- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

PHILADELPHIA — They couldn’t run the ball. They couldn’t protect their quarterback. They couldn’t control their emotions. They couldn’t contain Donovan McNabb when it counted most. And once again, they couldn’t stay onside.

They seemingly did everything within their power to hand this game over to the Philadelphia Eagles and despite all that, the Washington Redskins amazingly were one failed two-point conversion away from sending yesterday’s game into overtime.

Instead, they sulked their way out of Lincoln Financial Field with a frustrating 27-25 loss, and were left to wonder what this team might one day accomplish if it simply learned how to stop beating itself.

“[The Eagles] played hard, but I still think we’re our own toughest opponents,” linebacker LaVar Arrington said. “Once we figure out that we can’t continue to play this way, I think we’ll be all right. It’s as simple as that, but you have to do it. I can talk ‘til I’m blue in the face and try to give reasons why, but we have to change the way we’re playing. … We’re making the same mistakes week in and week out.”

The Redskins’ seventh loss in eight NFC East games under coach Steve Spurrier looked eerily familiar. They were once again done in by their never-ending penchant to commit silly penalties. Washington (3-2) was flagged 11 times for 85 yards, including seven false starts, and at times looked lost on the field.

Afterward, an exasperated Spurrier sparked controversy by intimating that some may be blaming the penalties on his insistence to call for audibles at the line of scrimmage.

“For some reason, when [quarterback] Patrick [Ramsey] starts talking, someone starts flinching,” Spurrier said. “We’ll keep working on it, that’s all I know to do. It’s frustrating that we can’t stay onside.”

The false starts, coupled with ineffective pass-blocking that left Ramsey scrambling for his life or laying face down on the turf all afternoon, helped put the Redskins in an early 10-0 hole. They managed to keep things close, thanks to a strong defensive effort and four John Hall field goals. But when McNabb, the subject of national controversy all week, engineered an 11-play touchdown drive to put his team up 11 points with 3:10 left, the Eagles (2-2) seemed to have wrapped up the game.

Playing his first game since commentator Rush Limbaugh claimed he was overrated by the media because he is black, McNabb displayed many of the qualities his supporters have long admired. McNabb completed only 16 of 30 passes for 157 yards and was intercepted twice, but he connected with fullback Jon Ritchie for a second-quarter touchdown and kept the game-clinching, fourth-quarter drive alive by scrambling for a first down on third-and-5.

“I can’t get into me showing everyone what I’m capable of doing, or making a statement,” McNabb said when asked if his performance would put the Limbaugh controversy to rest. “I can only focus on just trying to come out with a win.”

With Philadelphia up 27-16 and time running out, the game appeared to be over. But Washington, in staggering fashion, rallied and nearly sent it to overtime.

Hall kicked a 53-yard field goal with 1:19 to play to cut Philadelphia’s lead to 27-19. Bryan Johnson then corralled Hall’s onside kick at the Redskins’ 43, sending Ramsey and Co. back on the field for one last gasp.

Four plays later, Ramsey (25-for-50, 271 yards) found Darnerien McCants uncovered down the middle of the field for a 32-yard touchdown, leaving the crowd of 67,792 in shock. Needing to go for two to tie the game, Ramsey overthrew an open Laveranues Coles in the corner of the end zone, sealing the Eagles’ victory.

Given the late rally, the Redskins were kicking themselves for their first-half follies.

“It all came in the beginning of the game,” said Coles, held to five catches for 60 yards by Philadelphia’s injury-riddled secondary. “We shot ourselves in the foot early.”

Said Arrington: “You can’t spot NFL teams points and expect to win games.”

In what was easily their worst half of football this season, the Redskins handed Philadelphia a 10-0 lead. Ramsey, who went into the locker room at halftime with an abysmal 22.5 passer rating, consistently missed his receivers. He was also consistently harassed by Eagles defenders, who pounded the second-year quarterback so much in the early going, he at one point staggered off the field with an injured left shoulder.

Ramsey didn’t miss any plays, but he never quite looked right. Two plays after teammate Fred Smoot made a nice interception of McNabb at the end of the first quarter, Ramsey gave the ball back to the Eagles, getting picked off by cornerback Roderick Hood at the Washington 18. The Eagles immediately scored a touchdown.

Ramsey’s second interception of the game, with the game tied 13-13 in the third quarter, proved to be the costliest.

Trying to complete a screen pass to Ladell Betts, Ramsey was hounded by tackle Darwin Walker, who burst past rookie guard Derrick Dockery. Unable to put anything on the ball, Ramsey tossed it right into the waiting arms of end N.D. Kalu. Kalu waltzed into the end zone from 15 yards out, putting Philadelphia ahead for good.

“My hand got hit,” Ramsey said. “I tried to throw the ball and my hand got hit and it just popped straight up.”

Spurrier was livid about the play.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “It was a poorly coached play. It was a horse-crap coached play that turned the guy loose to hit Patrick. It looked like we had something there, but the ball never got there because he got hit when he was throwing.”

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