Redskins go down fighting
ATLANTA -- Of all the unsettling developments in another disappointing season for the Washington Redskins, this could be the most troubling: They have eight games remaining.
That's a sobering reality for a team that failed again despite its most spirited second-half performance of the season in a 31-17 loss Sunday afternoon to the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Although the Redskins finally pushed back and made things interesting after being overwhelmed in the first two quarters in front of 67,982, the offensive line's major deficiencies in pass protection and the defense's alarming recent habit of giving up big-play touchdowns proved too much to overcome against an NFC opponent fighting to remain in playoff contention.
Washington (2-6) again fell short despite the determined performance of injured quarterback Jason Campbell, who twice returned to the lineup after leaving the game because of chest and ankle injuries after being battered behind the team's ineffective line. In the running game, Ladell Betts displayed a burst rarely seen in the team's past 16 games after replacing top running back Clinton Portis, who suffered a concussion in the first quarter and did not return.
Overall, though, Redskins players said they again too often executed poorly, were too undisciplined and unable to put everything together. Trailing by two touchdowns in the final six minutes, Washington twice turned over the ball on downs. Running back Michael Turner punished the Redskins' defense, rushing for 166 yards with a 9.2-yard average. He scored on runs of 30 and 58 yards to help Atlanta (5-3) end a two-game losing streak.
For the Redskins, the loss renewed questions about every aspect of the football operation, extended their losing streak to four games and kept them in last place in the NFC East. And with half their schedule still to play, the Redskins could face two months of frustration and embarrassment unless they quickly find answers to confounding problems that seem to increase daily.
"We've got a lot of games left, we've got a lot of season to play, and this isn't where we thought we would be," defensive end Andre Carter said. "I mean, it's tough, it's really tough to be in a situation like this and you know you still have a lot of work ahead of you. But one thing my dad always told me is that when times are rough in this game, and they're rough for us now, that nobody else can play for you and make it right for you. You've got to play for yourself and you've got to play for the man next to you. There has to be a level of pride as a man that you're going to go out to compete at a high level every week and that you're not going to embarrass yourself. Right now, that's where we're at, and we've got to keep trying every week."
Portis might have to take at least a week off. With the Redskins trailing 7-0, Portis was injured with about 3 minutes 30 seconds to play in the first quarter during a rush to the left side that gained no yards. Team medical personnel tended to Portis while he lay on the field for several minutes, but he eventually walked off under his own power. "I don't know" what happened, Portis said. "You tell me what happened. I don't remember what happened."
A holding penalty on Portis's rush backed up the Redskins to their 46, and Campbell tried to connect with second-year tight end Fred Davis, who was making his first start in place of injured Pro Bowler Chris Cooley. Campbell's short pass was high and to the right, and the ball bounced off Davis's hands and into the grasp of Atlanta cornerback Tye Hill for an interception. Following his blockers, Hill raced along the sideline, then cut back across the field for a 62-yard touchdown that helped Atlanta take a 14-0 lead.
Davis said he should have caught the ball "because it hit my hands. You get your hands on it, you've got to catch it. I had my fingertips on it. You can say it was outside, but you've got to make those catches. Those are the catches that you get paid to make. The great tight ends, they make 'em. The other ones, they drop 'em."
Tempers flared within the final two minutes of the half when Atlanta second-year quarterback Matt Ryan, trying to scramble for a first down, raced to the right sideline and was hit out of bounds by LaRon Landry near Falcons Coach Mike Smith. DeAngelo Hall, who formerly played for the Falcons, came over to the sideline to help Landry, and a lot of pushing and shoving ensued. Landry and Albert Haynesworth were assessed unnecessary-roughness penalties, the Falcons accepted the penalty on Landry and the drive ended with Jason Elam's 33-yard field goal.
That punctuated an opening 30 minutes during which the Redskins sank to a new level. Consider:
-- The 21-point deficit (24-3) was their biggest of the season.
-- Three times, Washington committed penalties on third or fourth down that extended Atlanta drives, including two drives on which Atlanta scored.
-- The Falcons tied a franchise record with five first-half sacks.
-- Washington had as many yards in penalties as total net yards (69).
The awful first half behind them, the Redskins appeared to be a different team out of the locker room. Campbell, back directing the offense after leaving late in the first half because of a chest injury, was sharp.
Washington received the ball to start the half and Campbell led the team on a 13-play, 80-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown run on fourth down by Betts, who rushed for a team-high 70 yards and had 4.7-yard average. The drive consumed 7:50 and was the Redskins' longest of the season to end in a touchdown. Place kicker Shaun Suisham's point-after kick cut the Falcons' lead to 24-10.
"Really, we got involved at halftime," said Coach Jim Zorn, whose team is 4-12 in its last 16 games, spanning two seasons. The offensive line "ended up having a little pride in what they were doing."
Atlanta went three-and-out and Campbell went back to work. Washington got the ball with 4:55 to go in the third and the drive continued as the quarter ended. In the third, the Redskins had the ball for 12:45 and outgained the Falcons, 157 to 9.
Campbell delivered again in his second-half rebound, showing patience in waiting for Todd Yoder to come free in the right corner of the end zone for what resulted in a nifty three-yard touchdown pass. The drive was one yard longer than the previous touchdown drive. After another extra point by Suisham, it was suddenly a one-possession game with Washington trailing 24-17.
"I thought in the first half of the game, we were in complete control of the football game," Smith said. "Like in any NFL game, they're going to fight, come out and play hard, and that's what the Washington Redskins did."
Then the Falcons struck right back. They needed just three plays and 1:42 to rebuild a 14-point cushion, getting the 58-yard touchdown from Turner. And now the Redskins still have half their schedule to go.
"We need to win a game," center Casey Rabach said. "We just need to win a game."