Panthers 23, Redskins 20
Joe Gibbs walked into FedEx Field at 5:20 yesterday evening, waltzed past security -- no need to frisk the Washington Redskins' Hall of Fame coach, now -- and was led into the dressing room for his first home game in 12 years. All of the surroundings were new to him, having established his legacy at RFK Stadium, and there was much to get acquainted with.
"It was certainly different for me," Gibbs said after a 23-20 overtime loss to Carolina. "I hadn't been here coaching in this stadium. . . . It was a little bit strange."
Gibbs's offense appeared just as uncomfortable, as the first team slogged through a sloppy first half in soggy conditions in Washington's second preseason game, during which quarterbacks Patrick Ramsey, Mark Brunell and Tim Hasselbeck completed just 16 of 41 passes and threw four interceptions. Ramsey and Brunell, competing for the starting job, did little to impress against Carolina's starters, although Washington's defense and special teams showed positive signs. Overall, there were far more penalties, turnovers and miscues than Gibbs would like; there is significant progress to be made before the regular season begins less than a month from now.
"I think our defense is playing extremely well right now," Gibbs said. "Offensively, just way too many mistakes. . . . We've got some concerns. We're not running the football. We've got a lot to work on."
Washington fumbled two snaps early on -- one that nearly resulted in a safety -- safety Matt Bowen somehow managed to flub a sure interception that deflected into his hands and a Carolina punt struck back judge Steve Freeman at the 2-yard line, a fluke play that pinned the Redskins deep. Unnecessary penalties on punts further hurt Washington's field position, and when the Redskins finally began to move the ball the Panthers struck for two long touchdown passes in the third quarter, and Hasselbeck's interception led to John Kasay's game-winning 52-yard kick.
Only the most hardcore of the team's fans braved the elements to take in all of this. The allure of having Gibbs, winner of three Super Bowls, back on the home sideline succumbed to the relative unimportance of the game and the unrelenting rain that pelted the area. So the largest stadium in the NFL -- one that has swelled to a capacity near 92,000 -- appeared half empty (a crowd of 58,876 was announced), making it impossible to mount a raucous salute for Gibbs.
Ramsey was given the start after Brunell played first Monday. The third-year quarterback was ineffective, completing two nice passes to Laveranues Coles but finishing 4 of 11 for 62 yards with an interception. That came when Ramsey badly underthrew Coles four yards from the end zone in the second quarter, resulting in an easy interception for cornerback Dante Wesley.
"I played about as badly as I can remember playing in a long time," Ramsey said. "I've got to improve."
The performance was similar to Monday night, when Ramsey was 3 of 8 for 12 yards, and, as in that game, Washington's offensive starters mustered only three points. John Hall kicked a 23-yard field goal yesterday with about five minutes remaining in the first half, tying the score at 3 and capping a modest 35-yard drive that was set up by reserve safety Todd Franz's interception of Carolina backup quarterback Rodney Peete.
Ramsey lost control of a snap on each of Washington's first two drives -- tackle Chris Samuels alertly recovered one on the goal line -- and the Redskins' third drive was derailed when Ramsey was sacked by Carolina's bullish end, Julius Peppers, who beat tackle Kenyatta Jones, the replacement for injured star Jon Jansen.
Brunell took over midway through the second quarter and at least bettered his predecessor. He found rookie tight end Chris Cooley, Washington's third-round pick, a few times, including a 24-yard pickup when Carolina left him utterly open, but failed to build any momentum from drive to drive. Carolina put pressure on Brunell in the third quarter, twice dislodging the ball from him, and the veteran was 5 for 14 for 58 yards with an interception before lofting a pretty 61-yard touchdown pass over Darnerien McCants's shoulder to tie the game at 10 with about four minutes left in the third quarter, his lone highlight.
"The focus right now is getting our offense on track," Brunell said. "Getting everybody together, moving the ball, being efficient, scoring some points. We have not done that yet."
The running game provided those two quarterbacks with little relief. Gibbs left his starting offensive line in for the first half, and it played against Carolina's second-string defensive line in the second quarter, yet Washington could not gain yards on the ground. Starting running back Clinton Portis carried five times for 15 yards. Rock Cartwright rushed eight times for 47 yards, but 34 of them came on one carry.
"It's something we'll take a good hard look at and evaluate," Gibbs said of the stagnant running game. "That's one of the things that's bothering us."
Washington's defense was sharper. Carolina, which lost a thrilling Super Bowl to New England in February, was contained in the first half. Linebacker LaVar Arrington made a big stop on former Redskin Stephen Davis (seven carries for 28 yards) inside the 5, rookie safety Sean Taylor forced a fumble (that Carolina recovered) and the special teams contributed with big hits on kick returns, and a blocked field goal.
The Panthers produced two quick drives in the third quarter, however, with Chris Weinke connecting with wide receiver Keary Colbert for touchdowns of 42 and 68 yards. Carolina led 17-10 entering the fourth quarter. Cartwright plowed ahead for 34 yards and running back Sultan McCullough followed that with a 14-yard touchdown dash to tie the game with about 11 minutes to play. Third-string quarterback Hasselbeck engineered a 54-yard drive on the next possession that was capped by Ola Kimrin's 34-yard field goal with six minutes to play.
Kasay answered with a 37-yard field goal with 23 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime.