Now it’s certain: The Washington Redskins, once 0-5, are playing for something besides draft position in their first season under Marty Schottenheimer.
The Redskins continued their comeback from laughingstocks to NFC East contenders yesterday, beating the lackluster Seattle Seahawks 27-14 for their third straight victory. A first half that included three Seahawks turnovers and 216 yards of Redskins offense basically decided things before 82,352 at FedEx Field.
Washington hits midseason and its open date at 3-5, a sharp rebound under Schottenheimer, the coach and general manager who was under fire. The Redskins suffered a troubling setback in the third quarter when linebacker LaVar Arrington sprained an ankle, but he and the team have a week off before visiting the talented Denver Broncos.
“[The turnaround] is a real credit to the players in this locker room,” Schottenheimer said. “They’ve worked their tails off to get where we are right now, which isn’t where we’d like to be, but it’s the best opportunity we have, given where we started.”
Said quarterback Tony Banks: “[A record of] 2-5 isn’t too good and 3-5 is just a little better, but the way we’ve done it, I’m as proud of this group as any group I’ve worked with. Our backs were against the wall, everyone counted us out, and now we’re in the thick of things.”
The Redskins took a 20-7 lead late in the second quarter, prevented a score by the Seahawks (3-4) by coming up with a red-zone turnover in the period’s final minute, and then went up 27-7 midway through the third quarter.
The victory kept Washington 1 1/2 games behind Philadelphia (4-3), which beat Arizona yesterday to stay atop the struggling division.
“We were down in the pits for awhile,” offensive tackle Chris Samuels said. “But now we can easily get into the playoffs. We’ve picked it up tremendously.”
Running back Stephen Davis carried 32 times for 142 yards and his first touchdown, leading another solid day by Washington’s once-anemic offense. And Banks had another efficient effort (15-for-23, 152 yards, two touchdowns and one interception), hitting nine different receivers.
The offense, which ranked last in the NFL in third-down conversions (24.7 percent), converted 11 of 17 third downs (64.7 percent). That same offense, ranked last in red-zone scoring (scoring touchdowns on 8.3 percent of its chances), scored three touchdowns in four trips inside Seattle’s 20.
That production, combined with four Seahawks turnovers and just one by the Redskins, led to an enormous 18 1/2-minute advantage in time of possession. Prior to yesterday, Washington had won battle for the time of possession just once (the previous week against the New York Giants), and that was by six seconds.
“We had it almost 40 minutes [actually 39:18],” Schottenheimer said. “That’s how you win football games.”
The game opened with a swap of touchdowns. Washington drove 71 yards in nine plays, and Banks hit tight end Walter Rasby on a 7-yard scoring pass over the middle. Seattle responded with an 80-yard, six-play possession capped by a 40-yard touchdown run by Shaun Alexander.
The Redskins’ score marked the second time this season they opened with a touchdown drive (the first instance, last week, covered just 17 yards after a Giants fumble) and just their second touchdown in the red zone this season (the first was on that same drive against New York).
The Seahawks’ first turnover came with 3:58 left in the first quarter, and it set up a Redskins field goal. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was looking for Darrell Jackson on the right sideline but cornerback Champ Bailey leapt for his second interception of the season. Washington advanced just 5 yards and Brett Conway kicked a 43-yard field goal.
Seattle’s next possession also lasted just two plays and ended in a pick by safety David Terrell after Jackson bobbled a short pass. The Redskins advanced to the Seahawks’ 6 but settled for a 23-yard field goal and a 13-7 lead with nine seconds gone in the second quarter.
Washington won a challenge on Seattle’s next possession that overturned a 9-yard catch, which helped force a three-and-out, and then went 69 yards in 13 plays to take a 20-7 lead with 5:29 left in the half. Davis carried nine times for 48 yards and capped the drive with a 1-yard rush, the team’s first rushing touchdown of the year. The Redskins were the NFL’s last team to score a rushing touchdown this season.
The Seahawks threatened as the half neared an end, converting a third-and-14 and a third-and-22 to advance to Washington’s 5. But defensive end Marco Coleman sacked Hasselbeck and forced a fumble on first-and-goal, and Arrington recovered. It was the first sack of the season for Coleman, a 2000 Pro Bowl pick who sat out four games after dislocating an elbow in Week 2 at Green Bay.
The second half opened with Trent Dilfer replacing Hasselbeck as the Seahawks’ quarterback and Arrington’s injury. The second-year linebacker, who has stepped up and has become a catalyst during the Redskins’ rebound, sprained his right ankle on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter.
That Seattle possession went three-and-out, and the Redskins followed with a 69-yard drive in 11 plays. Wide receiver Michael Westbrook caught a 13-yard touchdown pass for a commanding 27-7 lead, his third score of the season. Banks keyed the drive with two scrambles for a combined 32 yards the first one earned a first down on a third-and-5.
Dilfer hit Jackson for a 46-yard touchdown with 2:09 left in the third quarter and Washington went three-and-out, but the Redskins’ defense permitted just 52 fourth-quarter yards.