- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2006

ST. LOUIS — It was a loss so upsetting because it came in overtime, so galling because it featured another blown lead and so disappointing because of the numerous miscues that many Washington Redskins remained in the locker room long after yesterday’s 37-31 defeat again the St. Louis Rams, trying collectively to comprehend what had exactly happened.

Defensive ends Andre Carter, Renaldo Wynn and Phillip Daniels stared at the statistics and wondered how a defense that played so well against New Orleans last week could be so wretched against the Rams, allowing 579 yards and four scoring drives of 80-plus yards.

“Too many points, too many yards, too many big plays,” Daniels said. “And, man, the missed tackles.”

Chris Cooley, Rock Cartwright and Ladell Betts marveled at how the Redskins’ offense could rush for 176 yards and go 4-for-4 in the red zone but still lose.

“We got into a shootout, and they made one more play than we did,” Betts said.

And offensive linemen Chris Samuels, Derrick Dockery and Randy Thomas lamented how a 28-14 lead had turned into the Redskins’ 10th defeat of the season, including their fifth when leading at halftime.

“This is the worst,” Thomas said.

Probably so. Rams running back Steven Jackson concluded his all-world day when he plowed through middle linebacker Lemar Marshall’s arm tackle and outran free safety Sean Taylor for a 21-yard touchdown run with 8:27 left in overtime.

Jackson’s score was the final insult for a Redskins defense that allowed the most yards since Joe Gibbs’ return in 2004.

Playing without outside linebacker Marcus Washington and then losing cornerback Shawn Springs with a broken shoulder blade in the first quarter, Gregg Williams’ defense was abused by Jackson (252 all-purpose yards), quarterback Marc Bulger (388 passing yards, four touchdowns) and Isaac Bruce (nine receptions, 148 yards).

St. Louis compiled 534 yards from the second quarter on, scoring on drives of 85, 83, 82, 69 and 87 yards.

“We had a 14-point lead, and we can’t let teams hang around because it again came back to hurt us,” Daniels said. “We let them get their confidence back, and they were able to show themselves that they could come back.”

The Redskins’ offense scored touchdowns on four of their first seven drives, and Betts ran for more than 100 yards for the fifth consecutive game. But Betts fumbled inside the Rams 30-yard line late in regulation, and although it didn’t lose the game for Washington, it did cost the Redskins a shot at victory.

“It’s definitely a tough loss for me,” Betts said. “You never want to look at one play as the reason you lose a game, but we were trying to score and put the game way. To fumble in that situation is tough.”

When St. Louis caught fire in the second half, the Redskins sputtered, reverting to their inconsistent ways. Washington has not won consecutive games since Weeks 3 and 4, and at 5-10 for the season, will lose at least 10 games for the third time in four years.

“It’s frustrating, period,” receiver Santana Moss said. “A lot of things are frustrating when you lose, and it outweighs everything good you did. We didn’t do enough. We left a lot of stuff on the field.”

But 31 points should be enough in the NFL, and it’s usually enough for a Gibbs-coached team. In his career, the Redskins are 76-8 when they score 28 or more points.

The Redskins led 28-14 after Betts’ 7-yard run in the third quarter. But the Rams (7-8) fought back to tie the game on two touchdown passes by Bulger and assumed the lead with 7:57 remaining.

But a rare Redskins takeaway after Jackson fumbled turned into a 52-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham that tied the score at 31-31 with 3:21 left.

On the Redskins’ next possession, Betts was in open field deep in Rams territory when he was stripped by St. Louis free safety O.J. Atogwe. The Rams recovered at their own 13.

“He got a hold of my left arm, and then he reached around and punched the ball out with his right hand,” Betts said. “A good play on his part and a bad play on my part.”

Said Atogwe: “I was the last man standing. All week in practice, we’ve been harping on getting strips and forcing turnovers. When I grabbed him, I was blessed to be able to reach around and punch the ball from the other side.”

The Rams then drove to the Redskins 23, but Jeff Wilkins’ 41-yard field goal as time expired was wide left. St. Louis got the ball first in overtime but stalled at midfield.

Facing a long road to field goal range, the Redskins couldn’t convert a second-and-3 or a third-and-1 when Betts gained 2 yards and T.J. Duckett was held for no gain.

Jackson won the game five plays later, keeping the Rams’ playoff hopes afloat.

“You need to convert a third-and-1 in overtime,” Redskins associate head coach Al Saunders said. “We did a great job most of the day running the football, but we didn’t in that key situation.”

And the Redskins didn’t do anything well defensively, regardless of the situation. The previous mark for futility under Williams was 452 yards allowed against the Indianapolis Colts in October. St. Louis had eight plays that gained 20 or more yards.

“The communication in the huddle was, somehow, someway, we have to make one play, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble to just hang in there,” Carter said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t do that.”

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