The Washington Redskins' offense has displayed the firepower of a broken water gun, with piddling production from star tailback Clinton Portis, leading to a swoon in Coach Joe Gibbs's return to the NFL. But the Baltimore Ravens have also been offensively challenged despite the bruising brilliance of tailback Jamal Lewis. Since both teams' strong suits have been defense, particularly against the run, it wasn't surprising that the scoring highlights last night came in only fits and starts.
Although Washington's defense intercepted passes on three straight Ravens possessions, the Redskins' offense managed only a field goal and a lone touchdown as Baltimore beat the Redskins, 17-10, at FedEx Field.
The Ravens, who have the league's worst passing offense, scored in a flourish during the third quarter without an offensive possession. In a span of less than three minutes, safety Ed Reed forced a fumbled on a blitz and recovered it for a touchdown, then made a key block on a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown by B.J. Sams.
The loss dropped Washington to 1-4, the Redskins' worst start since 2001, when coach Marty Schottenheimer's team lost five straight.
"It was a very good defensive team, but we didn't play well," said Gibbs, who lost for a fourth straight time, his longest skid since starting 0-5 as a rookie head coach in 1981. "We have to find a way to make our offense click."
Gibbs added: "I feel bad. Our defense played its heart out. They kept us in the game. We have to hang together."
The mood in Washington's locker room seemed one more of befuddlement than depression after the offense mustered only 107 net yards. Portis finished with 53 yards on 25 carries, his fourth straight game falling short of 100 yards.
Portis declined to comment to reporters after the game. Wide receiver Rod Gardner, also was reticent. "I'm speechless right now," said Gardner who had one catch for nine yards. "I really don't have anything to say. I don't know what to say."
Washington's offense was so sparse that for most of the game the 90,287 fans at FedEx Field roared at first downs as if they were touchdowns. Washington's three interceptions occurred in the second quarter and put the offense in Ravens territory each time. Yet the Redskins parlayed the turnovers into only a 10-0 lead at halftime.
The Redskins' defensive players pointed out that Baltimore's offense scored only a field goal. "The defense isn't making the plays when it counts late in the game," said cornerback Fred Smoot.
The Redskins contained Lewis for much of the game by gang-tackling him near the line of scrimmage. But Lewis came alive in the third quarter, and finished with 116 yards on 28 carries. The Pro Bowl runner chewed up the clock during the waning moments of the game to seal the outcome. Baltimore got the ball with 4 minutes 42 seconds left, and Lewis rushed four consecutive times for 28 yards as fans solemnly trickled out of the stadium.
"He found little holes in our defense," said linebacker Antonio Pierce, "and started to get his confidence up."
In the first quarter, both teams unleashed watching-paint-dry offenses, as Washington produced two first downs to Baltimore's one. The crowd acted excited merely at running plays that weren't stopped near the line of scrimmage or passes that fell within an arm's length of receivers. But Washington, which entered the game with only three defensive turnovers, intercepted three passes and converted two of them for points -- a field goal and a touchdown to take a 10-0 lead at halftime.
From the start, the game was headed for a defensive battle -- or an offensive struggle.
On the game's first play, Lewis dashed toward the right side but was quickly halted by a swarm of Redskins for a three-yard loss. Lewis ended the half with only 19 yards on 10 carries.
The score was knotted at zero with 8:50 left in the half, when the Ravens had the ball on third and 14 from their 42-yard line. After the Redskins inserted six defensive backs, Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller zipped a pass up the middle that careened off tight end Daniel Wilcox and flipped high into the air. Smoot was the fortunate recipient, snagging the ball and racing down the right sideline to the Washington 28-yard line. But Baltimore halted the Redskins' drive, and the Redskins were forced to settle for John Hall's 26-yard field goal with 5:42 left.
The Ravens sputtered again on their next offensive series after they got to the Redskins 42-yard line. On second and eight, cornerback Shawn Springs looked like the intended receiver, intercepting Boller's pass almost in full stride.
The Redskins' offense wasn't much better after that turnover, so the defense took over again late in the second quarter. The Ravens had the ball on third and five from their 30-yard line. Boller was pressured into throwing the ball off the wrong foot. The ball deflected off wide receiver Kevin Johnson and Washington safety Todd Franz made a basket catch near the ground before sprinting toward the left side to Baltimore's 8-yard line.
The Redskins finally scored a touchdown on second and goal from the Baltimore 7-yard line. Brunell faked a handoff and rolled left before firing a touchdown pass to Chris Cooley to give the Redskins a 10-0 lead with 26 seconds left in the half.
Halfway through the third quarter, the Redskins had a third and seven from their 36-yard line. Reed blitzed from Brunell's blind side, and as the lefty quarterback slung his arm forward to throw, Reed batted the ball to the ground. Reed picked it up after a few bounces and raced toward the end zone. Tailback Ladell Betts tried to grab Reed to no avail, and the Ravens cut the Redskins' lead to 10-7.
"We let it slip away," Brunell said. "Turnovers will do that."
The Ravens didn't need their offense to score again because of Sams, one of the league's top punt returners. Sams fielded a punt at the Baltimore 22-yard line and, helped by a fake reverse handoff, created an opening. Sams sprinted toward the right sideline in front of Redskins defenders. Washington's last hope was linebacker Khary Campbell, who dove at Sams's feet shortly before he the cornerback entered the end zone.
The crowd grew quiet and the Ravens fans who dotted the stadium in their purple jerseys screamed gleefully. The Ravens were suddenly up 14-10 with 6:40 left in the third quarter despite the offense not scoring a touchdown.