By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 22, 2008
Eliminated from postseason contention before their game ended yesterday, the Washington Redskins had bigger concerns late in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field.
With speculation of Coach Jim Zorn's job security swirling because of the their long slide after an impressive start, the Redskins were struggling to hold off the Eagles and avoid another fourth-quarter letdown. When cornerback Fred Smoot and safety LaRon Landry tackled Eagles wide receiver Reggie Brown just short of the goal line as time expired, the Redskins thought they had finally won again.
Television replays confirmed Brown was held out of the end zone, and the Redskins could exhale after a 10-3 victory in front of what appeared to be a much smaller crowd than the announced 82,412.
"No doubt about it," Landry said. "I knew he wasn't in. No worries."
Although the most difficult week in Washington's once-promising season concluded with the team officially out of the playoffs, the Redskins accomplished something important in ending a losing streak at three games and finishing 4-4 on their home field, many players said. The Redskins stuck together and continued to follow their embattled coach after an embarrassing loss to the lowly Cincinnati Bengals in their last game, and Zorn said he never doubted they would.
"Losing like we have in the past several weeks has been really frustrating, and it just continues to build," said Zorn, who was embraced by coaches and players on the field after an official announced the ruling on the final play would stand. "It built everywhere. Last week was a real downer.
"You can't describe the emotion of toughing it out and actually coming through with a win. But to stop 'em in the end and come out with a win, it was kind of all welled up, and the emotion finally came out. Everybody really saw that we can do it. And we did stick together. And we just found a way. We found a way to win. It was exciting."
Albeit not aesthetically pleasing in terms of offense. Washington (8-7) has been among the league's least productive offenses this season as Zorn, the team's play-caller, is only in the beginning stages of installing his version of the West Coast offense. The Redskins averaged only 16.5 points in their first 14 games, ranking 29th in the league, and 11 points during their 1-5 slide entering yesterday's game.
The Eagles out-gained the Redskins in total yards, 275 to 249. Quarterback Jason Campbell had fewer than 170 yards passing (144) for the second week in a row and his third-lowest passer rating of the season at 65.7, and running back Clinton Portis's low average of 3.2 yards per rush was his highest mark in the last four games.
Washington's defense, however, was up to the challenge against Philadelphia (8-6-1), which had won three in a row and remains in the mix for an NFC wild-card berth despite losing both games to its NFC East rival this season. Oft-injured defensive end Jason Taylor had, by far, his best game since joining Washington in a trade on the first day of training camp, getting two sacks and a forcing a fumble.
With Philadelphia needing three yards on third down at its 37-yard line early in the third quarter, Taylor sacked quarterback Donovan McNabb for a seven-yard loss. McNabb lost the ball, and middle linebacker London Fletcher recovered the ball and returned it for a 12-yard gain.
Five plays later, Portis scored on a one-yard run to help the Redskins take a 10-0 lead with 8 minutes 46 seconds to play in the third quarter. Struggling place kicker Shaun Suisham's 33-yard field goal provided the only points in the first half.
The touchdown was Portis's first since a 14-11 victory over Cleveland on Oct. 19 -- a span of seven games. After the touchdown, many Redskins players playfully pushed Zorn on the sideline as they celebrated the touchdown.
"It was awesome to see him play like that and making plays," Fletcher said of Taylor. "When he came in, obviously, they envisioned him being a difference-maker out there on the field for us. Today, he did it, and him getting back healthy played a part in that. He's been under a lot of scrutiny, so to speak, so I was just proud of his performance. Extremely proud and happy for his performance."
Said Taylor: "Obviously, the [sack] ended up being a big play for us and set us up to get some points. But to get the win in spite of everything that's going on, and being eliminated and all that stuff, was very big for this team."
With Atlanta's victory over Minnesota, the Redskins, all but eliminated from contention for a playoff spot by the loss at Cincinnati, were mathematically finished at 7:11 p.m. It was around that time the Eagles put a scare into the Redskins.
Despite having the league's fifth-ranked defense, the Redskins were not effective in the fourth quarter during their recent rough stretch. Opponents had time-consuming drives that helped them finish victories, but the Eagles' offense was not productive in the final quarter yesterday.
The Eagles went three and out on their first four possessions as Redskins punter Ryan Plackemeier was effective, pinning them inside their 3-, 10- and 9-yard lines on three of his four punts in the quarter. But the Eagles got rolling on their final possession.
Starting at its 9 with 3:48 to play, Philadelphia moved the ball well behind McNabb. With about a minute remaining in the game, it appeared the Eagles would need only an extra point to pull even when standout rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson beat cornerback DeAngelo Hall down the right sideline and into the corner of the end zone, but Jackson dropped McNabb's well-thrown pass.
Philadelphia extended the drive and reached Washington's 18-yard line where McNabb spiked the ball to stop the clock. "It was 12 seconds, they had no timeouts, they had to go to the end zone," Zorn said. "I was thinking maybe they would take at least two or three shots.
"He threw a nice ball in there. LaRon Landry did a nice job of keeping him out. I thought he game was over because I saw it at about three yards short. Then when they wanted to review it, LaRon came by me and said, 'No way. I hit the crud out of him.' He didn't really say crud."
The Redskins finish the season Sunday at San Francisco with Zorn ensured of no worse than a .500 record. The team's sixth head coach under owner Daniel Snyder could finish with a winning record in his rookie season, and that's an accomplishment, many veteran players said.
"We just wanted to go out and play hard for him because he's coaching hard for us," center Casey Rabach said. "This whole team has been going through a tough time with the way we started and the downfall we've had the second half, so this is a great win for this team and a great win for Coach Zorn. Hopefully, this will get some pressure off his back, and you guys will leave him alone for a while."