It's no secret the Redskins have struggled to score touchdowns this season. On Sunday in Detroit, coaches used the unconventional to put points on the scoreboard--and it resulted in a 17-10 win over the Lions at Ford Field.
Both of the Redskins' touchdowns came in the third quarter. One was a halfback option pass from Clinton Portis to Laveranues Coles; the other came following a blocked punt.
The win closed out the first half of the regular season and put Washington's record at 3-5.
"I'm proud of our guys," head coach Joe Gibbs said. "We have a bunch of players who fight hard every week. Every game we've played has been a close game and this one was no different. It was an extremely hard-fought game."
The Redskins' defense posted another stellar performance, limiting the Detroit ground attack to just 64 yards. Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington threw for 269 yards, but most of them came in the fourth quarter as the Lions mounted a fourth-quarter comeback. Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin had two sacks and Fred Smoot recorded a fourth-quarter interception to help thwart the comeback.
The Lions scored a touchdown on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Harrington to fullback Cory Schlesinger to close to within 17-10 with 2:11 left in the game. Harrington had one final opportunity, but time ran out after a last-second Hail Mary pass was caught in bounds.
"I made up my mind when we had the lead that we needed to make sure we didn't beat ourselves," Gibbs said. "We tried to play it fairly cautious. I wanted to make sure our defense had every chance to stop them."
Mark Brunell and the Redskins' passing game struggled--the offense had just 73 yards passing and was 3-of-14 on third down conversions--but Clinton Portis more than picked up the slack. Portis rushed for 147 yards on 34 carries, a 4.3 yards per carry average.
On his first two carries of the second half, Portis logged 42 yards in putting the Redskins in excellent field position for a score.
Gibbs turned to Portis to close out the drive, employing a halfback option play. Portis took the handoff from Brunell and quickly lofted a high-arching pass to Laveranues Coles in the corner of the end zone. Coles, a step ahead of the nearest Lions defender, caught the pass near the right sideline for the 15-yard touchdown and a 10-3 lead.
"We worked on it all week and that was his best throw of the week," Brunell said. "Laveranues made a nice play, chased it down. It was a big play, obviously coming out in the second half like that."
Later in the third quarter, special teams coordinator Danny Smith sent his unit on a punt block. Taylor Jacobs broke through from the left and batted away the kick of punter Nick Harris. The ball tumbled away and Walt Harris quickly scooped it up. He raced untouched into the end zone for another score and a 17-3 advantage.
"We've had a punt block on every week, it's just a matter of when Danny chooses to use it," Gibbs said. "In that play, it kind of looked like they got off a bad snap and that gave us enough time to get back there to block it. We finally got one and it came at a good time for us."
The first half was filled with solid defensive play, as both teams went into halftime tied at 3-3. Each offense was hamstrung by poor field position and the defenses were able to contain playmakers for both teams.
The Lions started three first-half drives at their own 14-, 13- and 1-yard lines while the Redskins started drives on their 26-, 8- and 3-yard lines.
Neither offense was able to establish any momentum until midway through the second quarter. James Thrash returned a punt 43 yards to give the Redskins their first good field position of the half. Brunell completed passes to tight end Brian Kozlowski and running back Ladell Betts, while Portis spearheaded the ground attack. They led the Redskins to the Lions' 1-yard line.
For the second consecutive week, the Redskins had a touchdown taken off the board due to a penalty. On 4th-and-1 from the one, Gibbs elected to go for it. Brunell found tight end Robert Royal in the back of the end zone for an apparent score. But the play was called back due to a false start by right tackle Ray Brown. The Redskins had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Ola Kimrin.
Late in the first half, another Redskins penalty helped the Lions get into field position for a field goal. With less than 20 seconds left in the first half, Harrington completed a 14-yard pass to tight end Stephen Alexander to the Redskins' 35-yard line. Antonio Pierce and Todd Franz lightly pushed Alexander out of bounds, but they were called for an unnecessary roughness penalty.
After the game, Gibbs made a point to say penalties were a concern.
"We've told the guys, if you hit anybody out of bounds, you run the risk of a penalty," Gibbs said. "Our guys know that. We can't be having those penalties."
Even with the mistakes and the 3-5 record, players still have high hopes for a postseason push.
"We just have to take it one game at a time," Smoot said. "If we win the next game, it just brings us one game closer to where we want to be at."