After a hard-fought four quarters, the Redskins and San Diego Chargers were knotted up at 17-17 at FedExField and heading into overtime.
It was over in a hurry.
The Chargers won the coin toss and elected to receive. On the first play, quarterback Drew Brees found tight end Antonio Gates on a 24-yard reception, taking advantage of misdirection and confusing safety Sean Taylor and linebacker LaVar Arrington.
Then, running back LaDainian Tomlinson found a seam to the left and burst through a tackle by Ryan Clark. He out-raced everyone to the end zone for the game-winning score and his third touchdown of the game.
The disappointing 23-17 loss was the Redskins' third straight defeat and dropped the team's record to 5-6. With five games remaining, Washington is still alive for the playoffs, but the team's postseason hopes are fading fast.
For the third game in a row, the Redskins' defense could not hold on to a fourth quarter lead. But they did not get a great deal of help from the offense, which again struggled to pick up first downs and chew up time on the clock.
"We need to pick up some first downs there and keep the defense rested," head coach Joe Gibbs said.
The Redskins' offense had a chance to win the game late after Shawn Springs intercepted a Brees pass and returned it to the Chargers' 31-yard line. But center Casey Rabach was called for holding on a run play, pushing the Redskins back. John Hall's 53-yard field goal attempt, a potential game-winner with 30 seconds left, was short.
The Redskins' defense had been solid against the run the last few weeks, but Tomlinson was able to gouge them for 184 yards on 25 carries. Brees faced consistent pressure and was 22-of-44 for 215 yards. He threw three interceptions and was sacked three times.
Offensively, Mark Brunell was 17-of-27 for 194 yards and a 22-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss. Clinton Portis battled the NFL's top-ranked defense and logged 97 tough rushing yards on 29 carries.
In the early going, the Redskins' defense was able to produce big plays to keep San Diego's offense out of rhythm.
The Chargers had taken advantage of good field position to get into scoring range early in the first quarter. On a 3rd-and-5 from Washington's 24-yard line, the Chargers attempted some trickery.
Brees handed off to Tomlinson, who shifted right on a sweep. Tomlinson suddenly turned and heaved a pass across field to Brees. But linebacker Marcus Washington read the play perfectly and caught up to Brees, knocking the pass away. Kaediing's 42-yard field goal was wide left and the game remained scoreless to that point.
On the Chargers' next drive, the Redskins' defense pressured Brees by using linebacker blitzes. On first down, Brees was sacked by Washington from the right side. One play later, on third down, Washington and Clark combined on another sack.
The sacks forced San Diego to punt from their own end zone and the Redskins took over at the Chargers' 43-yard line. Brunell completed an 18-yard pass across the middle to newly signed wide receiver Jimmy Farris, but the drive stalled when Brunell's pass to Portis in the end zone was out of reach.
The Redskins settled on a 38-yard field goal by John Hall and a 3-0 lead.
Midway through the second quarter, the Chargers took a 7-3 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Tomlinson, who burrowed underneath the Redskins' goal-line defense for the score. It capped an 8-play, 57-yard drive.
The Redskins responded with an impressive drive of their own. Starting at its own 31-yard line, the offense turned to the air attack to grab the lead. Brunell completed a key 17-yard pass to Taylor Jacobs and then found Chris Cooley on a pair of passes, putting the ball at the Chargers' 22-yard line.
On the next play, Brunell connected on a pass to Moss, who caught the ball at the Chargers' 1-yard line, then bounced off a tackle by safety Bhawoh Jue and backed into the end zone for the touchdown and a 10-7 Redskins lead. It was Moss's first touchdown since Week 7 against San Francisco.
Late in the third quarter, the Redskins increased their lead to 17-7 on another impressive drive. Again, it was Jacobs who caught a key third-down pass--a 13-yard reception on 3rd-and-12 play--to keep the drive alive.
After that, the Brunell-to-Moss connection got back on track, as the duo connected on 14-yard and 16-yard completions. Brunell then threw a swing pass to Portis, who had lined up at wide receiver, and Portis fought off several would-be tacklers for a 23-yard gain to the Chargers' 13-yard line.
On the next play, Rock Cartwright took the handoff and ran through a gaping hole up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown. Cartwright leaped into the stands to celebrate his second touchdown of the season.
In the fourth quarter, San Diego responded with a 48-yard field goal by Kaeding to pull to within 17-10.
In the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, the Redskins had the ball twice with that seven-point lead but were unable to pick up first downs or run much time off the clock. The first drive was a three-and-out. On the second drive, Portis picked up 10 yards on three carries and Brunell completed a 13-yard pass to Jacobs for another first down. But that's as far as the offense could go and the Redskins again punted to San Diego.
Given another opportunity with less than four minutes to play, the Chargers struck fast on a 32-yard touchdown run by Tomlinson, tying the game at 17-17. Tomlinson ran around left end and raced into the end zone for the score.
On the Redskins' next possession, the offense could only muster another three-and-out.
The ensuing punt gave San Diego the ball on its own 29-yard line, with a chance to drive downfield and win the game on a field goal. But a Brees pass was tipped up into the air by a leaping Washington and picked off by Shawn Springs, who returned the ball to the Chargers' 31-yard line.
The Redskins were in field goal range already, but the holding call on Rabach turned out to be devastating, pushing the offense back. On a third-down play, Brunell was nearly sacked, but he was able to throw the ball away. Hall came in for the 53-yard field goal attempt, but it was short.
The Chargers had one last attempt to win the game in regulation, but Brees' desperation heave into the end zone was intercepted by Walt Harris.
In overtime, there would be no such defensive heroics. And the offense would never get another chance after Hall's missed field goal.