- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

You’ve probably heard this one before: the Washington Redskins play hard, have a lead in the fourth quarter and then find some way to lose it.

If you think you’re sick to your stomach over this recurring plot, you can only imagine the overwhelming sense of nausea circulating through the Redskins’ locker room after games like yesterday’s 24-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

It’s enough to make tackle Jon Jansen want to retch.

“All you do is just change the name of the team,” Jansen said after the Redskins (4-8) blew a fourth-quarter lead for the third straight week. “You just change it from Carolina to whoever we played last week to New Orleans, and you’re going to come up with the same story. We had the lead, we lost it. We had everything right there and didn’t accomplish anything.”

Following a near-identical script to its previous losses to the Panthers and Dolphins, Washington played fairly solid football for three quarters, then inexplicably melted down the stretch. Up 20-17 with 12:53 to play, the Redskins gave the game away, surrendering a 15-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Brooks to tight end Boo Williams three minutes later.

It was all academic from there. Washington couldn’t get the ball past midfield on its final two possessions and departed with its seventh loss in eight games, this latest one greeted by resounding jeers from the less-than-capacity FedEx Field crowd of 76,821.

“I don’t know exactly what happens,” said coach Steve Spurrier, whose team has lost six games this year by seven points or fewer. “We’ve just not been able to stay on the field offensively or stop them defensively to win games. … We’re a play or two away, it seems like.”

Much like the last two weeks, the down-and-out Redskins were playing well.

• Much-maligned tailback Trung Canidate had the best game by a Washington rusher this season, picking up 115 yards on just 16 carries.

• Quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, making his first career start with Patrick Ramsey roaming the sideline in a walking cast, completed 22 of 42 passes for 231 yards.

• The defense, aside from surrendering an early 52-yard run to Deuce McAllister, was effective for the majority of the afternoon.

• And return man Chad Morton, after 11 weeks of near misses, finally broke free for a 94-yard touchdown on a second-quarter kickoff, energizing the stadium.

Then came the meltdown. Again.

John Hall’s 49-yard field goal gave the Redskins a 20-17 lead with 12:53 to play. The Saints wasted no time clawing their way back.

Keyuo Craver took the ensuing kickoff and burst 52 yards down the right sideline to the Washington 40. Three McAllister rushes and a successful quarterback sneak put New Orleans on the 15, setting up Brooks’ game-winning pass to Williams. The tight end found a seam in the Redskins’ zone defense, getting between linebacker LaVar Arrington and safeties Matt Bowen and Ifeanyi Ohalete to make the catch at the goal line.

Touchdown, New Orleans. Another late collapse, Washington.

“We think we can stop them; we haven’t. I don’t know what else to say,” Bowen said. “We haven’t stopped them — that’s why we’ve lost these last three ballgames in the fourth quarter.”

If only they could extend their play from the first 45 minutes over a full, 60-minute stretch. With their starting quarterback in street clothes for the first time this year, and with all realistic hopes of a playoff run a distant memory, the Redskins had little to play for yesterday.

They didn’t play like it, though.

Hasselbeck got off to a slow start, completing just two of his first seven passes, but it wasn’t entirely his fault. Canidate dropped a third-and-4 pass over the middle, tipping the ball right into cornerback Fred Thomas’ hands for a drive-killing interception.

Slowly but surely, Hasselbeck regained his composure, though not until after he fumbled a snap on third-and-2 and had to fall on the ball. He finally got things going late in the second quarter, when he engineered an 11-play, 76-yard drive, completing back-to-back passes to Laveranues Coles before handing off to fullback Rock Cartwright for a 2-yard touchdown.

“You’ve got to realize that this was really his first start ever, his second game of any extended playing time,” Spurrier said of Hasselbeck. “He hung in there pretty well, made some nice plays. … He has the potential to be a good, solid player, I really believe that. He made some beautiful plays tonight.”

The Saints responded to Cartwright’s touchdown immediately, with McAllister bursting 52 yards up the middle on the next play from scrimmage. Only Bowen’s illegal tackle — he was given a personal foul for grabbing the helmet by the earholes — kept McAllister (who finished with 30 rushes for 165 yards) from scoring on the play. It proved to be a valuable penalty, because Washington’s defense held and forced New Orleans to settle for a 25-yard field goal from John Carney.

When Morton went the distance on the ensuing kickoff, the Redskins had a 14-10 lead heading into halftime. And when Hall extended the lead to seven points with a 45-yard field goal late in the third quarter, they had every reason to believe victory was only minutes away.

As often as they’ve blown leads this year, they should have known better than to think a fight was over without a knockout punch.

“You can’t expect to hit a guy one time. You have to hit him again, hit him again,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “We keep hitting people and then we just lie back and let them tear our faces up. That’s just the reality of what’s going on around here. We aren’t punching people, getting combination punches, and they are just killing us.”

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