Third downs help bring down Redskins in loss to Rams

The Redskins fall behind early, come back to take the lead in the third quarter, but fade down the stretch in a 30-16 loss to the Rams.
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 27, 2010; 12:27 AM

ST. LOUIS - The final indignity came when the game was all but decided, yet it perfectly captured an afternoon of frustration. The Washington Redskins trailed the St. Louis Rams by 11 points with just under three minutes remaining. They needed some sort of intervention, not to mention two scores, to have any sort of chance. With the Rams and rookie quarterback Sam Bradford facing third and 20, they figured to get the ball back at least once.

Except, just like most of the day, when the Redskins needed a stop, they couldn't get one. Bradford, in his third NFL game, dropped back and found veteran wide receiver Mark Clayton on the right side. DeAngelo Hall, Washington's veteran cornerback, couldn't make the tackle. And when the play was over, so was the game, because Clayton picked up 25 yards, and instead of the ball coming back to the Redskins, the Rams retained possession, momentum and the lead. They got the first down - and the win.

"It just felt like we couldn't make the play we needed to make, and that's frustrating," Hall said. "That's frustrating, especially when you got a prideful group that prides themselves on making plays and helping the offense and helping the team win games. I don't feel like we did that today."

When the Redskins needed to make a play - namely, on third down - the numbers were stark by the end of a dismal 30-16 defeat to the lowly Rams. Washington allowed St. Louis to convert seven of 16 third downs - a 44 percent rate. That might not seem like an overwhelming percentage, but so many of those plays came in crucial situations. And in a solemn locker room afterward, player after player said such a statistic wears on a defense.

"It tires the defense out," veteran defensive lineman Phillip Daniels said. "It fatigues you. . . . You can't let teams just drive down the field. You got to get off the field on third down. You got to do the little things to do that. I mean, it's a lot riding on getting off the field."

Such as the outcome of this game. Take the Rams' first drive of the second half. Washington had just kicked a field goal to take its only lead of the day at 16-14. When St. Louis moved into Washington territory, the Redskins broke up two passes to force a third-and-10 situation from the 34. The result: Bradford found tight end Daniel Fells down the seam for a 12-yard gain. First down. The Redskins then made two more stops, setting up a third-and-7. The result: a completion by Bradford to receiver Mardy Gilyard in the right flat, the first catch of Gilyard's NFL career, a seven-yard pickup. First down.

On the next play, running back Kenneth Darby scored from 12 yards out. The Rams never trailed again.

"It's extremely frustrating, because you worked so hard to get them in some third and mediums-to-longs," linebacker London Fletcher said. "We had them in those situations but didn't get them off the field, allowed them to keep their drives going. Really, third downs was the big difference for us when they got their go-ahead touchdown."

Though the season isn't a quarter old, getting opposing offenses off the field is already a problem for Washington. Last week, in an overtime loss to Houston, the Redskins yielded 29 first downs. Through two weeks, they had allowed 53 - tied with Arizona for most in the league. After giving up 24 more Sunday, they are all but certain to have yielded more than any other team.

But that's not just a stat.

"The longer you're on the field," defensive end Adam Carriker said, "the more tired you're going to get."

So, by the time the fourth quarter arrived, the Redskins were starting to wear out. The Rams had the ball for 9 minutes 39 seconds in the third quarter alone. When they had to grind out the game in the fourth, they could. They converted a third-and-1 early in the fourth to extend a drive that led to a field goal, then a fourth-and-inches on their next possession to set up another field goal.

By the time Clayton made his catch against Hall, and a third-and-20 disadvantage turned into just another first down, the Rams were well on their way to holding the ball for 34:50 - nearly 10 more minutes than the Redskins.

Get off the field on a third down or two, and those numbers - and maybe the result - could have been different.

"It's a big factor," linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "We got to do a better job getting off the field. If that's rushing, if that's covering, we got to do something as a team to get off the field."

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