Washington Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington chest-bumped cornerback Fred Smoot on the Green Bay Packers' first drive after tailback Ahman Green was halted behind the line of scrimmage. Washington's defense, ranked No. 1 in the NFL despite playing most of the season without key starters, was pumped up for its biggest test this season: Green Bay's high-powered offense, ranked No. 2 in the 32-team league.
The celebrations ended, however, after quarterback Brett Favre exploited Washington's undermanned secondary to give the Packers a 17-0 lead.
Early in the game, it looked as if Favre and his vaunted receivers would carve holes like Swiss cheese in Washington's secondary. Instead, Washington's defensive backs clamped down on Favre, with cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Shawn Springs combining for three interceptions, to keep the Redskins in the game that Washington ultimately lost, 28-14.
"It was definitely a huge test for the defense," said starting safety Ryan Clark, who led the team with six tackles. "In some ways we passed; in some ways we failed."
The secondary looked like it would be a total failure as the Packers used big pass plays -- a few to wide-open receivers -- to lead 17-0 midway through the second quarter. The Redskins surrendered 361 yards overall, after giving up 259 in the first half.
The defense was without safeties Matt Bowen (season-ending knee surgery) and Sean Taylor (inactive because of Thursday's DWI charge).
By the third quarter, safety Andre Lott was forced out with a torn left pectoral muscle, causing Pat Dennis to make his first appearance in more than two seasons.
"I'll go to war with these guys any day," said cornerback Fred Smoot.
"Things didn't go our way, but we kept fighting. The character on this team is unbelievable. Every time somebody goes down, somebody steps up and makes a play."
Washington's defense has been the surprising bright spot in a disappointing season thus far. Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense, has guided a unit with linebacker LaVar Arrington and defensive end Phillip Daniels missing most of the season and linebacker Mike Barrow not playing a game. But the Redskins had not faced an offense as talented or multidimensional as Green Bay's.
Washington's first test came on Green Bay's first drive when the Packers had third and three on their 25-yard line. Tailback Tony Fisher bobbled Favre's pass, caught it and was tackled by Clark, barely making the first down. The conversion allowed Favre to make his first big play of the day. On third and three from the Green Bay 35-yard line, Favre completed a 41-yard pass to Donald Driver to the Washington 24-yard line. Green Bay settled for a 37-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
On Green Bay's second possession, the Packers had a second and 13 from their 40-yard line. Packers wideout Robert Ferguson got behind Springs, and Clark went for a fake, allowing the 6-foot-1 receiver to get free on the left sideline for a 41-yard reception. Five plays later, Green's one-yard run gave the Packers a 10-0 lead.
On Green Bay's next drive, Green converted a short pass into a 48-yard reception. After Walker's nine-yard touchdown grab gave the Packers a 17-0 lead, Green Bay's offense looked like the same red-hot unit of the previous two weeks. In those games the Packers outscored their opponents 79-30 while amassing 914 net yards, with Favre producing four touchdowns and no interceptions.
But Springs cooled off Green Bay -- and gave the Redskins life -- by intercepting a Favre pass with about five minutes left in the second quarter. Springs darted in front of tight end Bubba Franks to grab the pass, fought off 6-2, 273-pound fullback Nick Luchey and used an array of spins and stutter steps to return the interception 28 yards. And Washington went on a seven-play, 24-yard drive to cut Green Bay's lead to 17-7 before halftime.
Washington's secondary made minor but critical adjustments at halftime with a few defensive backs switching responsibilities.
"I always say we have guys who can come in and make plays," said safeties coach Steve Jackson.
"They are all like starters. They are all ready to go in. We got off to a rough start, but guys bounced back pretty well."
Springs's second interception came with about five minutes left, with the Packers ahead 20-7. Springs dived in front of a pass for Fisher and returned it 29 yards to the Green Bay 17. The play set up a 12-yard touchdown catch by Rod Gardner, cutting Green Bay's lead to 20-14 with less than five minutes left.
The Packers had the ball with 4 minutes 46 seconds left, hoping to run out the clock and hold on to the lead. But on second and seven from the Green Bay 20, Smoot shadowed Ferguson to intercept a pass at the Washington 38. After falling to the ground, Smoot did not get up to run with the interception.
"I tried to push myself up with my bad shoulder," said Smoot, who aggravated his injured shoulder in the game, "and realized I couldn't push myself up so I just stayed down."