- The Washington Times - Monday, December 12, 2005

TEMPE, Ariz.

Spit, bubble gum, rubber bands, static electricity — something’s holding the Redskins (and their playoff chances) together. Yesterday’s daring 17-13 escape from Sun Devil Stadium almost doesn’t seem possible, not with Mark Brunell throwing three interceptions and Your Heroes guilty of the same number of fumbles. Goof up that many times against anybody, even the Arizona Cardinals, and you’re lucky if you don’t get your helmet handed to you.

But the Redskins miraculously recovered every ball they dropped, none more important than the one that wound up at Jon Jansen’s feet with 11 minutes to play. Somehow, Brunell and Clinton Portis had botched a handoff on a third down play from the Washington 25 and, well, that could have been the season right there — just as their collision in St. Louis the week before, resulting in a fourth-quarter end zone fumble, could have had catastrophic consequences.

“Ball!” someone shouted. About then, Jansen felt something graze against his foot. He looked down, gulped, then jumped on the fumble with all the acquisitiveness a 6-6, 308-pound offensive tackle can muster. Crisis averted. David Frost got off a 52-yard punt, his longest of the day, to the Arizona 24, and the Redskins’ fragile four-point lead remained intact.

“We’re just trying to keep it exciting for you guys, give you something to write about,” Jansen joked. “Who wants to be Indianapolis and blow people out every week? What’s the fun in that?”

Let me think about that one, Jon, and get back to you.

On the plus side, the Redskins are exactly where they hoped to be after these back-to-back road games. They’ve righted the ship, gotten their chins above .500 at 7-6 and given themselves a shot at the playoffs if they can sweep the Cowboys, Giants and Eagles. That, at this point, is all Portis really cares about.

“We didn’t even know what was going on with Dallas today,” he said after another solid 100-yard effort. “We just didn’t want [Sunday’s] game to be meaningless.”

The concern for the Redskins, though, is that their passing game has almost completely left them. Can they really put up enough points against the next three opponents — all of whom have formidable defenses — with one hand tied behind their backs?

In his last seven games, Brunell has four TD passes and six picks. Yikes. In his last four games, his yardage totals are 155, 194, 156 and 122. You might be able to skate by against the Rams and Cards throwing the ball like that, but the Cowboys, Giants and Eagles are a whole different deal.

Not to lay all the blame on No. 8’s doorstep. After all, he probably wouldn’t be struggling nearly as much if David Patten and James Thrash hadn’t gotten hurt. His only real options at this point are Santana Moss and Chris Cooley, though Portis had a few balls tossed his way yesterday. But still … three interceptions against one of the league’s worst defenses — on an afternoon when he wasn’t sacked once? One more game like that and Gibbs can start breaking in Jason Campbell.

“It’s happened to us several times this year that things haven’t gone well for us offensively,” Coach Joe said afterward — a major admission for him. And somewhat of an understatement, too. The offense managed only one drive of any consequence, an 80-yarder to open the second half that ended with Portis running it in from the 15 (and was facilitated by a personal foul penalty against the Cardinals). The other three points Brunell and Co. “produced” came after a fumble recovery at the Arizona 23. Four plays later, John Hall booted a 41-yard field goal.

But Antonio Brown rescued the Redskins with his 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Ain’t that a hoot? A guy who literally fumbled himself out of football in Week 1 — and didn’t even get a nibble from another team for more than two months — comes back and saves the day.

Of course, it was a weird game from the very beginning. On the first play from scrimmage, a play was erased by a penalty, the Cardinals’ Kurt Warner dropped back to pass, was sacked by Phillip Daniels, fumbled the ball — and running back J.J. Arrington scooped it up and gained 22 yards. So it wasn’t much of a shock to go from that bit of slapstick to Antonio Brown racing the length of the field, untouched, for the winning score.

Antonio Brown. That’s the thread the Redskins are hanging by with three weeks to go. Mercy.

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