- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

Put the plaudits, playoff berths and Pro Bowl selections on hold.

Cancel the plane and hotel reservations for the Super Bowl.

The march of the Washington Redskins‘ defense back to respectability hit a Big Blue wall in the second half yesterday.

Center Casey Rabach said the suddenly stagnant offense bears the blame for the Redskins’ collapse after halftime. That, however, isn’t how the defense sees it, not after a two-touchdown halftime lead over the winless Giants at home turned into a 24-17 loss.

“It’s a reality check,” said middle linebacker London Fletcher, the only member of the defense who owns a Super Bowl ring. “Sometimes you can get comfortable, start feeling like, ‘OK. We’ve arrived.’ In actuality, we’ve still got a long ways to go.”

It was the Giants who had a long way to go at halftime. They trailed 17-3 and had generated just five first downs and 109 yards. They had converted just two of seven third downs.

“We did exactly what we wanted in the first half,” Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said.

The Giants’ numbers in the second half tell quite a different story: 14 first downs, 206 yards, 7-for-9 on third down and, of course, 21 unanswered points.

No wonder Williams channeled Charles Dickens and termed the game “a tale of two halves.”

The ugly second half destroyed the unexpectedly great expectations that filled FedEx Field at halftime.

The Redskins squeaked past the Dolphins in the opener at home and upset the defending NFC East champion Eagles a week ago. A 3-0 start was in their grasp heading into this week’s bye.

And then it simply disappeared.

“For whatever reason, we didn’t come out in the second half with the same mentality,” Fletcher said. “We’re not good enough right now to relax. I understand it’s a 16-week season. Three-and-0 doesn’t get you in the playoffs. We lost a game against a division opponent at home, so you’re disappointed — especially when we had a big lead. They just outplayed us in the second half.”

There’s no argument here, no matter how much Rabach blamed himself and the offense.

The Giants held the ball for two-thirds of the 30 minutes in the second half, but the big plays by quarterback Eli Manning, receiver Plaxico Burress and tight end Jeremy Shockey against the Washington defense were as responsible for the Redskins’ defeat as the offense’s failures.

“We had ‘em down 17-3, and we came back and gave ‘em 21 points,” said cornerback Carlos Rogers, whom Burress victimized for the game-winning, 33-yard touchdown catch with 5:32 left.

“There were no passes on my side all day. I hate to give up that one pass there,” he said. “I was just trying to go for the ball. But I should have made the tackle, bottom line.”

Instead, Rogers went for the strip and missed the tackle on the bigger Burress, and then neither he nor safety Sean Taylor could catch up before the receiver was in the end zone.

Rogers said the Giants adjusted smartly at halftime by changing their routes to fit the passes between the linebackers and the secondary. Williams said they just made the plays.

“We’d been very, very good at forcing people to kick field goals,” said Williams, whose red-zone defense was the NFL’s best the first two weeks. “We didn’t force them to kick field goals tonight. Their plays on third down, they were earned. We were challenging. They weren’t gifts where we were soft and let Eli do those things.”

Now, Williams and Co. are forced to re-evaluate, especially with the offensively potent Lions next up Oct. 7.

“The Giants were the best team we’ve played so far at the skill position,” Williams said. “And now we’ve got to get ready for a track meet possibility when Detroit comes in here in two weeks.”

And the Redskins are no longer quite on the fast track back to being the top-10 defense they were before last season.

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