Monday, November 7, 2005

A bystander for the past five-plus seasons, the Washington Redskins welcomed themselves back to the NFC East and playoff race last night.

For the first time in who knows how long, the Redskins captured a must-win-type game, downing the Philadelphia Eagles 17-10 before the second-largest crowd (90,298) in FedEx Field history.

With the win — their first over the Eagles in eight tries — the Redskins reached the season’s midpoint at 5-3, the first time they have been above .500 at this point since 2000. The four-time defending division champion Eagles, meanwhile, fell to 4-4 and — with their lack of a running game and the suspension of receiver Terrell Owens — seem in disarray.

Clinton Portis’ 6-yard touchdown run with 2:47 remaining in the third quarter broke a 10-10 tie, and safety Ryan Clark’s interception inside the Redskins 5-yard line with 1:15 left preserved the victory.

“I had [running back] Lamar Gordon, and when he stayed in to block, I just stayed in my area,” Clark said. “I read Donovan [McNabb’s] eyes, and he threw it right to me. It was an unbelievable feeling.”

The Redskins rebounded from last week’s 36-0 loss to the New York Giants with their second division win and stayed unbeaten at home this season (4-0).

“I’m really proud of our players to bounce back after what happened to us last week. It was a huge game for us,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “Right now we have one loss in the division and one loss in the NFC, and that’s a big deal for us. We all knew it.

“I kind of had it pegged that if we lost this ballgame, our back was up against it the rest of the way. We’re at the halfway point, and we still have a brutal schedule. It’s going to be [tough] every single week, but it gives you a huge lift.”

The Redskins, who entered 1-3 in their last four games, are tied for second place with Dallas in the division, one game behind the Giants. They are tied with the Cowboys for the final NFC playoff spot but hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Redskins have not won a division title or reached the playoffs since 1999. In that time, the Eagles have made the playoffs five consecutive years, won four divisional titles and reached last year’s Super Bowl.

Quarterback Mark Brunell was 21 of 29 passing for 224 yards, and Clinton Portis rushed 21 times for 67 yards, going over the 5,000-yard mark for his career.

“Maybe we’ll look back at this game as perhaps a defining moment,” Brunell said. “Hopefully we can build some momentum off this one. To be 5-3 halfway through is good for any football team, so we’re pleased.”

Even though they were playing without Owens — suspended/deactivated/sent to his room Saturday morning for general boneheaded behavior — the Eagles were in position to tie in the final two minutes.

Starting at their own 15, the Eagles quickly moved down the field thanks to McNabb (22-for-35, 304 yards), who had completions of 19, 26 and 27 yards. The final pass was a screen to Brian Westbrook, who sprinted down the left sideline before being pushed out of bounds at the Redskins 13.

A 6-yard pass and two incompletions set up Clark’s heroics. On fourth-and-4 from the 7, both teams called timeouts, and McNabb, with his receivers blanketed, stepped to his right and tried to throw in the end zone. But Clark made the interception near the goal line to seal the win.

The Redskins’ winning score answered a Philadelphia field goal late in the third quarter. Ladell Betts’ 40-yard kickoff return gave the Redskins fine field position (their 48-yard line), and Betts helped keep the drive alive with a 26-yard catch on third-and-11. Three plays later — on third-and-6 from the Eagles 19 — Brunell found H-back Chris Cooley for 13 yards. Cooley fumbled on the play, but left guard Derrick Dockery recovered the fumble.

“It was the biggest play of my life,” Dockery said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”

Portis scored up the middle on the next play.

The Dockery recovery was one of many breaks the Redskins caught — and cashed in on. Punt returner James Thrash fumbled, but Pierson Prioleau recovered. The Eagles were in position for a field goal at the end of the first half, but McNabb faked a spike, Phillip Daniels sacked him and the clock ran out. And the Redskins were on the right side of three replay reviews, including two challenges by Eagles coach Andy Reid in the first three quarters.

“I can definitely say tonight things did bounce our way at times, and I’m sure happy it did,” Gibbs said. “There was a guy here and a guy there that made great plays. We gave everybody a game ball, but we’re giving a special one to ol’ Doc, who hustled down the field and made a huge play.”

Said Prioleau: “Every now and then you have to get the ball to bounce your way. Tonight, we got a couple of those breaks, and we got some calls to go our way. That’s how you win games like this.”

In the first half, the Eagles struck first on McNabb’s 56-yard touchdown pass to Owens’ replacement, Reggie Brown, with 2:55 remaining in the opening quarter. The Redskins answered on John Hall’s 24-yard field goal and took their first lead when a 39-yard pass interference call on Lito Sheppard set up Mike Sellers’ 1-yard touchdown run, the first of his career. Sellers fumbled but officials ruled he had crossed the goal line after an Eagles challenge.

“I said about eight prayers when they were watching the replay,” Sellers said. “I knew I had broke the plane. Some calls go our way, and others don’t. I was sick [when the ball came out].”

The Redskins fumbled on their next possession, but the Eagles came up empty when McNabb’s fake spike faked his own team out and Daniels recorded the sack.

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