Broken Record: Redskins Near Goal Line, Then Bog Down

Washington's Devin Thomas is unable to catch a ball thrown by Jason Campbell on third and goal in the first quarter. The Redskins ran 13 plays inside the Rams 11 without scoring a touchdown.
Washington's Devin Thomas is unable to catch a ball thrown by Jason Campbell on third and goal in the first quarter. The Redskins ran 13 plays inside the Rams 11 without scoring a touchdown. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 21, 2009

When Jason Campbell came to the sideline Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field -- another journey inside the 10-yard line completed without a touchdown -- Jim Zorn followed him to the bench. There, Campbell sat, and Zorn bent over. The quarterback listened. The coach talked. And none of it changed any of the problems that arose for the Washington Redskins. The closer they crept to the St. Louis Rams' end zone, the further they seemed from scoring.

"We're not going to stay there," Zorn said. "That is really the bottom line here. I have got to look at this thing very hard because it is my responsibility."

Move aside the baseball-style score of the Redskins' 9-7 victory over the Rams, and the statistics look just fine. Washington gained 362 total yards, held the ball nearly 10 more minutes than the Rams, had four possessions of at least 13 plays and could have easily scored four touchdowns. The problem: In four trips inside the Rams 11-yard line (discounting the final possession, in which Campbell merely knelt on the ball), the Redskins failed to cross the goal line.

Washington's second possession started at its own 14, and Campbell efficiently moved the offense deep into St. Louis territory. When running back Clinton Portis burst through for an 11-yard gain, Washington had first and goal at the 8.

"We had a little momentum in the drive," left tackle Chris Samuels said, "and felt like we were going to score."

Then Portis was stuffed for a one-yard gain. Portis took a shovel pass from Campbell, ran into his own man, and lunged ahead to the 3. And on third down, Zorn called another pass play. Second-year wide receiver Devin Thomas -- big and physical, drafted for this kind of situation -- was lined up to the right. But Thomas got caught up at the line of scrimmage.

"The guy sealed me off, and I had to get to the opposite side," Thomas said. "I almost thought I was out of the picture, but Jason was still alive in the backfield."

The protection held up, and Campbell held in, long enough that Thomas fought free and came across the middle, just across the goal line. "I tried to pop him the ball," Campbell said, and it came in hot.

"I always tell them down there, when the ball's on the 5-yard line or in, when the ball comes through the line of scrimmage, you've got to locate it very quickly," Zorn said. "It gets real crowded down there."

The ball came through quickly. It hit Thomas, he couldn't hold on, and the first red-zone failure was complete.

"Whether it's an easy catch or a hard catch, as a receiver, you put it on yourself," Thomas said. "If the ball's in your area, you got to make the catch. I definitely put it on me."

On their next possession, starting at their own 26, the Redskins got four more first downs, a good third-down throw from Campbell to Santana Moss, and had another first and goal from the 8. The results this time: Portis for a two-yard loss, and then a bit of a second-down surprise in the form of a pass to fullback Mike Sellers, who cut down a seam in the middle.

"No one expects Mike in that situation, down deep into the red zone," Campbell said, but there he was, wide open. Campbell zipped him the ball. Sellers, a stride from cracking the goal line, couldn't hang on. Sellers threw himself to the turf, seething. He declined to comment afterward.

"Mike's such a competitor, he was talking about that play the whole game," Campbell said. "I kept telling him, 'Mike, just move on. Just move on. There's nothing you can do about it, so just let it go.' "

Campbell's third-down throw to Antwaan Randle El was way over his head, and Washington's entire offense had to let that go.

On Washington's first possession of the third quarter, Campbell hit Randle El with a 24-yard seam pass, giving the Redskins a first and goal from the 7. Here's what followed: Portis for no gain, Portis for two yards up the middle and Portis -- what? -- rolling right, looking to pass?

"That was a play in that particular situation that really had a chance to go," Zorn said. The play was designed for Cooley, who was dragging across the back of the end zone. Portis, who left the locker room after the game without speaking to reporters, saw the tight end come free, and he let it loose.

"When Clinton threw it, I thought I had a good shot at it," Cooley said. "I felt like I was going to get it."

Two problems: Cooley caught his foot in the turf and fell, and the Redskins were called for holding on the play anyway. Another field goal.

The Redskins' last true attempt came when they could have salted the game away, when Zorn had already gone for it on fourth down to keep a drive alive late in the fourth quarter. With first and 10 from the 11, Zorn went to Ladell Betts twice, then to Portis. Fourth and one at the 2. Campbell lined up and saw the Rams loaded to the left side. The play was to Portis just that way. But deep in the red zone, Zorn doesn't want Campbell changing plays, lest a communication problem cause a costly turnover.

So they ran Portis, to the left side. The Rams crushed him, a two-yard loss.

The result for the day: Four trips inside the 11, 13 offensive plays run, 0 touchdowns, 3 field goals.

"I can wave all kinds of magic wands but I have to come up with the right play and put our guys in the right position," Zorn said. "We will figure out more and more about what we need to do to finish these drives."

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