Redskins' Defense Rises to the Occasion Against Eagles
LaRon Landry and Jason Taylor took their bows, as they should. It was their day. Their plays were the keys to the Washington Redskins' dignity-salvaging, coach-comforting, 10-3 win over the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday.
Landry had the bone-rocking tackle on Reggie Brown, a yard or less shy of the goal line, that preserved the win on the final play. Taylor, who last week said he wasn't worth his $8 million salary, finally played as he has throughout his career, forcing a fumble and adding two sacks at FedEx Field.
Middle linebacker London Fletcher knew it was their day, even though his 12-yard return of a recovered fumble set up the only touchdown of the game and was almost as essential as Landry's and Taylor's starring moments. But, as usual, the middle linebacker who is the brains of the Redskins defense deflected the credit, never mentioned a play of his own and praised his whole unit, calling it "one of the five best defenses in the NFL."
However, as this Redskins season approaches its end, neither Fletcher nor his entire defense can truly escape its due. Not even a season in which a playoff opportunity was wasted can keep the defense in the shadows.
Throughout yesterday's game, then afterward in the swirl of players gathered at midfield, one of the most unusual things you'll ever see in pro football kept happening, over and over. The Eagles sought out Fletcher to compliment him for exploding last week, protesting that his Pro Bowl snub merely typified his entire career in which his unflamboyant, brainy and violent play has been overlooked year after year after year after year when prizes go out.
"The Eagles would come over and say, 'I believe every word you said,' and 'About time. They robbed you,' " said Fletcher, chuckling with one day of vindication that sits on top of 11 stellar seasons of being undervalued.
This win, on the day that the Redskins were officially eliminated from the playoffs, served as a showcase for the entire Redskins defense, which Fletcher symbolizes. "That was some dominating defense," he said after the Eagles had been held to 275 yards, a typically paltry total against the Redskins this season. "We showed how we felt about Coach [Jim] Zorn with the way we practiced all week and the way we played today."
So, as has been the case all year, the defense held the fort, preserved the Redskins' sanity, as Zorn's West Coast offense kept sputtering during its first year of installation.
On this raw afternoon, as the Eagles played for glory and the Redskins for pride, Landry explained how he stationed himself at the goal line, the last line of defense, then unloaded on Brown an instant after he caught the ball at the 1-yard line on the final play of the game.
"I knew what they needed. If he didn't get past me, he didn't get a touchdown," said Landry. "And he wasn't going to get it."
Or, as Landry told Zorn on the field immediately after the game, "I hit the [crud] out of him."
That final tackle was, at most, a yard from the goal line perhaps two seconds before the final gun sounded. But it held miles and miles of relief for the Redskins, who now have a chance to finish their season 9-7 and can mull their what-might-have-been frustrations all winter.