CHICAGO — The scene was all too familiar.
The Washington Redskins dominated on defense and did just enough on offense to take control of the game, only to watch helplessly as it began to slip away.
It happened two weeks ago against the Browns. It happened last week against the Ravens. And it was happening yesterday against the Bears.
That is until the Redskins’ defense decided enough was enough. If the offense wasn’t going to put this game away, then the defense would.
A couple of minutes and a flurry of big plays later, Washington’s four-game losing streak was over. A gritty 13-10 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field might have been short on style, but it was loaded with substance.
“We’ve been through a lot in six weeks,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “You’d think a bunch of guys, when it’s happened to them that much, would get their daubers down. But today they just kept fighting. I was proud of them.”
What could have been the start of a long and painful bye week full of controversy instead will be a week of relaxation. The Redskins (2-4) by no means believe they’ve turned their season around with a 3-point win over the inept Bears (1-4). But considering the alternative, this was mighty sweet.
“Hey, after losing four, a win is a win,” quarterback Mark Brunell said. “We’ve got something to build on going into this bye week. We can feel good about ourselves for a while. It’s been a month now.”
Washington felt plenty good about its defense through the first five weeks of the season, but even those Herculean performances from that injury-riddled unit weren’t enough to compensate for the lack of offense.
It was finally enough yesterday. Despite the offense’s inability to record one game-sealing first down on its last two drives, the defense responded with three sacks, a pass deflection and an interception in the final three minutes.
And, according to the members of the defense, they were happy to rescue their offensive mates.
“You know what? We got their backs,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “We’re not worried about it. Trust me, there’s no pointing fingers. We’re in this thing together. Put it on our shoulders, man.”
The Redskins defense had no choice but to take matters into their own hands. Despite a fairly dominating performance all around, Washington saw a 10-point lead dwindle to 3 on Paul Edinger’s 46-yard field goal with 5:10 to play.
Given an opportunity to run out the clock, the Redskins’ offense instead went three-and-out before the punt team surrendered a 35-yard return to R.W. McQuarters.
No problem. Cornerback Shawn Springs sacked quarterback Jonathan Quinn (10-for-22, 65 yards) on third-and-8, and Washington got the ball back.
Three plays and 19 seconds later, Gibbs was forced to send punter Tom Tupa out yet again.
“We couldn’t get a first down,” said Gibbs, whose team did manage a season-high 218 rushing yards, just none of it down the stretch. “It becomes extremely tough when they know you’re going to run. That’s a tough situation to be in.”
Fortunately for Gibbs, the Bears’ offense is struggling even more than his. And against the Redskins’ pressure defense, Chicago never had a chance.
After crossing midfield with 1:09 to play, the Bears were stopped dead. Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin sacked Quinn on consecutive plays, and on fourth-and-15 the inexperienced quarterback was picked off by rookie safety Sean Taylor.
It was the Redskins’ biggest defensive stand in a game full of them.
“We want it on us,” said Taylor, who also recorded his first career sack. “Trust me, there’s nothing we want more than to go out on that field together. We want to stop them and give the ball back to the offense. Every time they put us out there, we’re going to get them the ball back.”
For much of the first half, it never crossed anyone’s mind Washington might need a late defensive stand. Behind Clinton Portis’ season-best 171 rushing yards, the Redskins took a 10-0 lead and looked on their way to an easy victory.
Portis, the subject of much scrutiny after several sub-par performances and suggestions that opposing defenses knew what plays were going to be run, was a workhorse. Gibbs gave him the ball 36 times (two shy of his career-high), and the 5-foot-11, 205-pound back responded with his best effort since coming to Washington.
Portis had carries of 12 and 13 yards on the Redskins’ first two drives, the latter of which was capped by emergency kicker Ola Kimrin’s 41-yard field goal. Portis then made several nice moves en route to a 19-yard gain during the final seconds of the first quarter.
Brunell took over from there. On the first play of the second quarter, he found receiver Rod Gardner wide open in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown, the lone bright spot on an otherwise dismal day for the veteran quarterback.
Brunell’s struggles allowed the Bears to get back in the game. On third-and-9 at the Chicago 34, the quarterback’s pass was tipped at the line by defensive end Alex Brown and wound up in the hands of cornerback Jerry Azumah. Azumah raced 70 yards for a touchdown — the fourth defensive score surrendered by the Redskins in six games — and suddenly the lead was 10-7.
“The first thing to pop into my mind was, ‘Here we go again,’” said receiver Laveranues Coles, who already had seen turnovers turn around games this season. “We have a few bad plays, and it all goes downhill from there. When that happened, it was good that we kept our composure.”
Washington managed to maintain control of the game. The offense produced just one more score (Kimrin’s 26-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter), but the defense never stopped making plays. The Bears wound up with 160 total yards (34 net passing yards), and the Redskins wound up with a rare victory.
“It just feels good to get that win out of the way,” Gardner said. “We needed it bad going into the off-week. We’ll take it however we can get it.”