Suisham's extra point cut the Ravens' lead to 17-10, and the Redskins had hope.
It didn't last long. The Ravens went on a 12-play, 83-yard drive to finally finish the overmatched Redskins. The drive consumed 7:52, and ended with Flacco finding Derrick Mason for a 28-yard touchdown with 3:35 left to play.
The ball was poorly thrown, but cornerback Carlos Rogers, who bit on play-action and Flacco's pump-fake, was not in position to knock down or intercept the pass. Stover's extra point extended the lead to 24-10. Reed completed another disappointing night for the Redskins in the final two minutes by picking off Campbell for the second time.
"We had a chance, but it didn't turn out the way we wanted to," Landry said. "We kept fighting, but we couldn't do it at the end. But most definitely, it's not over. At this point and time, we've just got to win out.
"Three more games, and the way I'm looking at it, and the way the team should look at it is a [three-game] playoff. Each game should be our playoff game. And then when we get in the playoffs, treat it the same way."