By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 22, 2008
Perhaps his words earlier in the week served as motivation. Or maybe it was that he had been given more freedom on the field than he had seen in this, his first season with the Washington Redskins.
Whatever the reason, in Washington's 10-3 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday, veteran defensive end Jason Taylor finally resembled the man for whom the Redskins dished out two draft picks and millions of dollars in a trade with Miami in July.
After calling himself out earlier this week in a radio interview by saying he wasn't worth the price the Redskins are paying for him, Taylor, 34, turned in his best performance with the franchise, sacking Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb twice and forcing a fumble that set up the game's only touchdown.
For Taylor, who has struggled with injuries this season and has failed to provide the impact that made him one of the league's top pass rushers throughout his career, finally turning in a game-changing performance must have been satisfying. But after the game, Taylor tried to play down his individual performance.
"It was great to win, period," Taylor said. "It doesn't matter what I do personally really. You always like making plays and helping the team win. And obviously the play 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 is going on and being eliminated and all that stuff, to come out and play against a division opponent like that and get a win, and get a win here at home where we haven't played very well all season was very good for this team."
The Redskins moved Taylor around throughout the game, using him to spy Eagles star running back Brian Westbrook in coverage at times and asking him to blitz off the edge as well.
And with the Redskins clinging to a 3-0 lead and the offense continuing to struggle finding the end zone, a big play from Taylor turned the game.
With the Eagles facing third and three from their 37-yard line early in the second half, Taylor came around the left end and hit McNabb from behind, forcing a fumble that linebacker London Fletcher picked up and returned to the Eagles 18-yard line.
The turnover set up Clinton Portis's one-yard touchdown run five plays later, the only touchdown of the game, giving Washington a 10-0 lead.
Taylor ended another Philadelphia drive in the first quarter when he sacked McNabb for a 10-yard loss on third and eight. Taylor entered the contest with just one and a half sacks this season.
After the game, Taylor, nursing a gash about four to six inches long on his side from landing on Westbrook's cleat late in the game, played down any correlation between the comments and his performance.
"I don't think about that stuff," he said. "I answered the question and I speak very candidly and frankly sometimes and it is what it is. But when I go out on the field I don't think about that stuff. I was just saying what people have wanted to say and haven't said yet. I was trying to be preemptive."
But defensive coordinator Greg Blache praised the star for his performance and his candor.
"He's healthy for the first time, I mean the last portion of the season. He had some injuries early on, he's had some other issues as far as the foot, the knee. I mean, it's been a bunch of different things," Blache said. "And you know what, what he said was just a very mature football player talking. A lot of guys always think they're worth whatever it is and more. I think this guy was just saying the production that he's given didn't deserve that, but at the same time he and I had a conversation after he made that statement, to tell him hey it might not be eight million, but you're worth a lot.
"I like having you around, I like having him around, and he came through in a big fashion tonight in a big game, and that's what big-time players do, make big plays in big games."
And with Taylor's high cap number for next season and retirement possibilities causing speculation about his future with the team, Blache voiced his desire to see Taylor return next year.
"If it was up to me, yes," Blache said. "I just think he's a real pro, he's a class act, he's been a good addition to our locker room, he's been a good teammate, and you saw today what he's capable of doing when he is healthy and the situation's right. And what we have to do is we'd like to have him here for the offseason, for our training camp, be a part of everything and see what happens."