- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Joe Gibbs didn’t make an inspired speech at halftime of the Washington Redskins’ game against Chicago on Dec. 6. For the ninth time in 13 games, the Redskins led after two quarters. They had lost five times.

Leading the Bears 7-0, the Redskins scored on their first drive of the third quarter and eventually won 24-16. In the subsequent three games, Washington has outscored opponents 58-6 in the first half and has flourished in the second half — an abrupt departure from the first 12 weeks and a main reason the Redskins will play at Seattle on Saturday in an NFC wild card game.

Instead of throttling back, the Redskins have piled it on, scoring on their opening possession of the third quarter each time.

Instead of playing passive defense, the Redskins have kept the pedal on the accelerator.

“As a coach, you can say, ‘Hey, we need to start fast,’ but that doesn’t mean anything if the players aren’t going to give a special effort,” he said. “A certain part of football is learning from your mistakes and certainly this team was hurt badly by second-half comebacks. We got burned so many times.”

Before the Bears win, the Redskins squandered halftime leads in losses to the New York Giants, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Dallas and Buffalo.

“I think it was a focus, honestly,” safety Reed Doughty said. “Before we would be like, ‘Let’s finish,’ but everybody would be peeking at the clock and wondering how we’ll run the clock out. Now it’s like, ‘Just keep playing. Let’s keep rolling,’ instead of worrying about how there’s five minutes left in the third quarter.”

Instead of trying to milk the clock in the third quarter and putting its defense in compromising spots, Washington has remained aggressive on offense, which allows the defense to follow suit.

“That’s a big deal to come out and go after it hard,” Gibbs said. “It’s a process that, when bad things happen and you lose football games, getting knocked around is immediate reinforcement. After awhile, as human beings, you say, ‘That’s not going to happen again.’ ”

As soon as the disconnect disappeared so did the losing streak.

Against the Giants, the Redskins led 16-3 at halftime. To start the third quarter, the Redskins moved 46 yards on only five plays to score on Clinton Portis’ 5-yard touchdown run. On second-and-12 from the Giants 48, Collins passed 15 yards to Chris Cooley. On the next play, he completed a 19-yard strike to Mike Sellers.

The next week in Minnesota, the Redskins stormed to a 22-0 halftime lead. After the defense stuffed Adrian Peterson on fourth-and-1 at the Washington 44, Collins completions of 20 yards to Antwaan Randle El and 11 yards to Santana Moss set up a 26-yard Shaun Suisham field goal. The defense didn’t back off, either. Up 18 points late in the fourth quarter, Gregg Williams ordered blitzes of six players and eight players on consecutive drop backs.

Up 13-3 at halftime Sunday against the Cowboys, the Redskins scored on their second-half opening drive — 1-yard touchdown by Portis. Early in the fourth, a time when the Redskins would have run to burn the clock before, Collins threw a 42-yard touchdown to Santana Moss.

“The difference is, the receivers are getting chances to make plays and that’s how you continue drives and stop from going three-and-out,” Moss said. “If you look at the games we lost, we didn’t pass the ball a lot to the outside guys.”

Two keys have been three-and-outs and turnovers. In the five blown leads, the Redskins had nine three-and-outs and nine turnovers; in the four wins, no turnovers and six three-and-outs.

“Turnovers are the biggest part,” left guard Pete Kendall said. “When you don’t turn it over, you make teams play the long field and the level our defense is playing at, it’s going to be tough for them to put together long drives.”

Collins, who will start at Seattle, is 30-for-39 for 432 yards, two touchdowns and a 129.4 passer rating in the second half. Players said Collins has more freedom than Jason Campbell to extend the lead instead of managing the lead.

“We’ve gotten to the point where everybody is more comfortable with letting the ball go further down the field and how much balance we really need,” Randle El said. “When Jason [Campbell] was in there, they were still spoon-feeding him a little bit and not really letting him go. They’ve let Todd cut it loose and let him have total freedom.

“We’re still being [aggressive] and that’s [the coaches] knowing we’ve been in situations where we led by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter but then have to fight to win the game in the final two minutes and the defense is trying to keep the other team out of field goal range.”

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