Mystique-Free Football

In Venerable Green Bay, Redskins Slip Up and Fall, 17-14

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 15, 2007; Page A01

GREEN BAY, Wis., Oct. 14 -- The late John Facenda, the omnipresent NFL Films narrator who was called "The Voice of God," should have described this eyesore. He could have made it sound less like the mistake-laden game it was and more like the heirloom it might have been.

In the mist and gray of a Green Bay day, on a field just cold, damp and slick enough to alter the grip of a football, the Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers played a maddening game of giveaway.

Jason Campbell (17) and Clinton Portis react with dismay as the Packers celebrate in the end zone behind them after Charles Woodson's 57-yard, third-quarter fumble return for a touchdown. The score proved to be the game-winner after the Redskins could not hold on to a 14-7 halftime lead.
Jason Campbell (17) and Clinton Portis react with dismay as the Packers celebrate in the end zone behind them after Charles Woodson's 57-yard, third-quarter fumble return for a touchdown. The score proved to be the game-winner after the Redskins could not hold on to a 14-7 halftime lead. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

Romancing the past is one of the things they do best here, and Jason Campbell and the Redskins were in prime position to seize their own moment of lore at historic Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon. But the ball slipped away, out of Santana Moss's hands, out of Clinton Portis's, until the Packers had emerged with a 17-14 victory.

Quarterback Brett Favre unwittingly tried his best to help, setting the NFL career interception record. He was picked off twice by Redskins safety Sean Taylor, including with 4 minutes 32 seconds left to play. For at least one afternoon, Favre's extended Legends Tour was halted. Beneath the icon-in-training who turned 38 last Wednesday was that old, devilish risk-taker -- unafraid to wager a game for an ego-enhancing, go-long play. His passer rating nosedived to 43.5, and his generational duel with Campbell, 26, failed to emerge in a turnover-prone defensive scrum.

Afterward, a stiff-lipped Joe Gibbs and his players bemoaned losing not only the takeaway game and an opportunity to leap-frog another one-loss NFC team. The Redskins (3-2) also lost three-fifths of an already decimated offensive line -- one held together with surgical tape and Ace bandages since the season began. Right tackle Todd Wade and center Casey Rabach left the game with groin pulls, and rookie Stephon Heyer injured his hamstring in the final minutes.

Depth was at such a premium that Wade, who said he could not move laterally, was sent onto the field for the final snaps because he was the only active lineman left on the roster. The long-term prospects were unclear, but the immediate ramification was that the Redskins surrendered a halftime lead and failed to close the door on a Green Bay team they were one touchdown from possibly putting away.

"The story is, we did the same thing against the Giants," fullback Mike Sellers said. "It comes down to this: We didn't play a full second half, just like against New York."

The game turned irrevocably with just over two minutes left in the third quarter when Green Bay defensive back Charles Woodson scooped up a fumble by Moss and raced 57 yards toward the end zone. Willing him along were 70,761, many in yellow rain-slickers, sitting rump-to-rump on aluminum bleachers and roaring as their beloved Pack took a 17-14 lead and waited for Washington to make a few more mistakes than Green Bay (5-1).

The Redskins did. Portis fumbled at his 9-yard line with 10:50 left in the game. But indicative of either team's inability to end the drama, Packers place kicker Mason Crosby missed his second field goal, a 38-yard attempt that banged off the uprights.

Still, the Packers and their fans paraded out of Lambeau atop the NFC North Division, while the Redskins limped home in search of healthy bodies and the swagger that showed up after last week's 34-3 demolition of Detroit.

Campbell, an admirer of the game's history, had holed up in his hotel room on Saturday night, thinking about his hyped showdown with Favre, like Campbell a product of small-town Mississippi, in the town Vince Lombardi made synonymous with winning. Green Bay is indeed an NFL city unto itself. Less than 100 yards from the stadium, a rambler home advertised in big stencil lettering: "BATHROOM." Use of a family's commode came with the $20 it cost to park on their front lawn.

Where else do 70,000-plus pack an NFL stadium in a town whose population is but 30,000 more? It was in this environment Campbell saw a real opportunity to shine.

"That's all I was doing last night, thinking about it and how great it would be," he said. "To come out like this, to lose like we did, doesn't feel good at all."

Except for the occasional overthrow, he acquitted himself well, finishing with 217 passing yards-- 105 yards of which went to tight end Chris Cooley. He threw and ran for a touchdown. But Moss dropped several catchable balls, Antwaan Randle El did not haul in another, and whatever offensive momentum staked the Redskins to a 14-7 halftime lead was gone by the third quarter.

"We did drop a lot of passes," Gibbs said. "The weather was wet and a little misty most of the game. We work in the weather every day so we have always taken the approach that that is certainly no excuse for us. We have to make the catches."

A visibly shaken Moss took full blame for his gaffe. Tearing up at one juncture, the big-play wide receiver who had been responsible for so many wins, said he never "imagined myself losing a game." He said his first instinct after seeing the fumble on television would "probably be to break my TV."

That remorse typified a locker room filled with players angry at themselves for throwing away a genuine opportunity to come away with a season-defining win.

"It was right there for us," Campbell said. "Just one big play, that's all we needed. I won't lie. Given how we were going and everything that was at stake, this one was tough."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company