Anatomy of a collapse

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 20, 2010; D1

Immediately after Houston Texans place kicker Neil Rackers made a game-winning 35-yard field goal, many Redskins players struggled to accept the disappointing developments for them in a 30-27 overtime loss Sunday at FedEx Field.

So much had gone well for Washington throughout most of a game in which they collapsed late.

"Just to be at home, and having the crowd behind you and getting up like we did, you just didn't expect this," tight end Fred Davis said. "You feel like you got the win sealed, so it was exhausting. Just emotionally exhausting."

Having squandered an opportunity to begin Coach Mike Shanahan's time with the team 2-0 was the cruelest blow. "It hurts," outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "It stings, man. We let this one go. We blew it. Could have easily been sitting here 2-0, very happy, regardless of what the score is. But right now, it hurts. We're 1-1."

Washington squandered a 17-point, third-quarter lead in losing to Houston (2-0), wasting a 426-yard passing performance from quarterback Donovan McNabb, who carried things offensively, with the team rushing for only 18 yards.

Houston Coach Gary Kubiak leaned on quarterback Matt Schaub (497 yards passing, three touchdowns) and wide receiver Andre Johnson (12 receptions, 158 yards, one touchdown) to beat Shanahan, his longtime friend, former coach, employer and mentor.

On fourth and 10 from the Washington 34-yard line, Schaub and Johnson teamed on a 34-yard touchdown pass with 2 minutes 3 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Rackers's successful point-after kick tied the score at 27-27.

"Obviously, it's a great athlete making a play," Shanahan said. "He [Schaub] threw it up there; had a lot of pressure on him. I thought the quarterback did a good job of just kind of sitting back there, buying for some time, just kind of threw it up in the air. You've got a great athlete that has an excellent vertical jump and made a big play when you had to."

Playing without injured defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth (ankle), the Redskins limited running back Arian Foster to 69 yards and a 3.6-yard average. In a Week 1 victory over Indianapolis, Foster rushed for 231 yards and three touchdowns.

For Shanahan and his offensive coordinator, his son Kyle who formerly served as Kubiak's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, it was a frustrating outcome, in large part, because the Redskins failed repeatedly down the stretch - especially on special teams. Late in the fourth quarter, the Texans blocked place kicker Graham Gano's 29-yard field-goal attempt that would have extended the Redskins' lead to 10 points.

And then in overtime, Gano missed a potential 52-yard game-winner wide after Kubiak called a timeout to ice him. Gano sent the ball through the uprights on an initial kick, but Kubiak called timeout just in time. "I just wanted to make sure we made them line up and do it again," Kubiak said.

Television cameras showed Gano smiling as he walked to the sideline after the timeout to speak with special teams coordinator Danny Smith. On the first possession of overtime, Kubiak punted instead of permitting Rackers to attempt a 52-yard kick.

"It's fine, you know, it's the way it is," Gano said of Kubiak's successful decision to call the timeout. "The operation was good. I felt real good about the first one, hit the first one real well. I think maybe I got a little more relaxed on the second one. I thought I was going to make it. Maybe next time not relax as much."

But with McNabb sharp after struggling in the season-opening victory over Dallas, the Redskins did not envision Gano playing a major role in the outcome. McNabb completed 28 of 38 passes and for the first time in his 12-year career had at least two passes of 62 yards, teaming with wide receiver Joey Galloway and tight end Fred Davis on 62-yard receptions as Washington built a 20-7 halftime lead.

Washington went ahead, 27-10, late in the third quarter when McNabb and tight end Chris Cooley combined on a 22-yard touchdown. McNabb's statistics through the third quarter: 18 of 23, 340 yards, one touchdown and a 133.2 passer rating.

"It doesn't matter if I pass for four or five hundred yards or if I pass for 100," said McNabb, who had his third career 400-yard passing game. "It's about winning and that's what the bottom line is."

The Redskins failed to deliver a knockout blow and Schaub kept pushing. He threw a short touchdown pass as time expired in the third quarter, Rackers made a 43-yarder early in the fourth and then the Schaub-Johnson connection helped Houston extend the game to overtime.

Safety Reed Doughty was in coverage against Johnson, who outleaped Doughty and came down with the ball in the end zone. "Obviously, you want to make that play to win the game, you want to be the hero," Doughty said. "He was instead. It's one of those plays that's there's nothing a coach can tell you.

"It's not [being] out of position. There's nothing he [a coach] can tell you except, 'Make the play.' Get my hand in between the ball. Ah, jump up. Create havoc. Maybe if he outjumps me, hit the ball out when he's coming down instead of trying to hit it at the high point, cause he's obviously going to outjump me."

Houston won the coin toss and elected to receive the ball to start the overtime.

Kubiak decided not to go for the long field-goal try to win the game "because there was a little breeze coming that way on that end. If you miss that, they have to go 20 yards to beat us. I just felt good about it."

Following Gano's miss, the Texans took possession of the ball on their 42-yard line. Backup safety Chris Horton replaced strong safety LaRon Landry (bruised hand) on the drive and had a costly offside penalty and also was beaten by tight end Joel Dreessen for a 28-yard gain to the Redskins 18-yard line.

"Crucial part of the game, man, I've got to see the ball," Horton said. "I got put in the game and I'm expected to make those plays. It hurts, giving up two crucial plays. That's something I've got to live with."

Three plays after Dreessen's long reception, the game was over on Rackers's kick.

"We knew we had a tough challenge and we had an opportunity to come in and win the game and we didn't," said Portis, who rushed for two touchdowns but had only 33 yards and a 2.5-yard average. "And the same way we had to forget about Dallas after we won, we got to forget about Houston. We can't come out and change this . . . so tomorrow it's on to our next game."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company