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Alive, but barely
ST. LOUIS -- It wasn't subtle. Even though the Washington Redskins were preparing to face the NFL's worst pass defense, the offensive line sent a short but extremely blunt message to the coaching staff last week:
Call more running plays.
And yesterday at the Edward Jones Dome, coach Joe Gibbs and his staff acquiesced. The line and running backs Clinton Portis and Rock Cartwright delivered, wearing down the St. Louis Rams defense for a season-high 257 rushing yards in the Redskins' 24-9 victory.
"We want to be a rushing football team -- that's what we loved to do, and that's what we've been begging to do," center Casey Rabach said. "And the coaches came to us and said, 'Let's do it. Let's run more.'"
In breaking a three-game losing streak that included three blown second-half leads, the Redskins again led by 10 points in the second half and again showed signs of being unable to finish the deal. But a key fumble recovery by Renaldo Wynn and stellar games by Portis (27 carries, 136 yards) and Cartwright (nine carries, 118 yards) kept the Redskins' slim playoff hopes alive.
The Redskins (6-6), who rushed 40 times and attempted only 22 passes, are .500 or better after 12 games for the first time since 2001. They trail the NFC East-leading New York Giants and wild-card leader Tampa Bay by two games.
"It's been a tough, tough month for our guys to go through what they've gone through," Gibbs said. "We have a lot to play for. How it will turn out, I don't know. But it's fun to have a chance and know you can control some things."
From the first play of the game -- Portis around the right side for an 8-yard gain -- it was clear to assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel that his blockers would control the line of scrimmage. Even though the Redskins continue to have problems in short-yardage situations, they were able to reel off yards in chunks, including Portis' 47-yard touchdown to start the scoring and Cartwright's runs of 52 and 28 yards.
"We made a commitment to our offensive line," Bugel said. "They pleaded with us to put the onus on their shoulders, and we said, 'OK, we're going to hammer it and run it 70 times if we had to.'"
Leading 10-7 at halftime on Portis' second-longest run as a Redskin and John Hall's 38-yard field goal (on a drive that had a first-and-goal from the Rams 5), the Redskins muddled along until the end of the third quarter. Starting at their own 31, the Redskins moved 69 yards on seven plays, with the key gains being Brunell completions of 29 yards to tight end Robert Royal and 30 yards to Santana Moss (on third-and-9 from the Rams 41). On the second play of the fourth quarter, Portis dove in from a yard out.
Game over? Come on, these are the Redskins.
Following a three-and-out by the Rams, the Redskins took over at their 6. Brunell was dropping back when Portis' right shoulder knocked the ball out of his hands. Brunell dove to bat the ball out of the end zone for a safety. Suddenly, it was 17-9, there was 11:55 remaining and the Rams would get the ball back.
"That's the stuff that's happened to us all year in the fourth quarter when we were ready to put the game away and then have a stupid turnover," H-back Chris Cooley said.
It was Brunell's only blemish in a second half that saw him go 8-for-8 for 100 yards and a touchdown.
On the Rams' second play following the safety, Steven Jackson and Ryan Fitzpatrick fumbled the exchange, and Renaldo Wynn recovered -- only the Redskins' fifth fumble recovery this season.
Operating with a short field, the Redskins ground the game away. Portis and Cartwright ran eight consecutive times for 41 yards, and Brunell threw 4 yards to Chris Cooley for a touchdown with 5:50 remaining.
Portis and Cartwright became the first two Redskins to go over 100 yards in the same game since Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson gained 116 and 100 yards, respectively, against Houston in 2002.
"We had the mind-set to be physical today, and I think our line was more physical than they were," Cartwright said.
The defense wasn't bad, either. St. Louis' first four drives (18 plays) netted only 4 yards. On the fifth drive, Fitzpatrick -- the Harvard rookie making his first start -- led the Rams 86 yards on 11 plays to tie the game on a 7-yard scramble.
Fitzpatrick was 21-for-36 for 163 yards. Not helping the rookie was an anemic run game that gained only 49 yards on 17 carries.
"We overcommitted to the run, and we put more in the run front than they were able to block," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said.
The Redskins next play at Arizona (4-8). Their goal is to get to the final three games -- against Dallas, the Giants and Philadelphia -- with something on the line.
"We don't have a choice but to go out and do our best at this point," linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "Guys are scared of missing the playoffs, scared not being able to play for something beyond just your pride and dignity."
By David Keene
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