It was late in the second quarter, and the runnin’ was easy for the Redskins. Every time his number was called, Stephen Davis would pick up 4, 6, 8 yards. The Redskins were driving to a field goal that would give them a 13-10 halftime lead over the Indianapolis Colts the 11-2, AFC East-leading Indianapolis Colts. They were halfway, just about, to their biggest win of the season maybe the biggest win of the Norv Turner era.
But then the game and perhaps the course of a season both changed on a single play. On a run to the Indy 9, Davis caught his foot in the artificial turf and suffered a sprain and chip fracture to his left ankle. So much for the Redskins’ plan of pounding the Colts into submission. Final score: Indianapolis 24, Washington 21.
“We lucked out when Stephen Davis went out of the game,” Indy linebacker Cornelius Bennett said, “but in order to win championship games you need a little luck.”
That, as much as anything, may be what the Redskins have been missing the past few years. There just haven’t been a lot of breaks that have gone their way. I won’t dredge up painful memories here. Living through them once was bad enough. But the loss of Davis after he had rushed for 70 yards in 14 carries and set a new Redskins season rushing record (1,405) has to be one of the unluckiest breaks of all.
As Tre Johnson said, “We felt we were in control at that point at least offensively. The offensive line couldn’t wait to get back on the field.”
The line was in control, too. It was knocking the Colts off the ball and doing exactly what it set out to do keep Peyton Manning and Co. off the field as much as possible. The Redskins defense, meanwhile, was holding up its end by limiting Edgerrin James, Indy’s fabulous rookie, to 19 first-half rushing yards. Sure, Manning was having a big day (17 of 24 for 230 yards and a touchdown), but hey, the Redskins were ahead, weren’t they?
But then Davis went down, and the offense was never quite the same. Yeah, Indianapolis made some adjustments, but that wasn’t the main reason the offense shorted out in the second half. The main reason was that Skip Hicks, while being a quite capable No. 2 back, is no Stephen Davis.
This was especially noticeable on a couple of third-down plays. On the first, a third-and-1 at the Washington 42 on the first series of the second half, Hicks got stuffed for no gain. On the second, a third-and-3 at the Indy 30 early in the fourth quarter, he lost a yard. Would Davis, who runs with a little more authority, have been able to pick up the necessary yardage? Put it this way: The Redskins would have loved to find out.
“I think we took a little setback when Stephen went out,” Johnson said. “Skip is a totally different type of runner. It’s a matter of rhythm. On the short-yardage plays, I think he looked to bounce it [outside] a little more. He’s got to turn it up[field]. The priority is the first down.”
Jon Jansen made the point that the Redskins “didn’t get the chance to run the ball a lot in the second half or in the fourth quarter because we were behind.” They fell behind, though, because they didn’t gain the consistent yardage with Hicks (10 carries, 39 yards) that they did with Davis. (Skip doesn’t just have a different running style, he also has less of a how shall I put this? presence. When Stephen is in there, the offense revolves around him. Skip, on the other hand, is merely a spoke in the wheel.)
The dropoff in the running game also made it harder for the line to protect Brad Johnson (because the Colts could just go after the passer). Johnson was sacked three times for 24 yards in the second half and was knocked around a good deal more than that. Twice, his arm got hit as he was getting ready to throw and the ball popped loose. (Fortunately for the Redskins, neither calamity resulted in a loss of possession.)
The decibel level in the RCA Dome only added to the O-line’s problems. “We had the same protection problems we had the last time we were in a dome,” Turner said. The pity is that this was one of the Redskins’ best performances of the season. James made a couple of plays that hurt them a one-handed 37-yard touchdown catch in the first half and a 20-yard run to the Washington 1 in the second but that was about it. The defense also forced three turnovers, all of them in Washington territory and two of them in the red zone. We haven’t often seen Mike Nolan’s troops exhibit that kind of toughness.
The offense was every bit as effective as long as Davis was in the lineup, that is. But then the Turf Monster reared its ugly head, and the Redskins had their legs, so to speak, cut out from under them.
Heck took it as hard as anyone. “I gave up two sacks that cost us two scoring opportunities,” he said. “I feel really bad about it. We felt we really needed to have this game, and we prepared well and fought hard… . But this doesn’t mean our season is over.”
No, it doesn’t. Not with Dallas, the Giants, Detroit and Tampa Bay also losing yesterday. But the Redskins’ playoff prospects would be a lot brighter if they knew for sure that Davis’ ankle injury was a one-week deal. Alas, they don’t. No one does.
“It’s day to day,” he said solemnly. “It may hold me out this week [against San Francisco], next week [against Miami] … I just don’t know.”
Without Davis, well, let’s not even think about that, OK?