Unprompted following practice Wednesday, Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn singled out receiver Santana Moss‘ progress within the new passing offense. He said Moss had turned the corner from thinking about a route and a read to using his athleticism to make the play work.
“He’s the first guy in our group that you can see burst,” Zorn said. “Those things rolled for him last week.”
On Sunday, they rolled again.
Two plays after Carlos Rogers’ interception, Moss caught a quick screen pass from Jason Campbell and scooted 17 yards for the deciding touchdown in the Redskins’ 24-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals at FedEx Field.
The winning score came with 12:10 remaining but stood up thanks to a Redskins defense that allowed only 18 fourth-quarter yards and an offense that held possession for the final 2:33.
Though the season is only three games old, Moss appears to have returned to his 2005 form. He already has 19 catches and three touchdowns.
“I’m loving the way this offense is being run and loving the way they’re throwing the ball around to everybody,” Moss said.
And Rogers, who has been ribbed for having bad hands since he arrived in the NFL as a top-10 draft pick, set up the winning touchdown. As he fell to the ground, he collected a pass Leigh Torrence deflected and returned it 42 yards to put the Redskins in scoring range.
Moss and Rogers’ heroics kept the Redskins (2-1) a game out of first place in the NFC East as they prepare for consecutive road games in Dallas and Philadelphia.
After their first NFC East road game, a 16-7 loss to the Giants on Sept. 4, scuttlebutt abounded: Campbell’s transition to Zorn’s offense would be painful; the defense wouldn’t hold up against prolific opponents; the Redskins were several levels below their division rivals.
Since that loss at the Meadowlands, Campbell has thrown for 524 yards and two touchdowns, the defense has produced four takeaways and the Redskins have entered themselves into the division conversation regardless of how the next two games develop.
“Jason’s doing a great job. The offensive line is playing pretty well, [Clinton Portis] is running the ball hard and Santana and [Chris] Cooley are making plays,” defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. “I like watching them. I’m a fan, too.”
Griffin and the defense weren’t bad, either. The Cardinals’ only passing play longer than 20 yards was a 62-yard scoring strike to Larry Fitzgerald in the third quarter. And when Arizona got good field position (its own 42) after Shaun Suisham’s failed 52-yard field goal with 3:23 remaining, the Cardinals gained only 6 yards before punting.
“Incredible,” Zorn said of the defense. “They really did a wonderful job. The scheme and plan through our coaching staff was just excellent.”
As was the Redskins’ start. Campbell was 6-for-6 on the opening drive, a 60-yard march that included two third-down conversions, a 16-yard scramble by Campbell and a 3-yard touchdown run by Portis.
A fumble recovery by Rogers (forced by Rocky McIntosh) gave the Redskins possession at the Arizona 29, but rookie Devin Thomas was called for offensive pass interference, and the drive ended with a 48-yard field goal by Suisham for a 10-0 lead.
Arizona cut the lead to 10-7 late in the first half on Warner’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin. While Fitzgerald ended with seven catches for 109 yards, the Redskins kept Boldin in check (three catches, 25 yards). Shawn Springs had the assignment on Boldin for most of the game.
“They make our jobs easier when they cover the way they have been,” defensive end Jason Taylor said. “It gives us a chance to get [to the quarterback] because we’re not always going to win on the first move.”
Arizona tied the game on Neil Rackers’ 26-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half, but the Redskins answered with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Campbell to Todd Yoder.
The Cardinals knotted the score at 17-17 in the fourth quarter when Fitzgerald caught the ball in stride at the 17-yard line and waltzed into the end zone. The Redskins were playing zone, and Rogers released Fitzgerald to safety Reed Doughty, who thought Fitzgerald was readying to cut and run a deep corner route. Instead, Fitzgerald continued down the hash marks on what the Redskins call a “sting” pattern.
It certainly stung Doughty, who was replaced by rookie Chris Horton.
“I was faking man to man coverage, and I probably didn’t get quite deep enough,” Doughty said. “I tried to beat him for the interception instead of staying inside and doing my job.”
On Arizona’s next series, Warner faced a five-man rush and had Steve Breaston open down the seam. But Warner’s pass was underthrown, giving Torrence time to recover and have the ball deflect off him at the Washington 43. Rogers caught it, and his return put the Redskins in position for the winning score.
Two snaps later, Campbell threw a quick pass to Moss 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and Moss hit the hole developed by the kick-out blocks by Cooley and right tackle Stephon Heyer. It was the sixth straight game with a touchdown for Moss, tying a franchise record.
“It was something we’ve worked on,” Moss said. “We got away from it last year, and when [Zorn] got here, he immediately put it back into the offense, and that’s love for any receiver when you have a chance to do something after the catch. I was able to struggle into the end zone.”
The next two games will be a struggle regardless of the momentum the Redskins will take on the road. But they do so with confidence in their coach’s program and, just as important, each other.
“It’s going to be a battle because Dallas will be at home and playing with a swagger, just like we would if we were at home,” Griffin said. “No matter what the records are, both teams will be ready to play.”