- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Almost as an afterthought last week, Jim Zorn predicted the Washington Redskins‘ game against Pittsburgh would feature more brawn than beauty.

“It’s going to look bad for a while,” he said.

The Redskins’ coach was absolutely correct. It got ugly … for his team.

Unable to capitalize on two early breaks, keep quarterback Jason Campbell upright, collect a sure interception or stop the Steelers on third down, the Redskins crawled into their bye week with a 23-6 loss before a crowd that included an estimated 30,000 Terrible Towel-waving Steelers fans.

After the Redskins kicked two field goals in the opening five minutes despite prime field position, the Steelers flummoxed their offense and took advantage of a blocked punt and interception.

“The thing I know, when you play a team like this, when you have the little opportunity, you have to take advantage of them,” Zorn said. “We didn’t, and we paid for it.”

Said running back Clinton Portis: “We wanted to play smash-mouth football. But we got smashed.”

D.C. native Byron Leftwich replaced an injured Ben Roethlisberger at halftime and completed seven of 10 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.

Wearing all burgundy uniforms for the first time in a while, the Redskins couldn’t build on their best start since 2000 and couldn’t keep pace in the NFC East with the streaking New York Giants. The Redskins (6-3) could be two games out of the NFC East lead when they play host Dallas on Nov. 16.

The Redskins’ first two drives ended in field goals; their last 10 ended with six punts, a blocked punt, the end of the first half, an interception and a turnover on downs at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line.

“They were relentless,” Campbell said of the Steelers. “They wouldn’t bend at all, even when we got down to the goal line. It was a good test to play them, and now we’ve seen a lot of the things we need to improve on.”

The Redskins’ 221 yards were their fewest since Week 1 and well below their average of 364.3 a game. Pittsburgh sacked Campbell (23-for-43 for 206 yards) seven times, and he threw his first two interceptions of the season. Portis’ streak of 120-yard games ended at five with only 51 yards on 13 carries.

Roethlisberger suffered an injured right shoulder late in the first half, making way for Leftwich. And at that point, the Steelers took control of the game.

On the fourth play of the second half, Leftwich threw 50 yards to Nate Washington, who had gotten behind Fred Smoot. Three plays later, a fastball from Leftwich to Mewelde Moore converted a third-and-7 from the Washington 8. Willie Parker’s touchdown extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 16-6 (Jeff Reed missed the extra point).

The Redskins moved into Pittsburgh territory on the ensuing drive. But Portis couldn’t corral Campbell’s pass, and Deshea Townsend intercepted it at the Pittsburgh 21. It was Campbell’s first interception in 250 attempts this year and snapped a franchise-record streak of 271 dating to last year. It was the first by the Redskins in 380 attempts and 12 consecutive games.

Pittsburgh drove 77 yards, making it a 17-point game with 11:58 remaining on Leftwich’s 5-yard throw to Santonio Holmes. The Steelers converted three third downs on the drive - 16 yards to Holmes on third-and-15, 13 yards to Moore on third-and-4 and 13 yards to Ward on third-and-8.

Pittsburgh converted five of its six second-half third-down opportunities.

“One of the things that happened to [Leftwich] was that he just read and threw,” Zorn said. “He can get the ball out and throws it so hard. It was a little different than what Ben was doing, holding on and waiting for a guy to break open. Byron was just shooting it in there, and he had some success.”

The Redskins flubbed two great opportunities in the first quarter.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called for a surprise onside kick to start the game, but the Redskins’ Alfred Fincher recovered at the 41. The Redskins couldn’t convert, settling for Shaun Suisham’s 44-yard field goal.

Pittsburgh’s first drive ended with a Roethlisberger interception when Andre Carter batted the pass into the air and Cornelius Griffin caught it at the Pittsburgh 30 for his second career pick.

Again, the Redskins couldn’t find the end zone, and Suisham hit from 43 yards.

“We had such great position early in the ballgame and to go three-and-out and kick a field goal, three-and-out and kick a field goal was super frustrating,” Zorn said.

That was it offensively for the Redskins. In the second quarter, they gained 7 yards.

In the last five games, the Redskins have only one first-half touchdown - a 3-yard drive - in 32 possessions.

Pittsburgh cut the lead in half with Reed’s 35-yard field goal, a score set up by a 43-yard pass interference call on Carlos Rogers, the Redskins’ longest penalty of the year.

On the Steelers’ next drive, Rogers dropped a sure interception that he could have returned for a touchdown.

“It was the exact situation that we discussed in practice on Friday - exactly,” Zorn said. “It was an opportunity for us to get the interception before worrying about running or anything else. That was a great read and a great break on the ball, and this will be a good lesson for him, and we’ll re-state it. But it had already been stated.”

The Steelers flipped the field late in the half when Andre Frazier blocked Ryan Plackemeier’s punt, giving Pittsburgh possession at the Washington 13.

“We got beat on the left side, and that created a problem,” Zorn said at halftime.

Unlike the Redskins, the Steelers took advantage of the opportunity. Facing a second-and-21 after a holding penalty on Max Starks, Roethlisberger threw passes of 9 yards to Holmes and 14 yards to Hines Ward. Roethlisberger went up the middle to score a 1-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left in the half to give the Steelers a 10-6 lead.

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