By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 7, 2009
Of all the excruciating moments for the Washington Redskins this season, Sunday's overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints certainly ranks near the top. For much of the cold afternoon at FedEx Field, the reeling Redskins outplayed the undefeated Saints, only to be undone by a handful of bizarre plays that allowed the Saints to force overtime and win it 33-30 on Garrett Hartley's 18-yard field goal.
"I was thinking we were sitting pretty good in the game," Coach Jim Zorn said. "But this high-potent offense, they maintained their composure and drove the ball down. It's hard to stop that offense."
The Redskins (3-9) squandered a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in their third consecutive loss, missed a chip-shot field goal in the final two minutes of regulation that would have provided another double-digit cushion and committed a turnover (fullback Mike Sellers fumbled on the third play of overtime) that led to Hartley's game-winner for the Saints (12-0) in front of those who remained in an announced crowd of 84,520.
In recent weeks against the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Saints, the Redskins failed to sprint to the finish after setting the tone throughout, which is disturbing, players said.
"Three weeks where you're up in the fourth quarter and lose all three of them -- that's tough," center Casey Rabach said. "I've never been a part of anything like that. That one's beyond me.
Said quarterback Jason Campbell: "I just don't know what to say anymore. I thought we had it. Game over. Done. But this keeps happening."
The Redskins wasted a 455-yard effort (New Orleans had 463 total net yards) on offense against the Saints' defense, which is run by former Washington coordinator Gregg Williams. Second-year wide receiver Devin Thomas's first 100-yard, two-touchdown performance was among the highlights, and Campbell was not sacked. Washington's ongoing inability to finish games well -- combined with a bizarre sequence in the closing moments of the first half in which the Saints scored a touchdown off a long fumble recovery after a Redskins interception -- provided just enough of an opening for New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.
After place kicker Shaun Suisham missed a 23-yard field goal attempt late in the fourth, Brees quickly directed a 33-second, five-play, 80-yard drive that ended on his 53-yard touchdown pass in the middle of the field to uncovered wide receiver Robert Meachem, who scored his first touchdown after he stripped safety Kareem Moore following Moore's second-quarter interception. "All I was thinking about was trying to get nice field position for us and maybe even score," Moore said. "I tried to spin out of [Meachem's grasp], he used my momentum against me and he just took it from me."
The long touchdown pass to Meachem was Brees's second -- he also teamed with wideout Marques Colston for a 40-yarder in the second -- in which free safety LaRon Landry was burned on a double move. Suisham's failure to convert the field goal attempt, however, was the biggest blow to the Redskins, some players said.
"We've all got to do our job," defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said. "I can't really say anything. We've got to do what we're here to do."
The same could be said for Landry, who is among many in the Redskins' secondary who have struggled in deep coverage against double moves this season. The Saints noticed.
"We worked on some double moves [and] Colston got behind Landry in the first half, Meachem got behind him in the second half. Those were big plays," New Orleans Coach Sean Payton said. "We felt like these safeties on this team were going to poach some of those in-cuts, and certainly they did, and the quarterback made some plays behind the defense."
Harley's point-after kick tied the score at 30 with only 1 minute 19 seconds left. The Redskins took over at their 25 and then Campbell had his only bad play in what was otherwise his best performance of the season (30 for 42, 367 yards, 3 touchdowns, 111.9 passer rating). With Campbell looking for tight end Fred Davis along the right sideline, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma jumped the route and intercepted the ball.
"Vilma ended up making a great play," Campbell said. "I may have underestimated his speed a little."
The Saints took over at their 46 after an eight-yard return and moved the ball to Washington's 40. Hartley missed a 58-yard field goal as time expired to send the game into overtime. With as poorly as the Saints had played, based on their high standards, they breathed a sigh of relief and were re-energized.
"All you wanted was a chance," said Saints safety Pierson Prioleau, who counts the Redskins among his former teams. "That field goal miss was our chance."
With 1:56 on the game clock, Suisham missed wide right. "It's as difficult as it gets," said Suisham, who made field goals from 32, 28 and 21 yards. "The New Orleans Saints coming here, guys playing an unbelievable game. Sure, I'm disappointed. I wish I could get back out there. The game's over, we lost. It's difficult. Geez, I sure wish there was something I could do. Just apology, really, to teammates, coaches, Mr. Snyder, fans. I feel terrible."
He had company in Sellers.
The Redskins won the coin toss and received to begin overtime. Washington started on its 20 and gained a first down on its first play when Campbell and top wide receiver Santana Moss combined on a 10-yard reception. Campbell then threw a short pass to Sellers near the right sideline that gained three yards before Sellers was upended by cornerback Chris McAlister. Although the ball came out when Sellers hit the ground and McAlister recovered, the play appeared to be over because the official blew his whistle.
But the replay assistant challenged that Sellers was down before the ball came out.
The play was reversed after a lengthy review and New Orleans took over at Washington's 37. New Orleans got the ball to Washington's 1-yard line and Hartley delivered at the 8:31 mark.
Not surprisingly, Sellers took it hard.
"It's not the fact that I thought I was down, it's the fact that as soon as I was hit the whistle was blown and that was it. That killed the play," Sellers said. "Every time the whistle is blown the play is always dead. But now the whistle is blown [and] the play counts? I don't understand that. But nothing is falling our way this whole season. I just don't understand this."