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Ailing Griffin makes surprise return
Cornelius Griffin said Friday his injured hip almost certainly would keep him from playing against the San Diego Chargers yesterday.
The Washington Redskins defensive tackle had not played since the first quarter of the Oct. 30 loss to the New York Giants. But when the inactive list was released before kickoff, Griffin's name wasn't on it.
Griffin played part-time in the first half, ending a Chargers series by batting down a Drew Brees pass on third down. He returned to regular duty after tackle Joe Salave'a re-injured a foot in the third quarter.
"My hip just started feeling a little better the last couple of days, and if I could get back out there, I was going to get back out there," Griffin said. "It doesn't feel any worse than it did before the game. I was glad I was [active] when Joe went down. He picked me up for so long. It was my turn to pick it up for him."
Safety Ryan Clark said Griffin gave the defense a lift.
"I was excited that Griff came back, but that's the kind of guy he is," Clark said. "Every time on the sideline he had a heat pad on his hip flexor trying to keep it warm, but he played as hard as he could."
So had Salave'a, who played with a painful foot condition since late in the Oct. 16 loss to Kansas City. Salave'a had been improving: he participated in full practices Wednesday and Thursday for the first time since he was hurt.
However, on a routine first-down play on the opening series of the third quarter, Salave'a went down to his knees and stayed there. He was helped to the sideline by the team's medical personnel and will have another MRI exam on the foot today.
"It hurts pretty bad," Salave'a said, wincing. "I'm just hoping the MRI doesn't show any new injury."
Rogers comes through
Carlos Rogers received the most extensive playing time of his rookie season, and he responded by making his first interception and seven solo tackles.
Three Redskins cornerbacks -- Rogers, Walt Harris and Shawn Springs -- picked off passes in the fourth quarter, the first time this season any Washington cornerback had intercepted a pass. However, none of the interceptions resulted in points for the Redskins.
Harris started but was benched in favor of Rogers in the second quarter after allowing completions of 11, 16, 6 and 14 yards. Rogers committed an illegal contact infraction in the fourth quarter, and the Chargers scored the tying touchdown one play later. Rogers' play, though, was solid overall.
Rogers' interception came at the goal line with 11:11 left and kept the Redskins ahead 17-10.
"I was impressed with his toughness in run support and his hands," safety Matt Bowen said. "He looked like a veteran out there."
Springs' interception appeared to be the play of the game. He caught a pass deflected by Marcus Washington with 1:04 remaining, giving the Redskins the ball at the San Diego 31.
The Redskins seemed perfectly positioned for a field goal that would break a 17-17 tie and give Washington a victory. A holding penalty on Casey Rabach pushed the Redskins back, however, and John Hall missed a 52-yard field goal.
In addition to the three interceptions, the Redskins also recorded three sacks.
Washington sacked Chargers quarterback Drew Brees in the first quarter, then combined with Ryan Clark to sack Brees again two plays later. It was the first time all season the Redskins had multiple sacks on one possession.
No turnovers ... finally
The Redskins didn't commit a turnover for only the second time in 11 games.
The Redskins recovered both of their fumbles, and quarterback Mark Brunell did not throw an interception.
The team's plus-3 turnover ratio was their best of the season and likely will move them up the league standings (they are now minus-10).
"That's progress," coach Joe Gibbs said. "We've worked extremely hard on it and found ways to put special emphasis on it. Doing that, we have a much better chance to win football games. We've been up against it because we have turned it over so much this year."
Fourth quarter 'O' woes
Much has been made of the Redskins' leaky fourth-quarter defense during their three-game losing streak. The defense, however, hasn't gotten much help from the offense.
The Redskins have been outscored 30-7 in fourth quarter and overtime in the last three games, including 16-0 by the Chargers yesterday.
The offense embarked on 12 fourth-quarter drives in that span, resulting in one touchdown, one missed field goal, one turnover, one failed fourth-down conversion and eight punts.
"We're doing everything we can to move the ball and take our best shot, play by play," Gibbs said.
The Redskins have been outscored 51-37 in the fourth quarter this season and 134-99 in the second half.
"The defense fought and was physical and was everything the coaches asked of them, and they got some turnovers," quarterback Mark Brunell said. "We didn't do our job."
Moss returns to end zone
Redskins receiver Santana Moss broke a four-game scoring drought with a 22-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Moss caught four passes for 35 yards in the first half, but he made only two receptions for 30 yards in the second half, when the Chargers' safeties paid more attention to him.
H-back Chris Cooley also was held in check, catching only three balls -- his lowest total in a month.
"It was probably a coverage thing," quarterback Mark Brunell said of Cooley's statistics. "His number is always called. We realize how important he is to our offense, and sometimes it doesn't happen. The whole game we saw a lot of coverage toward Santana, and that's why Taylor got the ball."
Taylor Jacobs caught four balls (for 44 yards), his best total since last season's Cincinnati game and one catch shy of his career high.
Reserve running back Rock Cartwright ran 13 yards for a touchdown on his only carry of the day, giving the Redskins a 17-7 lead with 3:14 left in the third quarter. Cartwright ran through a huge hole opened by left tackle Chris Samuels and left guard Derrick Dockery.
"That hole was big enough to drive a truck through," Cartwright said. "I thought it was our game at that point."
Different ex-coach, same result
For the second consecutive week, a former Redskins coach came into his old stadium and dealt his old team a blow toward the playoffs. A week ago, it was Oakland's Norv Turner who tasted victory in the home of the organization that fired him. Yesterday it was Marty Schottenheimer's turn.
Schottenheimer coached the Redskins for only the 2001 season. He rallied a team that lost its first five games to wins in eight of its final 11. It wasn't enough to keep his job; owner Dan Snyder and the coach had a difference in philosophy, which led to Schottenheimer's dismissal.
"I don't have any special satisfaction out of this," said the Chargers coach, who made a point of greeting former players Jon Jansen and LaVar Arrington after the game. "There were not any particular moments of anxiousness or nostalgia because I wasn't here that long. But as you can imagine, I am so proud of our football team, and I know how disappointed Joe [Gibbs] is with the outcome of these particular last three weeks."
Schottenheimer didn't leave Washington empty-handed four years ago. Snyder was still on the hook for the remainder of his four-year, $10 million contact.
"We knew he was the coach here," Chargers guard Mike Goff said. "I am not sure of the terms of how he left. Even though he never said anything, we knew it was a big game for him. It is good to win one for Coach."
A very Merriman
Shawne Merriman, in the midst of a stellar rookie season, got to play his first professional game in his home state. The former University of Maryland linebacker, who was the 12th pick overall in the draft, bought about 65 tickets and had about 200 family and friends in FedEx Field.
"This is my home, and to come back to the area and get a victory was big," said Merriman, who prepped at Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro. "I always dreamed about playing here with the Redskins or playing here against the Redskins."
Merriman also defeated his role model, Arrington. The two became friends while Merriman was at Maryland, and the rookie wears No. 56 in honor of the Redskins linebacker. Arrington even went to visit Merriman on Saturday.
On the sidelines
Redskins H-back Mike Sellers (ribs), receiver James Thrash (hamstring), running back Ladell Betts (knee) and defensive end Nic Clemons (knee) were listed as inactive because of injuries.
Defensive tackle Aki Jones, linebacker Robert McCune, safety Omar Stoutmire and third quarterback Jason Campbell also were listed as inactive. Offensive tackle Roman Oben, a product of Gonzaga High School, was listed as inactive for the Chargers because of a foot injury.
By David Keene
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