In 75 quarters of football under Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense, no team had ever marched 90 yards to score on the Washington Redskins. After suffocating opponents for the better part of 19 games dating from the start of the 2004 season, the concept seemed audacious, but that is precisely what the Seattle Seahawks accomplished Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field, doing so with the game in the balance.
After holding up the offense for more than a season and keeping the Redskins in many games that could have been blowouts, the defense finally wilted in the fourth quarter Sunday. Washington went on to win, 20-17 in overtime, but Seattle's 14-play scoring drive will not easily be forgotten by coaches and players, and it is something they will work to avoid, starting Sunday in Denver.
The Redskins surrendered two drives of at least 85 yards in the second half against Seattle; no team traveled that distance in 2004, and only once under this regime had Washington allowed two drives over 80 yards in the same game (Week 3 against Dallas last season). The 14 plays Seattle ran to score its final touchdown matched the most any team has put together against this defense.
Given the dominance of the unit, that long drive seemed to be an anomaly, which is precisely how the Redskins want to keep it.
"We're going to talk about it as players first of all, before we meet with the coaches," safety Matt Bowen said. "That's not the way we play defense. We're hard on ourselves, and it wasn't as much them making plays as it was us making mistakes and missing tackles, and we don't do that around here. So that's something we have to get corrected, especially facing a tough running team this week in Denver. We don't do that stuff."
Several players said they were more disorganized during that drive, scrambling to make substitutions and get 11 players on the field. An already thin secondary was further hurt by the loss of safety Sean Taylor, who was on the sideline with a shoulder injury (cornerback Walt Harris and safety Pierson Prioleau missed the game with injuries). But beyond any personnel issues, players cited mental errors for their difficulties and believe that they can work to prevent them in practice this week.
Seattle's drive also displeased the defensive coaches, who hold the defense to a high standard.
"We had two long drives there that we didn't finish well in the second half, our guys felt like defensively," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We gave up four big plays, which resulted in a lot of yardage there."
Overall, the Redskins took a less aggressive approach than usual, considering the inexperienced defensive backs and Seattle's precision West Coast attack, which can turn a five-yard slant into a 50-yard gain (Denver has similar capabilities). Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was not under much duress late in the game, and he and running back Shaun Alexander converted big gains.
"We weren't as aggressive as we normally are," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "Everybody noticed that, and we noticed that, but [Williams] was doing it for a reason. Gregg doesn't do anything to hurt us; he was doing it for a reason and we've just got to do whatever he calls and stop them."
Hasselbeck hit Joe Jurevicius for 17 yards on the first play of the 91-yard drive, then soon faced third and 16 from the Seahawks 20. He hit Darrell Jackson for 15 yards, and each team called a timeout on fourth and one. Seattle came out of the huddle in a bunch formation, stacked heavily to one side, but the Redskins did not adjust and there was no one on the right side of the defense to prevent Hasselbeck's 10-yard waltz to prolong the possession.
"We got confused a little bit," Daniels said. "One of our linebackers should be to the right. We didn't respond very well."
Alexander then rumbled for five and nine yards before busting down the left sideline for 17 more, taking the ball to the Redskins 24. "That's the kind of running back he is," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "We'll stop him for a two-yard loss and a one-yard loss, then all of a sudden he'll break one." Five plays later, the ball was in the end zone, with Hasselbeck finding Jackson from the 6. Hours of film review awaited, with ample corrections to be made.
"I'm not really worried about this because I know we'll respond next game and step up," Daniels said. "We knew they were going to make some plays, but the little things we did to hurt ourselves, we've got to eliminate those and we'll be fine."