By Jason Reid
Monday, November 16, 2009
The hugs, high-fives and congratulatory back slaps began well before time expired in the fourth quarter Sunday at FedEx Field, and who could blame the Washington Redskins?
After what several players said often felt like several seasons' worth of frustration, controversy, despair and failure in their first eight games, the Redskins finally had a reason to rejoice and reveled in the moment even before it was official, celebrating a 27-17 victory over the reeling Denver Broncos in which they ended a losing streak at four games.
"It's been a long time," quarterback Jason Campbell said. "It's been a long time since we've had something really good like this happen. It makes you feel good to see guys as happy as you see them [in the locker room] right now, and just everyone feeling like we accomplished something together. And we did."
Washington (3-6) closed well for a change this season, relying on the determined running of backup back Ladell Betts (26 rushes, 114 yards, one touchdown) behind a makeshift offensive line -- and benefiting from the inept performance of Broncos No. 2 quarterback Chris Simms -- to outscore Denver, 13-0, in the fourth quarter and win by more than eight points for the first time in 25 games under Coach Jim Zorn.
Many in an announced crowd of 85,247 joined the Redskins in full-on party mode after Betts's one-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes 49 seconds remaining helped give Washington its first lead at 24-17. And the good times were really rolling after place kicker Shaun Suisham connected on his second field goal of the quarter with 1:15 remaining.
"It's not all about me, it's really a team effort, and the guys up front blocked and did a great job," said Betts, who has provided a spark in the running game since top back Clinton Portis suffered a concussion early in a Week 9 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. "With Clinton out, everybody is just trying to do everything we can to help. The guys up front stayed on their blocks, I read 'em and we did it together."
All that remained was for the Redskins' defense to complete its second-half shutout -- which seemed a foregone conclusion with Simms at quarterback. Behind Simms, who replaced injured starter Kyle Orton to open the second half, the Broncos' offense produced only 36 yards and three first downs. The Broncos (6-3) turned the ball over on downs during their last two possessions in their third consecutive loss. Simms went 1 for 6 for seven yards and was sacked twice in Denver's final eight offensive plays.
When Simms's last pass fell incomplete in the middle of the field, Zorn's face was creased by a wide smile, which has been almost as rare an occurrence as Redskins victories. Washington still is at the bottom of the NFC East, Zorn is not expected to return next season and the team faces major roster questions regardless of who occupies the coach's office -- but those are matters for another day.
On Sunday, the Redskins were winners and they planned to savor their accomplishment, albeit briefly. "We've had a desert experience," Zorn said. "Very arid, if you will, the last few weeks. So to be able come off with a win, you almost don't know how to feel. Yet we remember very quickly. We sure like winning."
It definitely beats the alternative, with which the Redskins have become more familiar this season. "Nobody in here is going to lay down," said defensive lineman Lorenzo Alexander, who forced a fumble that Washington recovered in the first quarter to end a Broncos drive. "No matter what anyone [on the outside] thinks, we have way too many guys in here, as far as character guys, to ever let that happen. I know a lot of guys in here and I just know we won't do that. Nobody is going to lay down. We have too many guys who are going to pull guys up."
The Redskins absorbed two potential knockout blows early and didn't flinch. Orton and wide receiver Brandon Marshall combined on 40- and 75-yard touchdown passes in the first quarter.
Marshall, who was wide open by several yards on both scoring plays, beat cornerback Carlos Rogers on a double move for the first touchdown. On the second deep ball, there were major communication problems.
Rogers also was beaten by DeSean Jackson on a double move for a 57-yard touchdown in the loss to Philadelphia. After Marshall burned Rogers, coaches benched him for the remainder of the game in favor of Fred Smoot. "The way the season's going, defensively you can't do too much wrong," Rogers said. "Offense wasn't scoring no points, and it's a burden on us, but it happens. I'm here to support the team. If I play, I play. If I don't, I can't do nothing about that."
Campbell (17 of 26, 193 yards, one touchdown) threw a short touchdown pass to backup tight end Todd Yoder in the first quarter and the Redskins were still in the game, trailing 14-7 at the start of the second quarter. And fortunately for the Redskins, their secret offensive weapon returned to the lineup: punter Hunter Smith.
Sidelined last week because of a recurring groin problem, Smith again delivered as the Redskins succeeded with some special teams trickery in the second quarter to stun the Broncos and briefly pull even at 14-14. Washington scored its second touchdown on Smith's 35-yard pass to Mike Sellers with 6:39 to play.
The Redskins appeared to move into position to give Suisham a chance at a 53-yard field goal, but they changed their alignment before the snap -- showing a potential fake with Smith lined up to receive the snap -- and called their second timeout because only 10 men were on the field. "We were pretty frustrated about that," Zorn said.
Out of the break, the Redskins again lined up in a field goal formation -- and again switched up. This time the ball was snapped to Smith, who rolled to his right as Sellers, who started on the right side, looped around to the left and down the field uncovered.
Smith made a nice throw to Sellers for the touchdown, which was Smith's second on special teams this season. "It's not that we were trying to trick anyone, we had a legitimate play," Smith said. "Whether they knew how we lined up or not really didn't matter. All we were trying to do was run a play. They couldn't game plan for that."
The Broncos got a short field goal to take a three-point lead as the teams went into the locker rooms. In the first two quarters, Orton went 11 for 18 for 193 yards with two touchdowns and a 134.7 passer rating. But he suffered an ankle injury, limped off at halftime and did not return. Simms went 3 for 13 for 13 yards with a costly interception in the fourth.
Apparently looking for Marshall, who was well covered in the end zone, Simms threw a poor pass that DeAngelo Hall intercepted and returned 30 yards before he pitched the ball to LaRon Landry, who gained another 13 yards. The Redskins took over at their 40-yard line and Betts carried the load on the drive that ended with the go-ahead score.
Devin Thomas made a big play on the drive, eluding four tacklers after catching a short pass on third and three from Denver's 32 and gaining 27 yards to set up first and goal at the 5.
There was a lot for the Redskins to feel good about. Just not for very long, they acknowledged. "We're going to be enthusiastic, at least for a day," Zorn said. "And then we got to get back to work."