The Redskins had just about every statistical advantage possible in the opening quarter, most notably possessing the ball for nearly 13 of the period's 15 minutes. But Arizona still led 7-0 at the end of the quarter because it did what the home team could not, taking advantage of its lone scoring opportunity. Though the Redskins' defense largely held the Cardinals in check, Kevin Kolb didn't waste his chance when the second Rex Grossman interception of the day put Arizona at the Redskins' 37. Two passes and 38 seconds later, the visitors were in the end zone. The pick that set up that score wasn't Grossman's fault — the ball glanced off Anthony Armstrong's hands — but the first interception was. A methodical opening drive was squandered when the Washington QB sidearmed a ball toward Santana Moss on third-and-goal from the 6 and saw it picked by Adrian Wilson.
After being burned on a couple of interceptions early, Kyle Shanahan's play-calling shifted toward the running game from late in the first quarter into the second. The Redskins pounded away with Tim Hightower, letting Grossman pick and choose with shorter passes when they did put it up. Hightower's workmanlike approach — nothing fancy there — ultimately paid off. He had 83 rushing yards by halftime and it was his work, with an assist from Roy Helu, that positioned Grossman to find Fred Davis on a 1-yard scoring pass for the Redskins' first touchdown of the afternoon. Up 10-7 at the time, the Redskins exuded confidence, particularly on defense. During one timeout, several defenders danced along to the Beyonce song blaring over the PA system. Not all was well, though, the Redskins squandered a long Brandon Banks punt return with a messy offensive series before Graham Gano had a 30-yard field goal attempt blocked.
The Redskins' tenuous grasp on a lead that should have bigger slipped after halftime. While Washington's defense had its way with Arizona early on, harassing Kolb and limiting Beanie Wells to six yards on three carries in the first half, the Cardinals finally broke out in the third quarter. Wells had 84 yards on 10 carries in the third, exploiting gashes in the Redskins' front that weren't there in the opening half. The threat of the run allowed Kolb more time to work, and he finally got star receiver Larry Fitzgerald more involved . Kolb completed 7-of-11 passes in the quarter, connecting with Fitzgerald four times. Most importantly, Arizona found a way to get the ball in the end zone, with Wells scoring from 2 yards out to give the Cardinals a 14-10 lead. Meanwhile, the Redskins' offense stalled, failing to sustain a drive as the running game escaped them — Hightower carried the ball three times for six yards in the quarter.
Entering the fourth down 14-10 and later trailing 21-13 in the period, the Redskins did plenty of work to ultimately win this game, and they needed big plays from their offense, defense and special teams to do so. Perhaps most significant was the way Washington responded after being smacked in the mouth via a 73-yard Kolb-to-Fitzgerald touchdown that gave Arizona an eight-point lead moments after a Gano field goal had cut the deficit to one. After two incompletions, Grossman led a 13-play drive that ended in a touchdown pass on fourth-and-3 A missed two-point conversion didn't affect the defense, which earned a three-and-out before Grossman led another drive that culminated in Gano's go-ahead field goal. But the Redskins still had work to do with 1:45 on the clock, and their defense came up with a huge forced fumble and recovery to seal it.
With the Redskins trailing by eight and facing a fourth-and-3 at the Arizona 18 with 5:23 to play, Mike Shanahan didn't think twice before sending the offense out to go for it. Grossman dropped back, saw Santana Moss breaking free of rookie corner Patrick Peterson in the end zone and fired the ball that way. Moss didn't have a defender near him when the ball arrived, as safety Adrian Wilson came over too late. The ensuing two-point conversion failed, but momentum was back on the Redskins' side after that huge conversion.
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