- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

Those still searching to find specific reasons why a Washington Redskins season filled with such optimism has derailed so badly need look no further than yesterday’s 21-19 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The offense gained 415 yards, Ladell Betts rushed for a career-high 171 yards and Jason Campbell was responsible for seven third-down conversions … and the Redskins still lost because Campbell threw two first-half interceptions and they couldn’t punch it in from the 3-yard line with five minutes remaining.

The defense held Brian Westbrook in check, forced three second-half punts, allowed only two plays longer than 20 yards … and the Redskins still lost because they dropped two interceptions and couldn’t stop the Eagles in the final moments.

The special teams recovered a turnover … and the Redskins, well, you get the idea.

They are undoubtedly a flawed team but also a team that often does enough to stay close but not enough to win. They’re 1-4 in games decided by three points or less.

“This has been the story all year,” cornerback Carlos Rogers said. “Week after week, penalties, allowing big plays, not making big plays. We can’t play a whole game.”

The Redskins were officially eliminated from playoff contention. Their 4-9 record is tied for the worst 13-game mark in Joe Gibbs’ coaching career and ensures only his third losing record in 15 seasons, though the second in three years. And the team’s four multigame losing streaks are the most by a Gibbs team.

While the Redskins will be watching the playoffs, Philadelphia (7-6) remained in contention by starting its three-game NFC East road swing by completing its fourth season sweep of the Redskins in five years.

The Redskins sleep-walked through the first half — their 21-6 deficit was the largest of the season. But the offense and defense rebounded in the second half. Just not well enough.

“A lot of things went right,” associate head coach-offense Al Saunders said. “But when you fail in the red zone and get three instead of seven against a good team, you won’t win.”

The Redskins were 0-for-3 inside the 20-yard line.

Campbell led a 55-yard drive to open the second half, but the drive was capped by a Shaun Suisham 32-yard field goal. On the next possession, the Redskins drove 90 yards (their second longest of the year) on nine plays to pull within 21-16 with 23 seconds left in the third quarter when Campbell lofted a 34-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El.

“The whole team believed we could come back because we were moving the ball,” said Campbell (15-for-27 for 182 yards).

Two drives later, sparked by Randle El’s 40-yard pass to Brandon Lloyd and Campbell’s 15-yard scramble on third-and-10, the Redskins had a first-and-goal from the 3.

Cue a sequence that summarizes this season.

• First-and-goal: The Eagles blitzed up the middle, and backup running back T.J. Duckett gained nothing after trying to run right.

“That was a great defensive play by them,” Saunders said.

Gibbs defended replacing Betts with Duckett. “T.J. is also our goal-line runner, and he goes in for those situations.”

• Second-and-goal: Campbell rolled to his right on a run-pass option. His first choice was to run, but things got clogged up. He then had to throw the ball away.

• Third-and-goal, part I: With Casey Rabach in the locker room getting X-rays for a broken left hand, Mike Pucillo — who was the third tight end — was at center, and Jim Molinaro was serving as the tight end. He reported to referee Scott Green as an eligible receiver. But when a different formation was called, Molinaro did not realize he could leave the game once he had checked into the game. The Redskins were penalized 5 yards for 12 men in the huddle when Green did the math and Campbell was late to call a timeout.

“I feel terrible,” Molinaro said. “I get a chance to do something, and I mess it up.”

• Third and-goal, part II: From the 8-yard line, Eagles safety Brian Dawkins blitzed from Campbell’s left (blind) side unblocked. He caught Campbell from behind for a 9-yard loss. Gibbs elected for Suisham’s 35-yard field goal with 4:58 remaining. They never got the ball back.

“You have to give them credit for stopping us, but we should have taken advantage of that situation,” Betts said.

Said Campbell: “That stung because we knew we could get the ball in.”

The Eagles converted a third-and-1 and a second-and-9 to run out the clock.

That Campbell was able to rebound and put the Redskins in position to win was impressive considering his and the Redskins’ first half, which was a team-wide debacle. After Suisham kicked a 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead, Campbell threw interceptions on his the next two possessions.

Omar Gaither picked off the first when Campbell locked onto Santana Moss and returned it 16 yards. Four plays later, Jeff Garcia threw 10 yards to L.J. Smith for a touchdown.

Campbell’s next interception was equally costly. A pass intended for Chris Cooley was deflected by William James and caught by Michael Lewis, who sprinted 84 yards for his first career touchdown.

“You’d like for Jason to throw the ball lower in that situation so only your receiver can catch it,” Saunders said.

The Eagles extended the lead on Garcia’s 3-yard pass to Donte Stallworth. The score was set up by Reggie Brown’s 60-yard catch. He used a stop-and-go move to beat cornerback Carlos Rogers, and safety Vernon Fox was late to react.

“I had the outside third, and my eyes were in a place they weren’t supposed to be and looking on the shorter routes and not reading the entire field,” Fox said.

A non-losing record no longer a possibility, the Redskins now hit the road for games against New Orleans and St. Louis — tough assignments considering the Redskins are 1-5 away from home.

Rallying this month to finish. 500 “is what we talked about this week,” Gibbs said. “We didn’t want to have a losing record. It’s the way you finish that people remember and the way you fight down the stretch, even if it’s just for pride.”

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