After earlier losses, Redskins finally pull out a close one

PHILADELPHIA — The footballs fluttered toward the end zone, one after the other, as the final seconds slipped away.

Nerves shot through defensive end Stephen Bowen in the fourth quarter’s final minute Sunday. The labyrinthine playoff scenarios and once-absurd hope of a division title for the Washington Redskins were, for the moment, far away.

A stop against the Philadelphia Eagles and rookie quarterback Nick Foles in the last drive was all that mattered.

“You count your blessings,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said, “but at the same time, the work you put in Wednesday through Friday makes you feel like you deserve to have the ball bounce your way every once in a while.”

Closer and closer the Eagles crept, an 8-yard dump-off pass here and a 5-yard scramble there by a quarterback with a sore throwing hand. They raced the clock in a season long since torn apart by problems on the field and off.

The Redskins lived this before, crushed by early-season defensive letdowns late in games: Eli Manning’s 77-yard touchdown pass and Michael Turner’s game-winning run and Andy Dalton’s pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes.

“These games,” outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said, “are so stressful.”

Twenty-three seconds remained and, suddenly, the Eagles were at the Redskins‘ 17-yard line, trailing 27-20. Three-quarters-full Lincoln Financial Field roared to life.

Then Foles lofted a pass for receiver Jeremy Maclin in the right corner of the end zone. The coverage was busted, cornerback Richard Crawford late and Maclin alone. The football fluttered short. Maclin tumbled and couldn’t pull in the pass.

Nerves fluttered through Crawford. That was too close.

Two plays later, Foles zipped the football off the chest of tight end Evan Moore at the goal line. Signed earlier this week, Moore inexplicably couldn’t corral the pass and it bounced through the arms of safety Madieu Williams and fell harmlessly to the turf.

Eight seconds remained. Hold and the Redskins would need only to defeat the Dallas Cowboys in next week’s regular-season finale to capture the NFC East title. Falter and the postseason chances wouldn’t disappear, but the Redskins would no longer control their destiny.

Foles dropped back, then rolled to his left to buy time. No one was open. The seconds moved in slow motion.

All Crawford could think about was sticking to his man, evasive receiver Riley Cooper, and do anything to prevent him from catching the ball.

Cofield dropped back into coverage, per the play call, then spied the quarterback once his man drifted away. Bowen bounced inside to rush Foles. A torn left biceps limited Bowen in the game, thwarting his range of motion at a position where that is crucial. But he plowed through a narrow opening in the Eagles‘ line as Foles clung to the football, as he had all game long, seemingly unable to decide what to do. As the football left the quarterback’s right hand, Bowen hoped time expired.

Bowen pushed Foles, then saw the throw fizzle to the turf a few yards away. No Eagles were in the vicinity. The referees huddled. One second clung to the clock.

A self-described pessimist, Cofield expected the Eagles to get another chance. That wasn’t true of his teammates.

“Even though they got that hometown clock work that left one second on there,” cornerback Josh Wilson said, “as soon as he threw the ball, I knew the game was over.”

A yellow flag for intentional grounding emerged. The 10-second runoff included with the penalty meant the game was over. The 16-play final drive sputtered out at the 5-yard line.

Bowen, eavesdropping on the referees’ discussion, ripped off his helmet and screamed. There wouldn’t be another late-game collapse. Now one game separates the Redskins from the postseason.

“You got no choice but to look forward to the next week,” Cofield said. “The greatness of this feeling will wear off very quickly if we don’t get it done next week.”

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