- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2008

— Stuck in another struggle with one play likely to determine whether the Washington Redskins would fly back to the East Coast riding a three-game losing streak or excited about being 7-4, Jim Zorn performed a demeanor check.

Was the team’s concentration level still high?

Did the coach need to rile anybody up?

Were players complaining or discouraged?

“I was ready to do some head coaching,” he said. “I wanted to make sure our team was into it. And they were. There wasn’t a letdown of effort or focus. I didn’t have to say anything.”

The players repaid Zorn’s faith with a 20-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field that snapped a two-game skid. It wasn’t sealed until Shawn Springs intercepted Matt Hasselbeck with 1:20 remaining, a play after Ladell Betts fumbled at the Seattle 22-yard line.

“It was a terrible feeling,” Betts said. “The defense bailed me out big-time.”

The Redskins scored two offensive touchdowns for the first time since Week 6, intercepted two passes for the second straight game and received 143 rushing yards from Clinton Portis to keep pace with Dallas and Atlanta (also 7-4) for the final NFC playoff spot. Carolina (8-3) currently lines up as the fifth seed. Philadelphia (5-5-1) lost at Baltimore.

“We have to use it as something that will move us in the right direction,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “The rest of our schedule is extremely tough against tough defenses, so I hope this will be huge for us.”

The raucous venue served as the endpoint for the Redskins in 2005 and 2007, when Seattle won the teams’ playoff matchups. But interceptions by Springs and LaRon Landry, touchdowns by Betts (1-yard run) and Antwaan Randle El (8-yard catch) and two Shaun Suisham field goals (26 and 22 yards) helped the Redskins exorcise those demons.

“I told [Hasselbeck] when the clock ran out, ‘We finally got you,’” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “We haven’t had a lot of luck here. It took us coming here and stealing a coach to win here.”

Zorn played quarterback for the Seahawks and was on Seattle’s coaching staff during Hasselbeck’s development and the franchise’s only trip to the Super Bowl. A video presentation documenting his career was played before the game, and his wife, Joy, accepted his Washington State Sports Hall of Fame plaque.

“To come home and face Mike Holmgren and that team and the coaches I know so well and achieve this, it’s cool,” Zorn said.

In Holmgren’s final season as Seahawks coach, Seattle fell to 2-9.

“I feel good about his success,” Holmgren said. “He’s wired correctly - a little different than I am but wired correctly. He communicates well, and his players are responding.”

The Redskins didn’t offer their on-field response until the third quarter. Their first four drives resulted in three punts and a missed field goal. They trailed 10-7 at halftime after Seattle quickly drove 72 yards to score 29 seconds before the half.

In the second half, the offense that proved so instrumental during the Redskins’ 4-1 start reappeared.

After an Olindo Mare missed field goal, the Redskins drove to the Seattle 13 before stalling and forcing Suisham’s first field goal, which tied the game at 10-10.

On Seattle’s next possession, Landry recorded the first regular-season interception of his career (he picked off Hasselbeck twice in last year’s playoff loss) and returned it 13 yards to the Seattle 35. Hasselbeck said after the game he felt tight end John Carlson was being held by Springs and wanted to throw it in his vicinity to draw the penalty. It didn’t work.

One play later, Jason Campbell threw 21 yards to Cooley. The Redskins then used a four-receiver, one-tight end formation. Seattle rushed six, and Campbell patiently waited for Randle El to spring free on a crossing route, which he did for his first touchdown since Week 3.

“We knew they were going to bring more than we could block,” Campbell said. “Guys kept their composure and ran the right routes, and we were able to get the blitz and the touchdown.”

The Seahawks answered with a 10-play, 62-yard touchdown drive capped by Hasselbeck’s 10-yard pass to Carlson in the back of the end zone with 13:24 remaining.

But the Redskins ran 21 of the next 25 offensive plays. The first 10 set up Suisham’s second field goal with 9:19 left to provide the winning points; the final 11 used 5:37 of clock before Betts’ fumble.

“We were trying to do right and keep the ball in our possession,” Zorn said. “Ladell tried to strain for that extra yard. He got on somebody’s back, and they ripped the ball out.”

Betts’ fumble aside, the Redskins’ offense was more efficient, gaining 386 yards, converting seven of 15 third-down chances and allowing only two sacks. Six players caught at least two passes, led by Cooley’s five receptions for 54 yards.

“There was never a sense of panic or a sense of, ‘Oh my God,’” Rabach said. “We just kept on telling the coaches to stick to the game plan and do what we’ve been practicing and good things would happen.”

Campbell completed 20 of 33 attempts for 206 yards and rushed six times for 32 yards.

“Offensively, we absolutely needed to improve,” Zorn said. “We ran the ball again effectively, and once we got our pass protection situated, Jason could stand back and throw on rhythm.”

That kind of rhythm will be hard to come by this Sunday when the Redskins host the 10-1 New York Giants, a game that represents the Redskins’ last shot to make the division race interesting.

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