DENVER -- The play was developing perfectly, exactly like Joe Gibbs had drawn it up and just like the Washington Redskins had run it so many times in practice.
The situation: The Redskins trailed Denver by two points with 69 seconds remaining. Washington had just driven 94 yards to score on Mark Brunell's 11-yard touchdown pass to Chris Cooley and were a 2-point conversion away from forcing overtime.
Brunell rolled to his left. The pass protection was ideal. And David Patten, split out to the right, got the Denver defense to bite on his fake to the corner and ran across the back of the end zone.
But just as Brunell threw, Denver linebacker Ian Gold threw his hands up and deflected the pass, which fell incomplete, handing the Redskins their first defeat -- a 21-19 Broncos win yesterday at a soaked Invesco Field.
"We've worked so hard on that sucker and we would complete it in practice all the time," assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel said.
Brunell's take on the play: "It was exactly what we wanted."
"It was straight-up luck," Patten said. "He was Johnny-on-the-spot. I was coming across the middle scot-free."
For the first month of the season, crunch time had been Redskins Time -- three wins by a combined six points. But they couldn't come up with another miracle comeback; they trailed 21-10 entering the final quarter.
Nonetheless, Washington (3-1) remains atop the NFC East this morning, joined by the 3-1 Giants, who were off this weekend.
The failed 2-point conversion ultimately ended the Redskins' hopes, but myriad missed opportunities put Washington in a second-half hole.
A first-quarter fumble led to a Denver touchdown.
A false start penalty erased a Nick Novak 54-yard field goal.
A Redskins field goal was blocked for the second straight week.
A blocked punt by Chris Clemons netted only a field goal.
And a draft pick the Redskins gave up -- in the Clinton Portis-Champ Bailey trade -- netted Denver the dynamic Tatum Bell, who had 34- and 55-yard touchdown runs.
"We had a lot of very critical plays," Gibbs said. "You never lose on one play -- there were a bunch of them."
The first 2-point play to go against the Redskins came in the third quarter. Trailing 14-10, the Redskins pinned Denver at its own 7-yard line. Pressured by Renaldo Wynn, Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer appeared to fumble the ball. He picked it up and was tackled by Ade Jimoh for a safety.
But the call was overturned on Denver coach Mike Shanahan's challenge when referee Peter Morelli cited the "Tuck Rule."
"I couldn't see them overturning it but they did," Gibbs said. "They called it, they reviewed it, they reversed it."
Said Wynn: "It was a fumble and that type of play, if anything, should be inconclusive and not [show] enough evidence to overturn."
Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said the Redskins' coaches in the press box told him it was "50-50" the call would be changed.
"But we had other opportunities so it didn't come down to that one play," Williams added. "We can't allow those long plays on defense."
The first long play allowed by the Redskins came on Denver's opening drive. Following a Portis-Brunell botched exchange, Bell ran 34 on a fourth-and-1 play.
"Our guys called the play out and we had two guys at the point of attack and missed the tackle," Williams said.
After the Redskins answered with a 13-play, 72-yard drive to tie the score on Brunell's 2-yard pass to Mike Sellers, Denver drove 78 yards to lead 14-7 on Plummer's 5-yard pass to Ashley Lelie.
From there, the Washington defense forced five straight three-and-outs.
Denver's offensive production was limited to Bell's long runs. The Redskins outgained Denver 447-257. Brunell attempted a career-high 53 passes, Cooley had a career-high eight receptions and Clinton Portis' return to Denver resulted in 103 rushing yards -- but Washington still found itself down 11 points after Bell's second touchdown, which came with 6:27 remaining in the third quarter.
"We were missing tackles and once he got into the secondary, he had one guy to beat," linebacker Warrick Holdman said. "Both of those runs were designed like that. We knew what was coming and didn't execute."
The Redskins now head to Kansas City and the Chiefs (2-2) will present the same kind of problems Denver did offensively.
"You can't make as many mistakes as we did -- missed tackles, blocked field goal, penalties, and win a game on the road," Williams said. "That's the bottom line."