- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

The most dangerous offense in the league was driving in the waning seconds of regulation. A tying chip-shot field goal was in reach, a game-winning touchdown just 6 yards away. The Washington Redskins were down and almost out, honed in on another heartbreak like a sidewinder missile.
That's when LaVar Arrington, doing his own impression of a heat-seeker, came screaming around the right side toward St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner. Arrington stripped Warner, defensive tackle Daryl Gardener pounced on the ball and the crowd at FedEx Field went wild. By the time Arrington stopped running in celebration, he was alone, nearly in the opposite end zone.
"It was an unbelievable rush to see that he had fumbled the ball," the Redskins linebacker said. "Angels were carrying me after that."
The victory itself, 20-17 over the defending NFC champions yesterday, seemed like a reprieve from above for the embattled Redskins. Thanks to a composed performance and Arrington's big play, Washington kept its dim playoff hopes alive just days after frustration with the season and questions about coach Steve Spurrier led to a players-only meeting.
The down side is that Washington remains two games out of the final NFC wild-card spot (behind 7-4 New Orleans, which holds the tie-breaker) and 2 from the NFC East lead (7-3 Philadelphia plays San Francisco tonight). And cornerback Darrell Green suffered a hip pointer with 27 seconds left, perhaps ending his brilliant 20-year career.
But ultimately Washington (5-6) won a game in which a poor performance could have sent its season into a tailspin.
"It was a big win," said defensive end Bruce Smith, who called the players-only meeting on Thursday. "We were in a desperate situation; we're still in a desperate situation. We realize what has to take place for us to even remotely have a shot at the playoffs. We've got to keep doing it. It started today, but we have to keep it going and not lose sight of the job ahead of us."
A resurgent performance by Spurrier's offense, 26th in the NFL entering the game, helped key the win. The coach opted for about 71 percent passing plays in losses the past two weeks, but yesterday he leaned on the run game to set up success in a game that marked his fourth quarterback switch of the season.
Danny Wuerffel hit 16 of 23 throws for 235 yards in his first extended play as the starting quarterback. Running back Stephen Davis carried a season-high 31 times for 88 yards and three touchdowns. And the Fun 'n' Gun, Spurrier's normally pass-happy scheme, churned out 362 yards against one of the NFL's best defenses.
"I thought we did a pretty good job mixing it up," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said. "Coach Spurrier, he had their number out there. We moved the ball well."
Nonetheless, Washington missed two field goals and an extra point, and St. Louis emerged from a sluggish second half for a touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. Warner, who returned from a five-game absence to throw for 301 yards, guided a 12-play, 75-yard possession that cut the deficit to 20-17 with 6:08 left.
Minutes later Washington had second-and-2 at the Rams' 43 but couldn't get a first down. Bryan Barker's punt went into the end zone and St. Louis had 3:28 to drive for a field goal to tie, a touchdown to win.
The way Washington's season has gone, it appeared only a question of sooner or later before the Rams picked up their sixth straight victory. But Arrington, after erratic play as a down lineman this season, raced past left tackle John St. Clair and knocked the ball from Warner with 11 seconds left. The play withstood a challenge from replay officials, and the Redskins' two-game losing streak was over.
"At that point, it looked like it was going to be overtime or curtains for us," Spurrier said. "Those guys kept playing. I'm really proud of the defense. To hold those guys to 17 [points] is a pretty good day's work."
Indeed, the Rams averaged 28.2 points in the five wins heading into yesterday's game. And any hopes of Warner being rusty or St. Louis' offense struggling without super-sub Marc Bulger were quickly erased when Warner completed his first 15 passes.
Those passes included a 4-yard touchdown to Troy Edwards in the first quarter, and the Rams went up 10-0 early in the second on a 30-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkens. But Washington rebounded from a failed fourth-and-5 on its first drive and a missed 40-yarder on its second to drive 75 yards for a touchdown with 3:22 left in the half.
The Redskins' defense continued a season-long trend by picking up its second red-zone stop of the day. Pressure from Gardener caused Warner to throw an awful pass that settled into Jeremiah Trotter's hands for an interception, sending Washington into intermission trailing only 10-7.
The defense turned up the pressure in the second half and the Redskins took control with a pair of touchdown drives in the third quarter. Their lead could have grown larger, but Barker didn't catch the snap on the latter extra-point try and Tuthill pulled a 34-yarder early in the fourth quarter.
That might have been enough to undermine the Redskins, who have played this season with a minuscule margin of error. Instead, Washington held on for an emotional win and heads into a Thanksgiving Day game against archrival Dallas with something to build on.
"Maybe they took us for granted," Arrington said. "I didn't even see [injured star rusher Marshall Faulk] on the sideline today. Maybe a lot of people took us for granted. But by no means is this team a slouch or a lay-down and be a doormat type of team. We showed that we can still jump in these playoffs."


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