ST. LOUIS — There was no uneasiness or frustration inside the Washington Redskins' defensive huddle in the fourth quarter Sunday when that group was called upon to clean up the offense's mess and save the day. The surging St. Louis Rams were only 19 yards from eviscerating Washington's 17-point lead. Suddenly, a Redskins victory that had seemed certain minutes earlier was in extreme danger.
In that unsettled moment, though, there only was opportunism.
"We get to totally step on their throat," cornerback Josh Wilson said. "On defense, we're excited because we're about to totally take their momentum away."
The Rams proceeded to run three plays. Two of them resulted in quarterback sacks. What began as a "sudden change" situation had flipped back just as quickly. The Redskins regained control with that defensive stand and finished with seven sacks in a 17-10 victory.
"That," linebacker Brian Orakpo said, "is what we get paid to do."
That also is how the Redskins escaped to the sanctuary of their bye week with a 3-1 record.
A blown lead would have prompted two weeks of detailed introspection, perhaps centered on the quarterback position. Instead, the Redskins left town in first place, confident that they still have not played their best.
Washington built an early lead by rediscovering its running game against the NFL's last-ranked run defense. But when it came time to bury the Rams in the second half, the offense sputtered.
Quarterback Rex Grossman's two interceptions breathed life into a St. Louis offense that was as inept as they come in the NFL. For most of the game, the loudest cheers from the announced Edward Jones Dome crowd of 56,113 were of the sarcastic variety, the type you hear when a player — in this case receiver Mike Sims-Walker — finally makes a catch after dropping two passes.
The Rams turned Grossman's first interception, which slipped through receiver Santana Moss' fingers, into a field goal. On their next series, they drove 55 yards for a touchdown. It was 17-10. Tense times.
Grossman's interception on the next play from scrimmage — he didn't see middle linebacker James Laurinaitis undercutting Moss' route down the left seam — gave St. Louis possession at Washington's 19 with 5 minutes, 30 seconds remaining. The shift in momentum was as tangible as the drink in your hand.
The Redskins' defense, however, stole it back. All game it beat St. Louis' offensive line. On this series, the Redskins dominated.
In the second half, Orakpo and defensive end Stephen Bowen were among the Redskins defenders who reported to defensive line coach Jacob Burney that the Rams' offensive tackles were setting wide to combat Orakpo and outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan's speed on the edge. As a result, there was considerable space between the offensive tackles and the guards.
The counterpunch, Washington decided, was to stunt the outside linebackers inside the defensive tackles. It's a tactic the Redskins didn't use much in the first three games of the season, but they were sure it would work.
It did. Bowen stunted inside Orakpo for a sack on second-and-15. Orakpo then bull-rushed his way to a sack on third-and-25.
"They really couldn't figure out what we were doing," Bowen said.
What seemed like certain points for the Rams became a punting situation.
They got the ball back with 3:20 but never crossed midfield. The Redskins' defensive line teed off on quarterback Sam Bradford. He finished the game with blood all over his pants, a sign that his elbows were torn up from hitting the turf so many times.
"At some point you've got to be able to throw the ball down the field," Bradford said. "In order to do that, you've got to have time to read out the routes because they take time to develop."
The visitors' locker room here is divided into two sections separating the defense and the offense. On the defensive side, players laughed and joked as they dressed, savoring a dominant performance — and rescue.
"At 2-2, we'd be sitting with a bad taste in our mouth for about two weeks," Bowen said. "Right now, we're just riding high."
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