- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Two plays to gain a yard and force overtime.

Two chances to erase an otherwise dreadful second half.

Two opportunities to keep hope alive for a 3-0 start.

But the Washington Redskins, running what associate head coach-offense Al Saunders later labeled “our two best goal-line shots,” couldn’t gain the yard against a New York Giants defense that underwent a season-saving transformation at halftime yesterday.

After a spike to stop the clock and an incomplete pass, Ladell Betts was stopped for no gain on third-and-goal from the New York 1 and then sent backward for a 2-yard loss with 25 seconds remaining, allowing the Giants to escape with a 24-17 victory.

“We didn’t get in, and you just got to live with it,” Betts said. “It’s probably going to be hard for me to go to sleep tonight without thinking about it over and over.”

Instead of being undefeated entering their bye weekend and being 2-0 in the NFC East, the Redskins now have some extra time to ponder how they could be so efficient in the first half but so ineffective in the second.

“It’s always hard going into the bye with a loss, but after tomorrow we have to look at the big picture,” left guard Pete Kendall said. “We let one get away today, and certainly everybody in here feels that way. But we’re 2-1. Nobody said it was going to be easy because it’s a grind and a long season. There are a lot of other teams that would like to be 2-1.”

But there are even more that would like to be 3-0. And the Redskins appeared to be on their way to a perfect September when they led 17-3 at halftime thanks to 10 points off two Giants turnovers.

In the second half, the Redskins didn’t get their initial first down until 4:22 remained. By that time, they trailed by a touchdown after the Giants scored on two 1-yard runs from Rueben Droughns and on Eli Manning’s 33-yard pass to Plaxico Burress with 5:32 left.

“We gave it away,” fullback Mike Sellers said. “We let some guys come into our house that hadn’t won a game and been passed through and run through beat us. It’s real frustrating.”

The Redskins had a chance to force overtime thanks to Antwaan Randle El’s 27-yard punt return, giving Washington possession at the New York 35. Seven plays later, Jason Campbell threw 20 yards to Randle El, setting up a first-and-goal from the 1 with 1:22 remaining. The Redskins were out of timeouts.

Cue the chaos.

First-and-goal: Campbell spiked the ball to stop the clock at 1:22.

“I looked to the sideline, and they wanted me to spike it, so that’s what I did,” Campbell said. “At the same time, we still had three opportunities.”

Second-and-goal: Campbell had three options — throw to Chris Cooley in the back of the end zone, throw to Sellers at the goal-line or scramble. On the move, he threw behind Sellers, who was unable to corral it. Fifty eight seconds remained.

Third-and-goal: Saunders gave Campbell instructions to call the same running play — Betts around the left side — twice. The first time, he was stuffed for no gain when Giants linebacker Kawika Mitchell knifed through a gap unblocked.

“That’s our best goal-line play,” Saunders said. “We went to our left side, our strongest side, and felt we could get it in.”

Fourth-and-goal: Even though there was nearly 30 seconds left, Campbell carried out his orders — Betts around the left side again. The Redskins conceivably had time to send in a different play if they chose.

“We didn’t know how much time we would have, and we thought we could get it in on the first play,” Saunders said. “But if we didn’t get in, depending on how everybody got off the pile, we didn’t feel we had a chance to get into the huddle and call another play.”

The call stayed the same. And so did the result — Betts lost 2 yards when he was tripped up after lead-blocker Sellers went to the ground.

The second-guessing will begin with why Clinton Portis or Sellers wasn’t used in the situation.

Gibbs said the coaches “feel really comfortable with [Portis and Betts], and we feel they’re both capable.”

Added Sellers: “What I want and what is presented to me in the game plan are two different things. I feel like I can get those short-yardage plays, but it wasn’t in the game plan. My job is to lead block and make those holes. But we couldn’t get it done.”

Hardly any Redskins got the job done in the second half. The offense had four first downs, 81 yards and a key fumble by Portis that led to a Giants touchdown. The defense allowed 206 yards, seven of nine third-down conversions and scoring drives of 61, 62 and 44 yards.

The Redskins built the lead thanks to a 1-yard run from Portis, an 8-yard pass from Campbell to Cooley and a 47-yard field goal by Suisham. A fumble recovery and interception by London Fletcher set up 10 points.

But the Giants started the second half with a 10-play, 61-yard drive, tied it with 12:33 remaining after Portis fumbled and scored the winning points when Burress burned Carlos Rogers and Sean Taylor.

“We didn’t play the style that got us the lead at halftime,” Fletcher said. “They outexecuted us, and defensively we weren’t our normal selves on third down or in the red zone.”

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