- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

CHICAGO — For the Washington Redskins defense, there was no stopping the Chicago Bears yesterday when it mattered.

The Redskins took a seven-point lead and all the momentum into the locker room at halftime at Soldier Field. That quickly changed in the second half, when the Bears’ NFL-worst offense engineered drive after long, time-consuming drive and the Redskins’ defense appeared utterly unable to stop them.

The Bears’ four second-half possessions went like this: 68 yards, touchdown; 81 yards, touchdown; 54 yards, missed field goal; 51 yards, field goal. Chicago held the ball a staggering 23:08 and ran 44 plays in the half to the Redskins’ meager 6:52 and 13 plays.

“I know we have guys out there playing our hearts out, but sometimes that’s not good enough,” middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. “There were a few times where we thought we had things plugged up and Thomas would get 2, 3 or 4 more yards. That keeps drives going. We couldn’t stop them. When you’re on the field that long, you get worn down.”

The Redskins’ defensive collapse in the 27-24 loss leaves first-year coordinator George Edwards and his staff, already uncertain of their status for next season, in even greater jeopardy.

“I’m not going to talk about that,” said Redskins coach Steve Spurrier, who has been waffling on the possibility of staff changes. “We’re not pointing fingers at anybody.”

Bears quarterback Rex Grossman played well in his second start, completing 19 of 32 passes for 249 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. But the Bears’ biggest weapon was halfback Anthony Thomas, who pounded out 141 yards on 32 carries.

Thomas’ strong performance made it nine straight games in which a running back has gained at least 90 yards on a Redskins defense that entered yesterday’s game ranked 27th against the run. The Redskins have lost seven of those nine games.

“They had some great play-calling,” left end Renaldo Wynn said. “They went for it a couple of times on fourth down and converted. They knew we were bringing a lot of pressure to the strong side, so the back side was pretty much wide open. Thomas has great vision, but we needed to do a better job of playing our gaps.”

The Bears converted just 34 percent of their third downs before yesterday, but they finished 9-for-17 against the Redskins and an amazing 7-for-9 in the second half.

“We had trouble on third down,” Spurrier said. “We couldn’t get them off the field.”

That has been the case most Sundays this season for a defense that ranked fifth last year under coordinator Marvin Lewis — now coach of the Cincinnati Bengals — but was tied for 21st this year under Edwards even before yesterday’s shoddy performance.

The defense is significantly weaker only at defensive tackle, where newcomers Bernard Holsey and Lional Dalton aren’t nearly as imposing as the departed Daryl Gardener and Dan Wilkinson. Yesterday, the Redskins were further hampered when overmatched rookie Ade Jimoh was forced to fill in for Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey for much of the second half and special-teamer Antonio Pierce was given many of the snaps of weak side linebacker Jessie Armstead.

Still, the defense has been remarkably healthy this season.

“We wanted to build from last year, but we haven’t lived up to that standard at all,” said Wynn, one of eight starters back from 2002. “It seems like we have the players that we need, but we just can’t seem to produce. I would love to see everybody here next year, but any time you have such a disappointing year, you just don’t know what’s going to happen with the players or the coaches.”

Added cornerback Fred Smoot: “I don’t think we were as good as fifth last year, but we made the plays when they needed to be made. This year, we haven’t done that. Today, we just got whupped.”

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