A Fitting, Frustrating End
Redskins' Slide From Contention Is Echoed in Last-Second Loss

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 29, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 28 -- Even though quarterback Jason Campbell inspired confidence in leading a late drive to tie the score against San Francisco, the Washington Redskins knew things could still unravel for them.

A long slide in the second half of the season contributed to a sense of uneasiness along the sideline Sunday afternoon as the 49ers took possession of the ball with a little more than a minute left in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park, and the Redskins hoped the outcome of their final game would be different than many others recently.

But it was a familiar, frustrating story for the Redskins, who watched as the 49ers celebrated place kicker Joe Nedney's game-winning 39-yard field goal as time expired in their 27-24 victory in front of 67,519.

"You kind of get tired of thinking about what you could have done," Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss said. "You just have to let it all boil down to what's happened. If you got it done, you got it done. If you didn't, you've got to kind of move forward. You can't sit back and dwell on what you could have done, because you didn't do it. And that's the situation we've been in and we're ending in."

After Campbell's two-yard touchdown run, San Francisco quarterback Shaun Hill made timely plays to put his team in position for the game-winning field goal. Hill, a former Maryland standout, and the 49ers began work at their 27-yard line with 1 minute 2 seconds on the game clock. He completed three passes for gains of 9, 19 and 24 yards as San Francisco reached Washington's 21-yard line.

With a first down and only 16 seconds to play, Hill spiked the ball to stop the clock and then took a knee. Interim head coach Mike Singletary, who will return to the 49ers next season, used San Francisco's final timeout with three seconds to play. Washington followed with a timeout and then Nedney drilled the kick that capped the Redskins' collapse in the game and season.

"There was no doubt at all," Hill, who completed 21 of 30 passes for 245 yards and one touchdown, said of the winning drive. "I don't think any of us had any doubt. We practice that all the time. We feel we are a good offense, and this is what good offenses do."

Washington (8-8) squandered a 10-point halftime lead Sunday and its surprising 6-2 start in the 2008 season, going 2-6 after the midpoint of its schedule. Despite playing its starters in an effort to finish with a winning record instead of using the game as an opportunity to evaluate many rookies, Washington, which was officially eliminated from the hunt for an NFC wild-card berth in Week 16, could not hold off San Francisco (7-9).

Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, last week reaffirmed rookie head coach and play-caller Jim Zorn will lead the team in the 2009 season, saying Zorn has made progress during his first season. An awful second half is not what Zorn envisioned or wanted, but his optimism and confidence has not waned, he said.

"We have a lot to think about for our group," Zorn said. "And my hope, and I believe this, is that our group stays a group and learns to fight again next football season."

It could be helpful for the 2009 Redskins if the defense figured out how to finish better. Although the unit ranked fourth overall entering the game, the Redskins' defense often struggled in the final quarter late this season. Too often, opponents made plays to extend drives.

The failure of the defense to deliver down the stretch was among the glaring problems in losses to Baltimore, Cincinnati and San Francisco. "Why does it keep happening? That's a good question," defensive end Demetric Evans said. "I wish I could answer it, but I really don't have the answer. We've got teams that just been executing against us, for whatever reason."

The Redskins faced early deficits throughout the second half of the season and trailed 7-0 after San Francisco scored on the game's opening possession. Washington responded in the second quarter, scoring 17 points on three consecutive drives to take a 17-7 halftime lead.

Clinton Portis rushed for a touchdown, place kicker Shaun Suisham kicked a field goal and Antwaan Randle El and Campbell teamed on a short touchdown pass. The scoring pass completed an impressive 16-play, 78-yard drive that consumed 9:10.

With a 10-point lead and the ball to start the second half, Washington appeared to be in a good position. The Redskins picked up a first down to open the half and then Portis fumbled on second down, the 49ers recovering the ball at Redskins 38-yard line. San Francisco scored quickly, getting a one-yard touchdown run from DeShaun Foster, and trailed by only three points entering the final quarter of the season for both teams.

The 49ers took the lead with 9:53 remaining in the game on Hill's nine-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jason Hill. The Hill-to-Hill connection was the eighth play of an 80-yard drive. Hill beat cornerback Fred Smoot on a crossing pattern from left to right and barely got the ball into the end zone while diving at the pylon.

Nedney's successful point-after attempt put the 49ers ahead again at 21-17. Nedney's 33-yard field goal extended the lead to 24-17 with 5:06 left in the fourth quarter.

Campbell then led the Redskins on a 55-yard drive in the final five minutes to tie it. On fourth down and goal from the 2-yard line, Campbell dropped back and quickly surveyed the defense, trying to locate one of three receivers in the pattern. With everyone well covered, Campbell took off for the end zone and got in with 1:09 to go.

"He stayed in there mentally," Zorn said of Campbell. "I was on him to stay in there, and he did. He stayed in there mentally, he threw the ball accurately [and] he read well. Just a great effort on some of the runs he made."

But for Campbell, it was just another wasted opportunity in a once-promising season that fell apart quickly. "It's just tough," said Campbell, who completed 18 of 30 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. "It's tough when you think about everything, from how we started and what we thought we could do. But I know I'm going to take this and learn from it. I'm just going to keep working to be the best quarterback I can be.

"I want to be the type of leader who helps this team get to where we want to be. Just going to keep working with Coach Zorn and keep trying to get better. All that matters is everybody staying on the same page to keep on working on what we've started to build. As long as we do that, we'll get to where we want to be. I believe that."

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