- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

One big play by the Philadelphia Eagles and a ton of blown opportunities by the Washington Redskins dealt another severe blow to the Redskins' playoff hopes yesterday.
A 62-yard touchdown catch by Eagles receiver Todd Pinkston provided the crucial scoring in a 20-6 loss Washington otherwise sealed with two missed field goals, eight dropped passes and two interceptions. Before 84,936 at FedEx Field, the Redskins blew a shot to close in on a wild-card playoff berth and a second chance to climb above .500 in front of a home crowd.
"You can look to any number of things but ultimately our football team didn't make the plays we need to make," coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "We didn't finish things offensively. When you play a good football team like the Eagles, you've got to take advantage of your opportunities. We failed to do that today."
Losses earlier in the day by Tampa Bay and Atlanta gave Washington the chance, with a win, to be just a half-game behind New Orleans for the final wild card and New Orleans plays tonight against the NFC's top team, St. Louis. Also, the Redskins would have been just a game behind Philadelphia for the NFC East title.
Instead, Washington (6-7), fell back into a tie with the New York Giants and Atlanta, one game behind Tampa Bay (7-6) and 11/2 back of New Orleans (7-5). The Eagles (9-4), who improved to 6-0 on the road, will capture the division title with one more win or a Giants loss. Washington no longer can win the NFC East.
In location and circumstance, the Redskins' defeat resembled one two weeks ago to Dallas, when they carried a five-game win streak and a chance to rise above .500 into a winnable home game. Washington's season isn't finished, though. Tampa Bay and New Orleans each has a difficult stretch run, and the Redskins get to play the Saints in two weeks after facing talented Chicago (10-3) Sunday at home.
"It is not over until it's over," veteran guard Ben Coleman said. "I've seen playoff berths not given out until after the last Monday night game. That's how close this thing can be. But we have no chance if we don't take care of our business."
The Redskins certainly didn't yesterday. They generated 362 yards, their second-highest total of the season, and were at midfield or in Eagles territory on nine of 14 possessions. But Washington came away with just two field goals, scoring 20 or fewer points for the 11th time this season.
The worst offensive mistakes came in the second half, when the Redskins dropped five passes in a seven-play span (squandering two promising third-quarter drives), failed to get critical first downs (ending two other capable advances) and threw two interceptions (killing a march to Philadelphia's 20 in the third quarter and one to the 1 in the fourth).
"I've got no explanation," wide receiver Rod Gardner said. "Once we get on that field, it's up to everybody to do their part and make the plays. Today we came up short on a lot of them."
The Eagles, meanwhile, got just enough offense out of quarterback Donovan McNabb (16-for-34 for 235 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions), whom Washington's defense completely shut down two weeks ago in a 13-3 win. McNabb completed four of seven throws on a second-quarter touchdown drive, hit the big one to Pinkston in the third and sprinkled in a bunch of screen passes to running back Duce Staley (eight catches, 73 yards).
"I thought we did a pretty good job with their running game and Donovan scrambling," defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson said. "We knew those would be the two backbones of their offense. But they found another way to beat us."
Pinkston's touchdown came with 8:26 left in the third quarter, on the first play after Redskins kicker Brett Conway endured his second missed field goal of the game. The catch came deep down the left side when cornerback Fred Smoot and free safety David Terrell got beat in zone coverage. Smoot failed to tackle Pinkston, who walked into the end zone for a 17-6 lead.
The play resembled one by Cowboys receiver Rocket Ismail in the Redskins' recent loss to Dallas. That 64-yard score put the Cowboys up 17-7, a margin that felt and proved to be unassailable because of Washington's anemic offense. Yesterday, some spectators headed for the exits after Pinkston's catch, even though 11/2 quarters remained and the Redskins still felt capable of winning.
"I knew it wasn't over," Smoot said. "They didn't do nothing but make me mad."
But Washington dropped three passes on its next drive and quarterback Tony Banks threw an interception from the Eagles' 20 on the one after that. Philadelphia then drove 49 yards for a 49-yard field goal by David Akers, which made it 20-6 with 12:29 remaining.
Washington's next drive stalled at midfield but cornerback Darrell Green got the ball back with an interception, the 54th of his 19-year career. The Redskins then went out on downs, but defensive end Bruce Smith got the ball back with a fumble recovery. Banks ended the last gasp three plays later, throwing a pick from the Eagles' 2.
Prior to Pinkston's catch Conway missed a 48-yarder short and to the right. Washington, which trailed 10-6 at halftime, drove into Eagles territory but attempted the kick after two drops in three plays by receiver Michael Westbrook and running back Stephen Davis, on passes that would have gained first downs.
Washington went down 7-6 midway through the second quarter but had a chance to re-take the lead before halftime when it forced the Eagles to punt from deep in their own territory. Returner Eric Metcalf, though, fumbled the return with 1:53 remaining, and Philadelphia drove 22 yards for a field goal with four seconds left.
Philadelphia's first touchdown came midway through the second quarter on a 4-yard pass from McNabb to rookie Freddie Mitchell. The scoring grab, Mitchell's first, came on third-and-goal with Green covering and gave Philadelphia a 7-6 lead with 7:32 left in the half.
The Redskins scored just six first-half points despite four penetrations into Eagles territory. Two of the drives were set up by interceptions one by Wilkinson in the first quarter, the other by linebacker LaVar Arrington in the second but neither resulted in points. Conway hit the right upright on the former possession (his third post in the past two games), while Washington was forced to punt on the latter.
Conway did make field goals of 47 and 25 yards in the half. The first, with 3:18 left in the first quarter, was forced when Derrius Thompson committed a personal foul on a second-and-3 rush by Davis. Thompson blindsided Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent while the latter watched the pile. The second kick, with 12:07 left in the second quarter, was set up by a 57-yard catch by Gardner. That play put the Redskins at the 7 but they advanced no farther.

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