SEATTLE — Washington fans had seen this one before: Critical situation, a desperate opponent with a long way to go, and the Redskins leaving a whole lot of open space behind the defense.
In Week 3 in Dallas, with the Cowboys facing third-and-21 from their 30, Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett called for an eight-man blitz. Tony Romo beat the blitz to complete a 30-yard pass that keyed a winning drive.
So there might have been some expletives hurled at Beltway televisions Sunday when Haslett made the same call in a similar situation. With the Seahawks down three, facing fourth-and-5 from their 23, there was once again no nickel package. The Redskins crashed everyone into the box, and this time it worked, as Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was swarmed for a 9-yard loss. Moments later, Graham Gano kicked a field goal that capped a 23-17 comeback victory.
"When Haslett did that everyone was probably like, 'Why can he keep calling this play after what happened in Dallas?' " Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "It doesn't matter. We just have to execute it.
"I love Haz, man. He's a gutsy guy. He doesn't care about anything that happened in the past. Regardless of the outcome, regardless of what happened in the past, he's confident in his calls and he's confident in his players to get the job done."
In a game in which the defense often failed to get the job done, it was ultimately challenged by an unexpected development: the late arrival of the offense, which put together a 16-point fourth quarter. Having been let down by the offense plenty in recent weeks, Redskins defenders wanted to make sure they brought this one home.
"The offense did what they did, and they gave us the chance to close it out," nose tackle Barry Cofield said. "It feels great to have a real team effort like that."
Before the comeback, it seemed as though missed defensive chances would again cost the Redskins, as the 28th-ranked Seahawks offense was able to, if not thrive, at least avoid disaster. Cornerbacks Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall missed out on potential interceptions that will make them grimace when they watch the game film. It was thought that Washington could victimize ineffective and injured quarterback Jackson, but Jackson didn't turn the ball over until the game's final minute.
Symbolic of the defensive frustrations was a play early in the fourth quarter, with the Seahawks facing third-and-6 at midfield. Jackson connected with undersized rookie receiver Doug Baldwin, who bounced off hard-hitting veteran safety LaRon Landry and rambled 24 yards, setting up the touchdown that put Seattle on top 17-7.
There was a time when third down defense was one of the Redskins' strengths, but that element of the game largely abandoned them during their six-game losing streak. Through the first four games, the Redskins allowed opponents to convert on just 26 percent of third downs (13 of 50), among the best rates in the league, and didn't allow any opponent better than a 33 percent conversion rate. But in the next six games, they allowed opponents to covert at a 44 percent clip (37-85).
Sunday, Landry, who is hampered by a nagging groin injury, would have his shot at redemption on another critical fourth-quarter third down. With the Redskins having rallied for a 20-17 advantage, Seattle was looking at third-and-11 from its 39, and Jackson again targeted Baldwin, deep down the middle of the field. This time Landry made the play he was supposed to make, and Seattle's drive was over.
"I just had to persevere through it and make it happen," Landry said.
Orakpo said the offensive rally should give the team confidence, and so should the defense's resilience in holding the lead.
"We can build off this, man," he said. "We get the lead, and [opponents] have to get one-dimensional and pass the ball. I think we have one of the best front sevens in the game, and we just have to get put in those positions and we can make things happen."