A Fitting, Frustrating End

Redskins' Slide From Contention Is Echoed in Last-Second Loss

The Redskins complete their second-half slide with a 27-24 loss to the 49ers, finishing the season with an 8-8 record.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 29, 2008; Page E01

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 28 -- Even though quarterback Jason Campbell inspired confidence in leading a late drive to tie the score against San Francisco, the Washington Redskins knew things could still unravel for them.

A long slide in the second half of the season contributed to a sense of uneasiness along the sideline Sunday afternoon as the 49ers took possession of the ball with a little more than a minute left in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park, and the Redskins hoped the outcome of their final game would be different than many others recently.

But it was a familiar, frustrating story for the Redskins, who watched as the 49ers celebrated place kicker Joe Nedney's game-winning 39-yard field goal as time expired in their 27-24 victory in front of 67,519.

"You kind of get tired of thinking about what you could have done," Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss said. "You just have to let it all boil down to what's happened. If you got it done, you got it done. If you didn't, you've got to kind of move forward. You can't sit back and dwell on what you could have done, because you didn't do it. And that's the situation we've been in and we're ending in."

After Campbell's two-yard touchdown run, San Francisco quarterback Shaun Hill made timely plays to put his team in position for the game-winning field goal. Hill, a former Maryland standout, and the 49ers began work at their 27-yard line with 1 minute 2 seconds on the game clock. He completed three passes for gains of 9, 19 and 24 yards as San Francisco reached Washington's 21-yard line.

With a first down and only 16 seconds to play, Hill spiked the ball to stop the clock and then took a knee. Interim head coach Mike Singletary, who will return to the 49ers next season, used San Francisco's final timeout with three seconds to play. Washington followed with a timeout and then Nedney drilled the kick that capped the Redskins' collapse in the game and season.

"There was no doubt at all," Hill, who completed 21 of 30 passes for 245 yards and one touchdown, said of the winning drive. "I don't think any of us had any doubt. We practice that all the time. We feel we are a good offense, and this is what good offenses do."

Washington (8-8) squandered a 10-point halftime lead Sunday and its surprising 6-2 start in the 2008 season, going 2-6 after the midpoint of its schedule. Despite playing its starters in an effort to finish with a winning record instead of using the game as an opportunity to evaluate many rookies, Washington, which was officially eliminated from the hunt for an NFC wild-card berth in Week 16, could not hold off San Francisco (7-9).

Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, last week reaffirmed rookie head coach and play-caller Jim Zorn will lead the team in the 2009 season, saying Zorn has made progress during his first season. An awful second half is not what Zorn envisioned or wanted, but his optimism and confidence has not waned, he said.

"We have a lot to think about for our group," Zorn said. "And my hope, and I believe this, is that our group stays a group and learns to fight again next football season."

It could be helpful for the 2009 Redskins if the defense figured out how to finish better. Although the unit ranked fourth overall entering the game, the Redskins' defense often struggled in the final quarter late this season. Too often, opponents made plays to extend drives.

The failure of the defense to deliver down the stretch was among the glaring problems in losses to Baltimore, Cincinnati and San Francisco. "Why does it keep happening? That's a good question," defensive end Demetric Evans said. "I wish I could answer it, but I really don't have the answer. We've got teams that just been executing against us, for whatever reason."

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