- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2011

Coming off the bye week, facing a desperate team with a dangerous offense, Washington’s defense opened Sunday’s game in the worst possible fashion - flat and lax.

Actually, that’s not true. The Redskins held Philadelphia to a three-and-out on the game’s first possession.

But for the rest of half, the Eagles drove the field like it was their personal HOV lane. And that was enough to secure a 20-13 victory in a must-win game for them, as opposed to a woulda-been-nice win for Washington.

Picking on the defense is difficult when it yields a mere 20 points, none after intermission. But it’s responsible for the heavy lifting if Washington is to be successful. No one really expected Rex Grossman to carry the load, a weight he dropped with a thud Sunday. The Redskins aren’t built to come from behind, and a bad start on defense immediately puts victory in peril.

Such was the case against the Eagles. We should be celebrating the defense’s resiliency, the way it rebounded and pitched a second-half shutout. Instead, the focus shifts to the first 30 minutes that virtually decided the game.

“We responded well in the second half, but realistically 20 points is 20 points,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “Whether they score 20 points in the first quarter doesn’t matter. That’s too much. It’s not the goal we set for ourselves, and we came up short today. But it could’ve been a lot worse. It could’ve gotten even uglier in the first half.”

It was plenty ugly as it was, with the Eagles producing four consecutive scoring drives, each at least eight plays. There were three lengthy marches (82, 72 and 69 yards) and a short-fielder (41 yards). Washington’s saving grace was tightening up in the red zone and holding Philly to field goals on the last two.

The Redskins were keeping Philly from its customary explosive, big plays, but the effect was maddening. It was like a new version of “Old McDonald,” a dink, dink here and a dink, dink there. Essentially that was Washington’s game plan, but not to that extent.

“The short to medium stuff kept adding up,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “It was getting a little frustrating because they have such big-time receivers and on film they usually throw it down the field.”

Well, it’s hard to throw downfield when the cornerbacks give more cushion than a Serta Perfect Sleeper. If they played back any farther they would’ve been in the third row. Vick completed 12 of 20 passes for 141 yards in the first half, as four of his receivers averaged at least 10 yards per reception.

Contrast that to the second half, when Vick was held to 96 yards passing, with 59 coming on a completion to Jeremy Maclin.

Those were the types of plays Washington feared most, but it was the short stuff that made a difference in the end. The defense did a great job overall in the final 30 minutes, once it realized that the bye week ended at 1 p.m.

“We didn’t make adjustments on many assignments,” safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said. “It was more of an attitude and emotional adjustment. Coming in off the bye week, we may have come into the game flat. We didn’t start as intense as the defense normally does. That can hurt you against this team, which is very powerful offensively.”

Especially when your own offense can’t match that firepower. With Grossman struggling to complete more passes to teammates instead of defenders, and a running game that failed to produce behind a banged-up line, the defense was on the field for all but 8 minutes, 22 seconds before intermission.

Unfortunately, the lethargic effort on one side appeared to affect the other.

“It seemed like a chain effect,” Cofield said. “The defense was struggling and the offense was struggling, and it shouldn’t be like that. We should be two separate entities no matter what’s happening on the other side of the ball. We have to feel like one big play can change the whole momentum.”

They nearly pulled it off. A third-quarter interception by Atogwe at the 1-yard line kept the deficit at 20-6, but the Redskins failed to capitalize. On the next defensive series, cornerback DeAngelo Hall picked off Vince Young - replacing a dazed Vick - to set up Washington at the Eagles’ 18-yard line.

Alas, that opportunity was lost when Grossman threw his third interception of the afternoon.

“Those [takeaways] are things when you win, you look back and say that’s why you won the game,” Cofield said. “But when you lose, you focus on the negatives.”

Ultimately, there were 30 negatives for the Redskins’ defense: one for every minute of the first half.

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