Against Colts, Donovan McNabb and Redskins offense can't quite muster final rally

Donovan McNabb and Peyton Manning face-off at FedEx Field.
By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 18, 2010; 2:15 AM

Donovan McNabb, one of the preeminent quarterbacks of his generation, has made many a defense look foolish in the closing minutes of games. He has escaped dogged pass rushers, sometimes in dramatic fashion, extending plays in ways foreign to the majority of his peers. He has completed passes against almost impossible odds-his throw to Freddie Mitchell on fourth and 26 in the NFC semifinals in 2004 comes to mind first.

So when the Washington Redskins got the ball back with 2 minutes 13 seconds to play, trailing Indianapolis by three points, McNabb's teammates didn't allow the threat of losing to cloud the task at hand. Their thoughts instead focused on marching down the field, with McNabb front and center, to win, or at least get in position to tie.

"We don't go in the huddle with the mind-set that that's not going to happen," Redskins wide receiver Anthony Armstrong said of the team's belief in McNabb following the 27-24 loss at FedEx Field. "We're always working for that, and we kind of had to take what they gave us."

What the Colts defense gave McNabb was everything in the middle of the field and virtually no room deep, a function of their Tampa-2 scheme, which is designed to keep the action in front of them. Recognizing that coverage, McNabb's first pass of the drive was a five-yard completion to Armstrong to the Washington 43-yard line. The two-minute warning soon followed, and with place kicker Graham Gano's strong leg, the Redskins didn't have all that far to go if they wanted to give the rookie a somewhat reasonable chance.

But that plan went awry when McNabb was unable to elude Colts defensive end Robert Mathis and defensive tackle Eric Foster on second down. Washington immediately called timeout, and, facing third and 10, McNabb tried to hit running back Keiland Williams on a crossing pattern that missed when linebacker Pat Angerer knocked it down. The Redskins' best opportunity came on fourth down, when Armstrong broke away from the secondary to the post, and McNabb unleashed a deep throw that brought the crowd to its feet, sensing that a touchdown could be at hand.

"He's a great player," Colts Coach Jim Caldwell said of McNabb. "He's certainly a big play just waiting to happen."

It didn't in this instance. Armstrong never had a chance. The ball landed well in front of him after he had sneaked between a pair of defensive backs.

After the defense forced a punt three plays later but used the team's two remaining timeouts in the process, McNabb had one more go at it after the Redskins took possession at their 20 with 32 seconds to play. No timeouts left meant no more short plays, so McNabb went for broke on first down, trying to complete a strike to speedy wide receiver Joey Galloway down the left sideline. The pass appeared on its way to settling in Galloway's hands, but Aaron Francisco made a highlight-reel interception by tipping the ball to himself with his left hand while airborne.

"Without a doubt," McNabb said when asked if he considered a victory imminent despite the daunting circumstances. "I thought we had the momentum a little bit. We were able to sustain a good drive and put us in great position to either tie or win."

McNabb was referring to a 12-play possession that covered 92 yards. It began with 8:36 to play and ended with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Williams that drew Washington within three points. McNabb completed 9 of 10 passes on the drive, including a 19-yarder to Armstrong and an 18-yarder to Galloway that moved Washington to the Indianapolis 19. A 14-yard completion to Williams gave the Redskins first and goal at the 5, and for a moment it appeared McNabb would do the honors himself after he scrambled around the right side and into the end zone.

That touchdown, however, was nullified when rookie left tackle Trent Williams was called for holding. McNabb then completed a seven-yard pass to wide receiver Santana Moss, setting up his touchdown throw to Williams down the left sideline.

"I saw a lot of great things today," said McNabb, who finished 29 of 45 for 246 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. "You see a team that just continues to fight and sustain a long drive and get in the end zone, having that confidence coming back out. On the last two drives, we weren't able to be successful, but I think those are something we'll be able to capitalize on next time."

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