- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 1999

INDIANAPOLIS Their passing game and pass defense were virtually nonexistent. They had lost NFL rushing leader Stephen Davis in the second quarter to a sprain and a slight chip fracture of his left ankle. They had been whistled for two questionable personal fouls.

And yet, the Washington Redskins led the powerful and red-hot Indianapolis Colts heading into the fourth quarter before faltering and losing 24-21 yesterday at the RCA Dome.

What might have been the Redskins’ best performance in a losing effort on the road in six years under coach Norv Turner dropped them to 8-6, but amazingly they still lead the NFC East because Dallas (7-7) and the New York Giants (7-7) also lost. Once more, NFC playoff contenders Tampa Bay (9-5) and Detroit (8-6) also lost, and Minnesota (7-6) and Green Bay (7-6) meet tonight. St. Louis (12-2) is the only team to clinch one of the six NFC berths.

“I’m a little more disappointed than normal because I felt throughout the game that this was winnable, a tremendous opportunity to put us where we need to be,” said cornerback Darrell Green, one of just three Redskins to have been to the playoffs for Washington.

“We played well enough to win, but we didn’t quite get it done,” added quarterback Brad Johnson. “This was kind of a statement game for us. It shows what kind of team we have. If we get into the playoffs, we know we can beat some good teams. We know we can play at this level.”

Davis cruised past Terry Allen’s previous team season rushing record of 1,353 yards with 70 yards on 14 carries. Davis, who now has 1,405 yards, had the ankle heavily wrapped on the bench in the second half. He limped around the locker room afterward. He will have an MRI exam today. Trainer Bubba Tyer was not available for comment.

“My foot just got stuck on the turf,” Davis said of the 4-yard run to the Indianapolis 9 on which he was tackled by Colts linebacker Michael Barber. “I’ll be day-to-day this week, but I’ll be back [Sunday at San Francisco]. I wanted to be in there so badly. We were running the ball really well. [Breaking the record] is a goal that I set and I accomplished it, but I’m mad about the loss.”

Davis’ teammates were sad to see him on the sideline.

“When Stephen was in there, the train was rolling,” said receiver Michael Westbrook, who was held to one 15-yard catch. “It hurt us not having him. He’s our guy. We lost some of our momentum.”

The Redskins settled for a 32-yard Brett Conway field goal two plays after Davis’ final carry to take a 13-10 lead into the second half, but they didn’t score again until the final 84 seconds. While Davis averaged 5.0 yards per carry and Hicks just 3.5, Turner and Johnson both said the change at halfback wasn’t the killer.

“It didn’t affect the way we called the game or the way we were moving the ball,” said Johnson, who threw just 12 of his 30 passes in the first three quarters. “What hurt us is that we got behind and we weren’t able to stay with our game plan. We went into a passing frenzy.”

Meanwhile, the defense finally broke after bottling up AFC rushing leader Edgerrin James and forcing three turnovers (all in Washington territory in the first half) to prevent AFC passing leader Peyton Manning from doing too much damage despite his gaudy statistics. James who gave Indianapolis an early 7-0 lead with a gorgeous 37-yard touchdown catch had 50 yards on 16 carries through three quarters, 39 yards on six carries in the fourth. Manning was 23 of 37 for 298 yards, all but 21 in the first three quarters. Top receiver Marvin Harrison caught nine passes for 117 yards.

The Colts (12-2), who clinched their first AFC East title in 12 years by winning their 10th straight game, drove 80 yards in seven plays (plus Kenard Lang’s second roughing the passer penalty) with Manning hitting tight end Ken Dilger for the 1-yard score to give Indianapolis a 17-13 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Then Hicks lost a yard on a third-and-3 run at the Indianapolis 30 and Conway’s subsequent 49-yard field goal try was blocked by Jason Belser. The Colts then took just six plays to move 51 yards with James going over from the 2 to extend their lead to 24-13 with 5:57 left.

But even after third-down back Brian Mitchell came up a yard short on a fine tackle by cornerback Jeff Burris on fourth-and-4 at the Indianapolis 26, the Redskins didn’t quit. The defense forced a punt after just 68 seconds. On the subsequent fourth-and-10, Johnson hit Connell for 20 yards at the Indianapolis 46. Mitchell than scampered 16 yards with another pass and Connell beat cornerback Tyrone Poole for 24 to the 6. Mitchell took the ball over on a draw and Johnson found Westbrook in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion.

With 1:24 to go, the Redskins were within 24-21 and then James Thrash leaped to grab Conway’s onside kick at the Washington 46.

“Brett did a good job of kicking and I just grabbed it off the bounce,” said Thrash, almost hoarse from the flu.

However, linebacker Cornelius Bennett sacked Johnson for a 7-yard loss on the next play. Johnson’s dump-off to Mitchell gained eight, but cornerback Tony Blevins knocked away a pass to Connell and Westbrook couldn’t reach the fourth-down throw.

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