On a day the Washington Redskins' defense finally showed fire and aggression, the team's explosive offense suffered a meltdown with six turnovers at Veterans Stadium today. The result was a stunning 35-28 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles--a team with one of the least productive offenses in the NFL.
Nor was it just the six turnovers--including three interceptions and two fumbles by quarterback Brad Johnson. The Redskins' special teams continued their poor play, allowing Philadelphia's Allen Rossum to return one kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown and run another back 86 yards.
In the end, two penalties against Washington's defense allowed the Eagles an opportunity to win the game. With the Redskins leading 28-27, the Eagles got the ball back with 5 minutes 49 seconds left after cornerback Al Harris stripped Albert Connell of the ball and returned it to midfield.
On third and eight, rookie quarterback Donovan McNabb's pass was intercepted by safety Matt Stevens, who returned the ball deep into Eagles territory. But penalty flags flew and after the officials huddled, it was ruled that Redskins cornerback Mark McMillian's face-mask penalty away from the ball negated the interception.
The Eagles got to replay the down, and a defensive holding call against linebacker Shawn Barber ensured a first down. Running back Duce Staley gained 25 yards on two carries, and Eric Bieniemy gained another 18, including an 11-yard romp up the middle for the game-winning score with 3:17 remaining.
"You're not going to beat anybody when you turn the ball over the number of times we did and have the number of penalties we did," Redskins Coach Norv Turner said. "It's amazing it was a seven-point game and we had the chance to stay in it as long as we did."
After bolting to a 4-1 start this season, the Redskins have lost three of four games. Remarkably, with today's loss by the New York Giants, Washington remains tied for the NFC East lead with New York and Dallas, at 5-4. The loss also closes the Redskins' mark at Veterans Stadium in the 1990s at 1-9.
While Turner credited Philadelphia's blitzing, physical defense with a good game, he made plain: "The issue is us. The issue is us."
Today, turnovers and penalties were the Redskins' undoing, as the defense held McNabb, making his first NFL start, to just 60 yards passing and kept Staley in reasonable check through the first half.
The defense's forward progress, however, was little consolation to the Redskins, who knew that the score would have been far more lopsided had it not been for McNabb's inexperience and a number of drops by Eagles receivers.
"There was nothing we could do," wide receiver Michael Westbrook said of the offense's transgressions. "Take a gun and shoot yourself in the foot: We might as well have done that. That's the type of day we had." Added defensive end Kenard Lang: "I don't want to be in this situation. I was in it last year. It feels like we're 0-and-7 again. It's sickening."
Still, despite squandering a 21-10 first-half lead, the Redskins had two chances to win in the final six minutes. But Harris's theft from Connell, which was ruled an interception, and two penalties were costly.
After a two-point conversion following Bieniemy's touchdown made it 35-28, Johnson converted a fourth-and-10 play with a pass to tight end Stephen Alexander and drove the Redskins to the Eagles 28 in the final two minutes, before a fourth-and-four passing attempt ended with Johnson on his back, the victim of an Eagles blitz.
"At times I felt like I was able to sit in the pocket and things were fine," Johnson said. "There were times I was pressured, had the couple fumbles, guys in my face. But overall, that's the way the game goes. . . . We did some good things. It's just the turnovers were costly."
McNabb completed 8 of 21 throws. Johnson threw for more than five times as many yards--completing 18 of 33 passes for 313.
For the second straight game, the Redskins got off to a blazing start, needing just three plays and 1:32 to score on a two-yard hop by running back Stephen Davis (25 carries for 122 yards and two touchdowns).
Philadelphia made it inside the Washington 30 on five of its first eight possessions. But out of that, the Eagles managed three field goals.
Johnson's first fumble came when the ball slipped out of his hand as he pulled his arm back to pass. Later, he said the ball was slicker than usual. Turner said he had never seen Johnson do anything like that. The Eagles failed to capitalize on the possession, however, and punted.
Philadelphia eked a field goal out of the next turnover. Up 21-10, Johnson fired a pass at Westbrook. The ball zipped through his fingers, getting tipped in the process, and cornerback Troy Vincent grabbed it, returning it to the Washington 11.
Johnson was sacked four times. A hit by Mike Mamula forced one of Johnson's fumbles, in the third quarter. Philadelphia drew within 21-16 on the 20-yard field goal that resulted.
The Redskins ran four plays and gave the ball away again; this time, on a fumble by Connell.
The Eagles took their first lead with just eight seconds left in the third quarter. After scrambling 12 yards up the left side of the field, eluding Lang and backup defensive end Anthony Cook, who took over after Marco Coleman suffered a neck injury in the first quarter, McNabb handed off to Staley on the Washington 20. He turned up the right side of the field, as linebackers Derek Smith and Barber got in each other's way, and ran in for the score. A two-point conversion by McNabb made it 24-21.
Johnson's next pass, intended for fullback Mike Sellers, was picked off by linebacker Mike Caldwell. The Eagles padded their lead with another field goal.
Johnson needed just two throws to move the Redskins 91 yards on the next series. Both passes--for 48 and 43 yards--were caught by Westbrook. The Redskins, however, didn't score again.
"As far as special teams, I don't know what's going on over there," Westbrook said. "Our defense, I think, is finally coming together. But offensively, we've just got to go and not make mistakes. We're just killing ourselves."
A HALF-DOZEN TURNOVERS
The six turnovers committed by the Redskins yesterday against Philadelphia, and the outcome after each:
3:13 left -- Brad Johnson fumbles at Redskins 45-yard line, recovered by Eagles' Greg Jefferson. Eagles eventually punted.
1:26 left -- Johnson's pass intercepted by Troy Vincent at the Redskins 40. Eagles convert a field goal.
9:56 left -- Johnson sacked and fumbles at the Redskins 10, recovered by Hollis Thomas at the 8. Eagles convert with a field goal.
6:55 left -- Johnson completes pass to Albert Connell at the Eagles 38, where he fumbles. Eagles' Mike Mamula recovers at the 40. Eagles eventually punt.
0:08 left -- Johnson intercepted at the Redskins 41 by Mike Caldwell, who returns it to the 29. Eagles convert with a field goal (early in the fourth quarter), taking a 27-21 lead.
5:49 left -- Johnson intercepted by Al Harris at Eagles 33 and returned to the 50. Eagles convert with a touchdown and a two-point conversion for a 35-28 lead.
Three Redskins fumbles, three Redskins interceptions lead to 17 Philadelphia points.