- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008

SEATTLE — The squandered gift to convert a recovered kickoff into a touchdown, the wasted chance to cash in on a second fourth-quarter interception and the blown fourth-quarter lead shouldn’t serve as a complete microcosm of the Washington Redskins’ season, which came to a disheartening end last night with a 35-14 NFC wild card loss to the Seattle Seahawks at raucous Qwest Field.

No, that will come in the next few days when players and coaches get a chance to reflect on the four-game losing skid, costly injuries throughout the lineup, Sean Taylor’s murder and the four-game winning streak to end the regular season.

But what the final 15 minutes should serve as is an example of what happened in 2007 for the Redskins:

Good enough to put themselves in position to win some games but not great enough to cash in on the majority of those chances.

“That’s been our story all year,” defensive end Phillip Daniels said. “We’re a good team that’s not taking advantage of opportunism when they present themselves.”

Up 14-13 with 12:38 left, the Redskins were outscored 22-0 the rest of the game as Seattle pulled ahead on D.J. Hackett’s 20-yard touchdown catch with 6:06 left, sealed the game on Marcus Trufant’s 78-yard interception return 28 seconds later and tacked on Jordan Babineaux’s 57-yard interception return with 27 seconds left.

The Redskins (9-8) were denied a return trip to Dallas next Sunday for the rubber match of the teams’ storied rivalry.

“I haven’t been part of a group that took more pride in the way they played,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “Today’s game is a little bit like our season in that nothing seemed to go right for us early, but then our guys found a way to get back into it.”

Back into the game but not back into the divisional round for the second time in three seasons. Instead Seattle (11-6) advanced to play at Green Bay on Saturday. The winner of today’s New York-Tampa Bay game travels to Dallas.

Had the Redskins held on, they would have joined elite company: Only two teams (the 1972 and 1980 Cowboys) ever had rallied from a deficit of 13 or more points in the fourth quarter to win a playoff game. Down 13-0 entering the final quarter, the Redskins got touchdown catches from Antwaan Randle El and Santana Moss less than three minutes apart to take the lead.

Instead, for the fourth time this season and the first time in Gibbs’ postseason career (19 games), the Redskins were unable to hold a fourth-quarter lead.

“To a man, everybody is disappointed with the outcome,” middle linebacker London Fletcher said. “We were so confident, we felt like we were playing so well that we weren’t going to be defeated without getting to the Super Bowl. … It didn’t work out for us. It just doesn’t seem right that it’s over for us.”

Plenty of factors played a role in the loss, and all of them happened in the final 12 minutes.

After Shaun Suisham’s missed 30-yard field goal with 11:37 remaining — negating a pooch kickoff recovered by Anthony Mix at the Seattle 14 — the Redskins went nowhere on offense.

“Like we did all year, we kept after it,” left guard Pete Kendall said. “Things turned for us, and then it swung pretty big for them.”

Safety LaRon Landry capped his rookie year with two fourth-quarter interceptions, but he showed his inexperience on Seattle’s game-winning touchdown. Hackett ran a pattern down the left hash mark. He juked to his left, and Pierson Prioleau jumped the route. Hackett turned up field, Landry was late covering and the 20-yard touchdown with 6:06 remaining was the difference.

“Their free safety [Landry] was very active, and we thought we could get a little move down the seam, and it worked nicely,” Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said.

Rock Cartwright returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards, but a block in the back by Mike Sellers pushed the Redskins back to their own 46.

Lined up as the left receiver, Moss ran an S-type route that included a double move. Trufant didn’t bite on the outside fake and easily intercepted the pass and brought it back for a touchdown to seal the game with 5:38 remaining.

Moss appeared to stop or give up on the play, but all parties insisted he merely lost track of the pass, which was Collins’ first interception in 143 attempts this season.

“I didn’t see anything,” Moss said. “Before I made my cut, the guy was already playing the deep ball, almost like he knew it was coming. I came out of my break looking back, and the ball was already in the air. [Stuff] happens.”

The Redskins’ offense had only two drives last longer than nine plays and was stymied by an athletic Seattle defense, which negated most outside runs.

But late in the third quarter, Gibbs signed off on Al Saunders running the no-huddle offense. The result was a 12-play, 84-yard drive that culminated on the first play of the fourth quarter with Randle El’s 7-yard touchdown catch.

Landry’s first interception turned into Collins’ 30-yard touchdown to Moss, who split to Seattle defenders on a post route down the middle.

Things got even better for the Redskins when Suisham’s designed pooch kickoff bounced over, around and between Josh Wilson and Nate Burleson and was recovered by Mix at the 14. A rule prohibited Mix from returning the recovery.

“After that, we felt like, ‘This is our game,’ ” Daniels said. “We score there or even get a field goal, it’s a different game.”

But three plays — an incompletion to Chris Cooley, a 2-yard run by Clinton Portis and a pressured incompletion by Collins (who was 29-for-50 for 266 yards) — meant the Redskins had to settle for Suisham’s 30-yard field goal attempt. But he was wide left.

Although Landry’s interception ended Seattle’s next drive, the Redskins couldn’t get a first down, and the Seahawks used a short field (42 yards) to score on Hackett’s catch.

Now the Redskins only can watch which NFC team likely will get a chance to prevent history (New England) or a repeat (Indianapolis) in the Super Bowl.

“It’s really hard to lose a game when you get in the door and we couldn’t even look around the house,” Daniels said. “It’s one game, and now we’re out. You don’t get to the playoffs that often, and there were so many opportunities today. We had things in our hands.”

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