- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

As the second half of Washington’s season begins today in Philadelphia against the 4-4 Eagles, the 3-5 Redskins’ least-discussed deficiency is the third quarter.

Even with an inconsistent offense and a defense that has crashed to the bottom of the NFC, the Redskins have a 5-point edge on the scoreboard in the first half, the fourth quarter and overtime.

However, the first 15 minutes after halftime have been disastrous. Washington has been outscored 50-17, an incredible 43-0 during the past four games.

“Everyone is aware of it,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “We talked about third quarter [at halftime last week]. We had a good kickoff coverage group and did a good job, but [Dallas] took the ball down the field and scored. We had two three-and-outs on offense.”

Gibbs said that the Redskins can’t practice third quarters. Then he paused and said, “Maybe there is something you can do. Maybe stop practice and say, ‘Now it’s the third quarter. Let’s go.’ ”

The Eagles outscore their foes 69-20 in third quarters. That ratio skyrockets to 34-3 at home while the Redskins have been outscored 27-7 in road third quarters.

While Washington’s offense has obviously been the prime culprit, getting blanked during the past four third quarters, the defense has surrendered a touchdown on the opening series of the third quarter in each of those four games.

“That first third down of the third quarter is a critical one because it sets the tone,” assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. “It’s a big emphasis. We talk about it every day and every week. I have never ended a halftime adjustment period in my coaching career without talking about that.”

So does Gibbs, who was famous for his halftime adjustments during his first Washington tenure, which included three Super Bowl victories and eight playoff berths in 12 seasons.

Last year’s wild-card qualifying squad outscored their foes 101-86 in third quarters. In fact, the Redskins were outscored in third quarters in just three of their 14 previous seasons under Gibbs: strike-shortened 1982, when they won the Super Bowl; 1985, when they went 10-6 but missed the playoffs; and 2004, when he posted a career-worst 6-10 record.

But not even those teams were outscored by an almost 3-1 ratio as is the case for this season’s Redskins.

“I think we have a well-organized halftime,” Gibbs said. “You have 12 minutes to correct things. I think we do smart things. [But] so far, we haven’t found the cure.”

The Redskins haven’t found a cure for the once-feared defense’s problems with third downs, takeways and explosive plays, either. Washington’s last four foes converted nearly half (28 of 57) of their third downs. The defense didn’t force a turnover during that stretch and is ranked last in plays of at least 20 yards allowed after giving up 20 the past four games.

Playing the Eagles doesn’t figure to solve those woes. Not only are they 7-0 coming off bye weeks under coach Andy Reid, but they lead the league in explosive plays, have committed just 13 turnovers and have converted 40 percent of their third downs.

The Eagles’ four defeats were by a total of just 18 points. The 13-6 loss against Jacksonville on Oct. 29 was the only game in which Philadelphia wasn’t tied or ahead in the final seconds.

“They have had a week off and Philly is an extremely tough place to play,” said Gibbs, whose team, needing a victory to clinch a playoff berth, trailed the battered host Eagles in the fourth quarter on New Year’s Day before winning and was crushed there in 2004. “When [Eagles quarterback] Donovan [McNabb] has been healthy, he has driven us crazy. We’ve always struggled against [their defense]. They’re very well-coached, very good scheme-wise. It’s hard to run on ‘em and they’re going to come after you. They’re very aggressive.”

With Pro Bowl receiver Santana Moss’ strained hamstring much-improved, the Redskins should be fully healthy for the first time this year and riding the high of last week’s wild, last-second 22-19 victory over the Cowboys.

“We have a little more confidence, maybe a little more of a swagger after that win against Dallas,” quarterback Mark Brunell said. “Confidence is huge in this business. Hopefully we can carry some of that into this game.”

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