-- For a defense that gave up but 13 points and forced four turnovers, with 2 minutes 48 seconds remaining in the game, the Redskins were in trouble. They were 28 yards from giving away the lead to the Arizona Cardinals, an embarrassing loss and their chance to make the playoffs.
Arizona trailed 17-13 with a crucial third and one on the Redskins 28-yard line. Kurt Warner, the veteran Cardinals quarterback, knew exactly where he wanted to throw the ball, and it was at Ade Jimoh, the Redskins' little-used reserve cornerback. On the previous play, Jimoh had been beaten to the inside by Anquan Boldin for a nine-yard gain.
This time Warner tested Jimoh again, throwing to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a screen. Jimoh jumped the play, stuffing Fitzgerald back for a yard loss. On fourth and two, Warner tossed a pitch to the left to running back J.J. Arrington, who appeared to have space for the first down before being tackled by safety Sean Taylor after a one-yard gain.
It was a sequence emblematic of another strong afternoon for the Washington defense, which had little margin for error and remained the primary reason why, with three games remaining, the Redskins are thinking first about Sunday's showdown with the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field and later about playing football in the second week of January.
The strong defensive effort also came on a day when the offense scored 10 points, a problem that had players wondering if a great defensive effort was going to be wasted.
"It happened to us several times this year, where things were not going well for us offensively, and our defense continued swinging," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "They played extremely hard and put us in that position."
After the game, Jimoh dressed carefully, two specks of blood dotting a smiling face. Jimoh had been told earlier in the game by secondary-cornerbacks coach DeWayne Walker to be alert for a screen pass, especially to Fitzgerald, a big, athletic receiver at 6 feet 3, 221 pounds, or Boldin, who finished with nine catches for 114 yards -- nearly half of Warner's passing yards. The decision by Arizona Coach Dennis Green to throw a screen when he needed one yard and had two downs to get it was curious to the Redskins defenders, but Jimoh was not complaining. Nor did he care. He had a play to make, and he made it.
"They have big, physical receivers, and they came at me," Jimoh said. "Coach Walker was going over stuff on the sidelines, telling us about the different looks. They've got big guys, but we don't have little corners. We were given a challenge today. We faced that challenge."
Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams often says the goal of his defense is to make the opposition one-dimensional. The Cardinals are just that, with Green admitting earlier in the week his team's inability to run the football already made them virtually a pass-only team.
"We knew they wanted to get the ball to their big play receivers," said defensive end Reynaldo Wynn. "We knew they weren't going to mix it up, that this was going to be a passing game."
Therefore, the duel between the Redskins' secondary and the Cardinals' passing game would not contain much subterfuge.
"Our scouting report told us what they were going to do," linebacker Chris Clemons said. "They average something like 43 passes per game, so the job was pretty clear."
On the Cardinals' first five drives, they fumbled three times and threw an interception. On his first series, Warner was sacked by Phillip Daniels and fumbled, only to have Arrington recover. Five plays later, in Washington territory, Taylor picked off a Warner pass to end the drive.
On the next two drives, the defense swarmed. Williams believed Warner was susceptible to pressure and combated the Arizona passing offense with uncharacteristic formations, starting the game in a six-defensive back formation and, at one point, using three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs.
Warner was sacked by Pierson Prioleau and fumbled again. Prioleau recovered. On the next defensive series, middle linebacker Lemar Marshall forced an Arrington fumble that Marcus Washington recovered.
"The defense was outstanding," tackle Chris Samuels said.
Warner, who threw 41 times and completed 25 for 255 yards and a touchdown, did not seem overly impressed with the Redskins' defense, more convinced the Cardinals' inability to be diverse with a running game played into Williams's hands.
"They're not doing a lot of different things, but we have to be able to run the football in those situations. We have to keep them off-balance, force them to stay back in coverage," he said. "It's not anything crazy that we haven't seen before, or haven't been prepared for, but it's always going to be tough when a team plays to that part of your game."