NFC East: MNF9 final
|Geoff Burke/US Presswire|
|The Steelers limited Clinton Portis to 51 yards on 13 carries in a 23-6 victory over the Redskins on Monday.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
LANDOVER, Md. -- Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell still had a dazed look on his face when a paramedic walked past with a gurney 45 minutes after Monday's game. After a brutal 23-6 loss to the Steelers, Campbell is lucky he wasn't on it.
The Steelers validated their No. 1 ranking on defense by battering Campbell for seven sacks and forcing two interceptions. He'd gone a remarkable 271 consecutive attempts without an interception, but it had to end at some point. Despite being handed great field position throughout the first half, the Redskins could muster only two Shaun Suisham fields goals.
With the exception of a 22-yard run -- the longest allowed by the Steelers this season -- Clinton Portis couldn't get anything going on the ground. He saw his own streak of five games with at least 120 yards or more come to an abrupt end. The stretch plays that had shredded the Eagles and Cowboys didn't seem to faze the Steelers. And the lack of a running game took away the threat of the play-action passing game.
The Steelers' starting linebackers combined for five sacks. Campbell was frustrated because Pittsburgh prevented the deep ball by playing at least one safety 25 yards away from the line of scrimmage and then brought pressure from all over the field. In describing his frustration, the mild-mannered Campbell even issued a "golly durn," which passes for foul language in Taylorsville, Miss.
"That's about the most tenacious defense we've seen," Campbell said. "Those linebackers are so fast from east to west that they can take away the passing game and then have time to still bring pressure."
The Redskins didn't convert a third down in the first half, and were 3-of-15 for the night. Coach Jim Zorn said his team's inability to extend drives prevented him from ever getting into a play-calling rhythm. The Steelers had an acute awarness of down and distance, and stopped the Redskins a yard or two short of first downs on several occasions. And for some reason, Campbell took a couple of sacks when he could've simply tossed the ball out of bounds. Zorn said he enjoyed the chess match with Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau -- until the end of the third quarter.
"They play what they want and just throw it right in your face and say, 'Deal with this!' " Zorn said. "So I can't say it wasn't fun after a while, but it was challenging."
But what seemed to bother Zorn the most was a play his defense didn't make. He felt the need throughout the week to remind players to catch the ball before they thought about returning interceptions. Midway through the first quarter, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stared down a receiver in the flat and threw a made-to-order pick six to Carlos Rogers. The cornerback broke on the ball perfectly, but let it go through his hands.
"It was the exact situation that we discussed in practice Friday," Zorn said. "I thought we might have an opportunity to get an interception, and I didn't want us worrying about running or anything else."
Added Rogers: "Next time I may cradle it and just drop to the ground. Maybe I'll get a chance against Dallas [in Week 11] to take one to the house."
But it's not fair to pin the game on Rogers. The Redskins began drives at the Steelers' 36, 30 and 47-yard lines in the first quarter alone. They had only six points to show for it.
The Redskins had a 6-3 lead when Ryan Plackemeier had a punt blocked by Andre Frazier with 2:21 left in the first half. Pittsburgh's William Gay recovered at the Redskins' 13, leading to a Roethlisberger 1-yard touchdown run that gave Pittsburgh a 10-6 halftime lead.
Roethlisberger didn't return to the field in the second half because of an injured right shoulder, but the change of pace that backup Byron Leftwich provided caused the Redskins problems. Roethlisberger takes a ton of sacks because he holds the ball while waiting for receivers to come open downfield. Washington, not known for its fierce pass rush, sacked him three times and sent him to the locker room early.
Leftwich's first pass of the game was a 50-yard strike to Nate Washington. The play set up a touchdown to put the Steelers up, 16-6. But his best throw of the night came with the Steelers facing third-and-15 from their 18-yard line. He threw a dart across the field to Santonio Holmes, who stepped out of bounds a yard past the first-down marker. It was another poor play by Rogers, who inexplicably gave Holmes all the cushion he needed.
"He was getting the ball to his first read," said Redskins defensive end Demetric Evans, who had an excellent game with six tackles, two sacks and two quarterback hurries. "It was a completely different pace coming out of there."
It's strange to suggest that an injury to Roethlisberger actually increased the Steelers' chances of winning, but for one night, that was absolutely the case.
The Redskins and Cowboys will share a bye week before meeting at FedEx Field for a Sunday night showdown in two weeks. Like the Cowboys, the Redskins desperately need the bye so key players can get healthy. Washington is hoping Jason Taylor and Shawn Springs will be able to return against the Cowboys. And it should also give receiver Santana Moss and Portis opportunities to recover from lingering injuries.
Zorn said he's taking a page out of his old boss Mike Holmgren's playbook and instructing players to get away from football from Wednesday through Sunday. Holmgren has won over coaches and players alike by telling them to get lost for a few days -- and it's something Zorn wants to duplicate.
"It revitalizes you," said Zorn, as if he were sending players off to spa treatments. "There's such a commitment. We need to take some time and just relax."
On Monday, the Steelers were superior p
hysically and in the grand scheme of things, it's not a debilitating loss. The Redskins fell two games behind the Giants in the loss column, but they have the easiest schedule by far in the division from this point on. In fact, heading into Week 9, the Redskins had the 18th easiest schedule in terms of opponents' winning percentage. The Giants, Eagles and Cowboys were all in the top five.
"We just need to bounce back when we get back in here next week," Campbell said. "We can't get discouraged. We're still in a good position."
Do the Steelers consider FedEx a neutral site? I always knew that Steelers fans traveled better than any team in football, but even by their standards, Monday's turnout was remarkable. You could spot Terrible Towels in almost every section at FedEx Field. Before the game, I overheard a couple of Redskins players marveling at all the black-and-gold. Fan bases such as the Steelers and Packers plan one or two road trips a season. By my estimation, there were 10,000 Steelers fans in attendance. And when the Redskins were facing a third down, they were loud.