- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO | When the Washington Redskins gather Monday for team and position meetings to wrap up their season, it will be easy to summarize both the year and their final game.

Fast first half. Sour second half.

Leading the San Francisco 49ers by 10 points at halftime Sunday, the Redskins blew the advantage but nearly forced overtime before Joe Nedney’s 39-yard field goal as time expired handed them a 27-24 loss at Candlestick Park.

In playoff position two months ago with a 6-2 record, the Redskins limped to an 8-8 finish, last in the NFC East and better than only five teams in the conference.

“For the most part, that’s the story of this year,” defensive end Andre Carter said of the about-face. “Success in the NFL is no easy task, and it takes time. [An 8-8 season] is not a winning record, and it’s not a losing record. In itself, it’s average. Granted, with the talent we have on this team, we don’t feel like an average team, but that’s our record.”

Running back Clinton Portis, whose third-quarter fumble ignited the 49ers’ comeback, was more succinct about the Redskins’ collapse. Like the team, Portis saw his production dip in the past two months, with injuries limiting him to one 100-yard game in the final eight weeks.

“The first half was great. The second half sucked,” he said. “I think we blew it in the second half of the season.”

The Redskins certainly blew it in the second half against San Francisco. The 49ers scored 17 unanswered points to take a 24-17 lead with 5:06 remaining. The Redskins drove 55 yards to tie the score on Jason Campbell’s fourth-down scramble from 2 yards out with 1:09 remaining.

But San Francisco quarterback Shaun Hill, kept in check for three quarters, engineered the game-winning drive.

Starting at the San Francisco 27, the former Maryland signal-caller was 3-for-5 for 62 yards, including completions of 19 yards to Michael Robinson (who knifed between London Fletcher and DeAngelo Hall down the right hash mark) and 24 yards to Bryant Johnson (who turned Shawn Springs around with Kareem Moore too late to help). A spike and kneel-down preceded Nedney’s game-winning kick.

San Francisco entered the game with 62 sacks allowed; the Redskins got to Hill only once.

“It wasn’t necessarily breakdowns [in the secondary],” coach Jim Zorn said of the final drive. “We gave Shaun some time in the pocket, and he allowed the receivers to extend the coverage. We allowed him to throw on rhythm and throw a little longer [downfield].”

Hill’s heroics erased a solid game-tying drive by Campbell. Rock Cartwright’s 43-yard kickoff return put the Redskins at their 45 with 4:57 remaining. Campbell completed 12-yard passes to Chris Cooley and Santana Moss. On second-and-12 from the San Francisco 33, Campbell scrambled up the middle for 23 yards. Four plays later, it was fourth-and-goal from the 2.

Campbell’s first option, Cooley, was covered by Takeo Spikes. About to be under duress, the quarterback ran and lunged over the goal line as he was being hit by Patrick Willis.

“It was big for us for him to go through his progression and recognize, ‘Hey, there isn’t anybody open, and there isn’t anybody in the middle of the field,’” left guard Pete Kendall said. “For him to take off and run like that put us in position to score, and it’s all part of the maturation process.”

The process of how to start a first quarter fast will remain a work in progress for the Redskins, who don’t often get going until they face a deficit. They allowed a touchdown on the opening drive for the third time in four weeks. Hill capped the possession when he aborted a shovel pass and scooted 2 yards for the touchdown.

Washington moved the ball on its second drive and tied the score on Portis’ 4-yard touchdown. On the next possession, Carlos Rogers intercepted Hill and ran to the San Francisco 23. The Redskins, though, could get only a 41-yard Shaun Suisham field goal. On first down, Moss was wide open on the right side, but Campbell didn’t put enough loft on the pass, and it was broken up by 49ers linebacker Manny Lawson.

The Redskins stretched the lead to 10 points with 36 seconds left in the half, with Campbell throwing 6 yards to Antwaan Randle El. The 16-play drive was the team’s longest touchdown march of the year and the time (9:10) was the longest of any of its scoring drives. The Redskins converted four third downs; a 49ers penalty cashed in a fifth.

“We came in at halftime and were feeling good about what we were doing on offense, defense and special teams,” Campbell said. “We started slow but responded. It felt like the Philly game early in the year [when the Redskins won after trailing 14-0 in the first quarter]. But we couldn’t keep it going, and they got the momentum.”

As was the case most of the second half of the season, however, the Redskins couldn’t capitalize on the momentum. Their only quality win in the final 11 weeks was at home against Philadelphia. Their three previous wins were against Seattle (4-12), Detroit (0-16) and Cleveland (4-12).

“You can make all sorts of analogies,” Kendall said. “It’s a disappointing end to the game and the season. …

“Whether it will be tonight or two weeks after it’s over, regardless of how we got here, that’s what we are: It’s 8-8.”

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