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Monday, December 4, 2006
Did one bad series sink the Redskins?

Associated Press

ASHBURN, Va. -- In the first quarter, the Washington Redskins made it clear they were going to run the ball. The Atlanta Falcons couldn't do anything about it.

Ladell Betts to the left for 15 yards. Betts to the right for 9 yards. T.J. Duckett up the middle a couple of times. The Redskins ran plays with an extra lineman and only one wideout -- blocking receiver James Thrash -- leaving no pretense that a pass was even a possibility.

Jason Campbell threw only two passes in 14 plays during the team's two first-quarter drives Sunday. The Redskins took a 14-0 lead.

Then came Series No. 3. With good field position near midfield, play-calling coach Al Saunders decided to go for the kill, even though the run had been working so effectively.

"We had the defense on their heels," Campbell said. "We thought it was time to take advantage."

First down was a pass caught by Santana Moss -- out of bounds. Second down was a gadget play, a reverse to Antwaan Randle El that lost 2 yards. Third down was an incomplete pass to Randle El.

The Redskins punted. The Falcons drove the ball downfield for a field goal. The momentum was lost for good. The Redskins never scored again and lost 24-14, dropping their record to 4-8 and ending all talk about a late-season surge to the playoffs.

"I never want to pinpoint one series," Moss said. "But, as a player, I was kind of disappointed that we didn't so something more that series."

That one failed series was the subject of analysis and over-analysis at Redskins Park on Monday. Some players, while delicately avoiding direct criticism of Saunders' play-calling, wondered why team went away -- even temporarily -- from the smash-mouth identity coach Joe Gibbs is trying to forge once again.

To be fair, the third drive is only one of many reasons why the Redskins lost. The defense, missing secondary starters Shawn Springs and Troy Vincent because of hamstring injuries, allowed a season-high 256 yards rushing and a 62-yard pass play to a tight end. When Saunders got back to basics in the third quarter, Campbell ruined a promising run-dominated drive by throwing an interception.

On the next drive, the run-first mentality was thwarted when Betts was swamped by massive defensive tackle Grady Jackson for a 6-yard loss. On the following drive, two runs set up a third-and-5 pass that was tipped incomplete. It wasn't until the fourth quarter, when the Redskins were trailing by 10, that Campbell had to pass more.

For his part, Gibbs was less bothered about the third series and more concerned with the fact that his team was once again dominated in the second half. The Redskins have been outscored 141-90 after halftime this season.

"These next four weeks, we've got to finish ball games," Gibbs said. "It's not only got to be Redskins football for a half, we've got to finish an entire game."

The final four weeks becomes audition time for coaches and players. Saunders is the first assistant coach Gibbs has ever trusted with play-calling duties. Will that arrangement stay intact next season? Assistant Gregg Williams' irascible ways were tolerated when the defense played well in 2004 and 2005, but how about now -- when his defense is ranked 28th? Veterans and rookies alike will be playing for jobs. Campbell's performance will determine whether he's really the quarterback of the future.

"I'm curious to see how we finish because that's going to have a lot to say about the way people look at us," Gibbs said. "And the way we feel about ourselves."

As for Gibbs himself, after initially declining to answer questions about his future, said he plans to return next year.

"There is no equivocation. I plan on going forward and being the coach again," Gibbs said. "As long as I feel like this is where I'm supposed to be, I'm going to be here."