Redskins' London Fletcher proves size doesn't matter on defense

Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, right, comes down on Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy for one of his 12 tackles Sunday against the Eagles.
Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, right, comes down on Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy for one of his 12 tackles Sunday against the Eagles. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

PHILADELPHIA -- In the locker room, with another loss only a few minutes old, there was no snarl left on London Fletcher's face. He still had some grass on his jaw, blades from the Lincoln Financial Field turf that had not yet been washed off. Eye black smudged his cheeks. A giant bandage pinned ice to his right knee, and he endured the same routine he had endured 194 previous times in the NFL, yanking the tape from his joints, heading to the shower.

For the 96th time, Fletcher went through this routine after a loss, this one 27-24 to the Philadelphia Eagles. And before the eye black was gone, before his burgundy uniform pants were exchanged for jeans, the 34-year-old middle linebacker of the Washington Redskins handled it this way: "Next week, we'll be playing hard."

Many Redskins have said many similar things throughout what has become a lost season, one that will become the eighth time in 10 years that they fail to post a winning record. With Fletcher, though, it's different.

"He is our leader," said defensive end Andre Carter, selecting a word nearly every Redskins defender used Sunday. "You have to listen."

There are any number of things Fletcher couldn't do Sunday against the Eagles, namely prevent Eagles running back LeSean McCoy from scooting into the end zone on a game-tying two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. He could not stop the Eagles from marching 66 yards on their final possession, far enough to kick a field goal that gave them the lead with 1 minute 48 seconds left.

But he did just about everything else. Game statisticians credited him with 12 tackles, 11 of them solo hits -- a number that could change when the film is reviewed, one that is sure to keep him near the top of the NFL leaders. One of them was for a loss. He deflected a pass. He forced Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to quicken his delivery.

The season is lost. Fletcher is not.

"For us, as far as having passion for the game, it's him," said Carter, who leads the Redskins with nine sacks. "Not saying we don't have passion, but as a [middle] linebacker, the engine of the defense, that's something that you feed off of. I just admire him. He's taken me to a level that I never thought I'd play at."

He has not, however, been able to take the rest of the Redskins with him. He hears often about what he is not (big and fast), and hears much about what he is perceived to be (undersize and overachieving). Sunday, though, he again showed -- in what could easily have been just another game in just another season in which he'll end up home for the playoffs -- what he is.

"A professional," cornerback Carlos Rogers said.

Fletcher is past the midway point of his 12th season, and the next game he sits out will be the first. According to the Redskins, he is about to lead his team in tackles for the 11th consecutive year. He understands the NFL better than perhaps anyone in his locker room. And yet, playing for a losing team on the road against a playoff contender, he showed some of the optimism that allows him to show up to work each week, each day.

"I thought, once we got the lead on them, I felt like this was going to be a little bit different than last week," Fletcher said. "I never really had that feeling like it's going to slip away from us."

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