Landover -- The Washington Redskins seemed to be on the brink of an early blowout victory yesterday against the Atlanta Falcons at FedEx Field. The Redskins scored on their first two possessions and had good field possession on their third. The Falcons, losers of four straight, were in free-fall.
The rest of the afternoon was a bleary blur for the Redskins.
If it wasn't second-year quarterback Jason Campbell showing his inexperience and being intercepted twice, once leading to Atlanta's first touchdown, then it was Falcons quarterback Michael Vick dancing through the defense or running back Jerious Norwood rumbling 69 yards for a touchdown.
The Redskins lost, 24-14, wasting a career-high 155 yards on 28 carries by running back Ladell Betts as well as seven catches for 123 yards from wide receiver Santana Moss. The defeat likely eliminated Washington (4-8) from the playoffs for the second time in the three years since Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs returned.
"Really, we should have put them away early," said Betts, who scored the first touchdown on an 8-yard run. "To their credit, they bounced back and fought and they got the win. We jumped on them 14-0 and it looked like it was about to be a rout. We didn't keep our foot on the gas."
Running behind Betts on a nine-play, 69-yard scoring drive, then scoring again when Moss made a leaping 42-yard catch between two defenders before rolling into the end zone, the Redskins seemed intent on pounding away at the right side of Atlanta's defensive line.
Instead, they tried some trickery. After Moss was ruled out of bounds on a first-down pass, Antwaan Randle El took a handoff on a reverse. Just as happened in last week's win over the Carolina Panthers, Randle El lost 2 yards. Two plays later, the Redskins punted and the momentum began to slip away.
Asked if he was surprised by the play-calling on that third series, fullback Mike Sellers said, "We're just pawns in the game. Even though we have jobs to do, we don't call the plays. We do what we're supposed to do. Apparently we didn't do enough to get the win."
Said Gibbs: "We set our goals for the game and when we started out, we operated about as good as we've operated all year. Then we couldn't sustain our momentum. We didn't make plays. We put the ball in their hands. We had a game plan, but we just couldn't stick with it."
Behind Vick's playmaking, the Falcons (6-6) climbed back into the game.
They got their first points on a 34-yard field goal by ageless kicker Morten Andersen early in the second quarter, cut their deficit to 14-10 with the help of two passes from Vick to tight end Alge Crumpler and then took the lead for good early in the third quarter.
The Redskins started the second half by driving from their 37 to the Atlanta 20. About to be sacked, Campbell's weak throw was intercepted by defensive end Chauncey Davis, who ran 41 yards to the Washington 25. Two plays later, Vick hit Michael Jenkins for a 22-yard touchdown.
Then after a punt by Derrick Frost pinned the Falcons at their 2, Vick got Atlanta out of trouble and Norwood, the rookie from Mississippi State who made T.J. Duckett expendable last summer, ran by safety Vernon Fox and then faked out cornerback Kenny Wright en route to a 69-yard touchdown.
"It is frustrating, but he's [Vick] able to improvise and make plays with his legs" said Wright, who replaced veteran cornerback Shawn Springs, a late scratch because of a pulled hamstring. "We had 'em pretty much where we wanted 'em, but they made a couple of plays at the end."
Said cornerback Carlos Rogers: "The bottom line is we didn't tackle them."
Still, the Redskins had a chance late in the game. They drove from their 5 to Atlanta's 16 with 2:44 to go, but Campbell was intercepted again, this time at the goal line.
After Rock Cartwright blocked a punt, the Redskins took possession at the Atlanta 27 with 2:03 left.
Here, the play-calling got strange again. After getting the ball down to the 2 with a series of short passes, the Redskins went back to Betts on third-and-1 despite the fact that only 55 seconds remained and they were out of timeouts. Betts lost 2 yards and a fourth down pass was incomplete.
Asked about the play-calling early in the game, associate head coach Al Saunders said, "Who knows what would have happened if we would have done something else? We just didn't execute."
While the victory ended a month of frustration for the Falcons, temporarily taking Vick (8-of-16 passing for 122 yards, 10 rushes for 59 yards) and coach Jim Mora Jr. off the hot seat they seemed to be sharing, it realistically ended any playoff hopes for the Redskins.
When asked if the team had any hopes for a second straight postseason, Betts chuckled.
"Obviously speaking there has to be a little luck fall on our side," Betts said. "Some other guys are going to have to lose, that loss today is going to make it tougher. We have to look and see where the chips fall and keep plugging. We have four games left, we're not going to stop fighting."
Linebacker Marcus Washington had a difficult time describing what happened.
"It's really like a blur," he said.
A bleary one at that.
Play it again
A summary of the Washington Redskins' 24-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons:
What went right --Washington took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter by scoring on its first two possessions, going 69 yards on a nine-play drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown run by Ladell Betts and then driving 70 yards on five plays with Santana Moss catching a 42-yard touchdown pass from Jason Campbell. Also, Betts rushed for a career-high 155 yards on 28 carries.
What went wrong -- The rest of the game, particularly the second half. Leading 14-10 at halftime and driving on its first possession to the Atlanta 20, Washington saw the Falcons turn an interception of Campbell (18-for-38, 217 yards, two interceptions) into a 22-yard touchdown pass from Michael Vick to Michael Jenkins, and then watched Jerious Norwood rumble 69 yards for a touchdown.
Defining moment -- Many would point to Campbell's interception by Chauncey Davis, who returned it 41 yards to set up the Jenkins touchdown. But the Redskins seemed to lose their early momentum after scoring on their first two possessions. Instead of continuing to pound the Falcons with Betts, the Redskins tried to beat Atlanta with a poorly conceived end around to Antwaan Randle El that lost 2 yards. It was all downhill from there.
What it means -- Essentially, whatever slim playoff hopes the Redskins (4-8) held going into the game are all but erased unless the rest of the NFC totally collapses, which is not out of the realm of possibility. The best the Redskins can finish is 8-8. To do that they will have to win their last four games, a huge task considering that Washington has won back-to-back games only once and couldn't do it again yesterday.
A look ahead -- The Redskins conclude a three-game homestand Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Washington will try to redeem itself for the embarrassing 27-3 loss at Lincoln Financial Field last month - the game that led to Mark Brunell being benched in favor of Campbell - and should have an easier time since Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is out for the season.
Atlanta 0 10 7 7-24
Washington 14 0 0 0-14
First quarter Was-Betts 8 run (Suisham kick), 6:53. Was-Moss 42 pass from J.Campbell (Suisham kick), 2:43.
Second quarter Atl-FG Andersen 34, 7:42. Atl-Crumpler 16 pass from Vick (Andersen kick), 2:20.
Third quarter Atl-Jenkins 22 pass from Vick (Andersen kick), 10:32.
Fourth quarter Atl-Norwood 69 run (Andersen kick), 12:26. A-86,436.
First downs 16 25
Total Net Yards 369 381
Rushes-yards 41-256 35-177
Passing 113 204
Punt Returns 0-0 1-3
Kickoff Returns 3-75 5-99
Interceptions Ret. 2-69 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 8-16-0 18-38-2
Sacked-Yards Lost 1-9 1-13
Punts 5-31.2 5-40.8
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 6-60 3-30
Time of Possession 28:22 31:38 Rushing-Atlanta, Norwood 9-107, Dunn 21-87, Vick 10-59, Griffith 1-3. Washington, Betts 28-155, Campbell 2-15, Duckett 4-9, Randle El 1-(minus 2). Passing-Atlanta, Vick 8-16-0-122. Washington, Campbell 18-38-2-217. Receiving-Atlanta, Jenkins 4-43, Crumpler 2-62, Lelie 2-17. Washington, Moss 7-123, Betts 3-18, Lloyd 2-26, Randle El 2-14, Cooley 2-12, Sellers 1-12, Thrash 1-12. Missed field goal-Washington, Suisham 50 (WL).