Had the Washington Redskins managed to beat the Cincinnati Bengals last week or the St. Louis Rams in mid-October, yesterday's 10-3 win over the Eagles would have been a landmark game with a legendary finish. It would have propelled them into a position to snag a spot in the playoffs by beating the 49ers next Sunday.
In the real world, however, it was a somewhat entertaining game that featured a mix of good defense and bad offense on the part of both teams.
The Washington secondary swarmed over the Eagle receivers most of the game. Donovan McNabb frequently was unable to find open receivers and that gave Jason Taylor a chance to rack up two sacks, more than doubling his total for the season. One of those sacks was accompanied by a strip of the ball, and London Fletcher's subsequent recovery and return set up the Redskins' only touchdown.
When McNabb had time to throw—and he did frequently—his receivers were getting rocked. LaRon Landry, who had his best game in a long time, smacked the Eagles' receiver Desean Jackson on a couple of occasions, once sending the rookie into the locker room to have the medical staff take a look at his ribs.
In another, less spectacular but equally effective play in the fourth quarter, Shawn Springs executed a classic strip of the ball on a McNabb to Jackson pass over the middle.
That was the good defense part. The bad offense came when the Eagles got a severe case of the dropsies. First it was tight end L. J. Smith dropping a couple of short passes with a lot of green grass in front of him. Then Jackson couldn't get the handle on a couple of deep passes, including one in the end zone that would have tied the game in the late going.
Someone in the press box counted seven drops (presumably not counting Assante Samuel's drop of an interception that cost the Eagles some 40 yards of field position).
The Eagles had ample opportunity to drop passes since Andy Reid had McNabb drop back 48 times and hand off just 16 times. Even if you take out the 15 passes that McNabb attempted in that final drive you still have a pass to run ratio of two to one.
This in a game that the Redskins led by more than a touchdown for just over four minutes on a cold, windy evening and that Philly entered with two of its top receivers inactive. It appeared for a while the Reid was buying into the concept of offensive balance but it certainly eluded him in this game.
It's hard to say whether or not the Eagles played great defense since the Washington offense was its usual unproductive self. The one sustained scoring drive, a 16-play field goal march that consumed 8:31 of the second quarter, was nice but it ended with three points instead of seven.
About the best you can say about the Washington offense was that it did move the chains and thus was able to give the defense some rest. They didn't have any three and out series in the first three quarters.
The D needed the time on the sideline as the Redskins went three and out on three straight drives in the fourth quarter. Two of those started in Eagle territory but the Redskins, thanks primarily to some ultra-conservative play calling by Zorn, couldn't salt it away.
The defense got the job done, forcing four straight three-play Eagle possessions. They had enough left in the tank to stop their last drive a yard short of the end zone.
Again, if this game had playoff implications the high-low stop of Reggie Brown by Fred Smoot and Landry would have been wall poster material. I asked Landry if he'd ever heard of Ken Houston and, to my disappointment but not to my surprise, he said that he had not.
The stop wasn't exactly like the solo tackle of Walt Garrison that Houston made in 1973, but it was the closest thing we've seen since. There was no question that the ball never crossed the plane of the goal line but everyone had to wait another minute or so for that to be confirmed by replay.
Zorn and the locker room were appropriately "medium" after this one, certainly happy to get a win in a game that had meaning to the other team (and, technically, meaning for the Redskins as it unfolded as it was on at the same time as the Falcons game) but far from giddy over breaking their three-game losing streak.
Rich Tandler blogs about the Skins at RealRedskins.com and he is the author of the upcoming book The Redskins Chronicle. You can reach Rich by email at firstname.lastname@example.org