Getting the Bounces

The defender comes up, makes the hit on the ball carrier and jars the ball loose, propelling it several yards or more. It scoots along the ground and then sits there for an agonizing moment. If the offense recovers it, it has dodged a bullet. If the defense gets it, it's a turnover and a big opportunity.

Such a play doesn't happen often, but it's happened four times in the past two Redskins games. In the game a week ago, the New York Giants recovered both of their fumbles and it helped their cause tremendously. Lavar Arrington popped the ball loose from Tiki Barber late in the first half, and Barber recovered it ten yards back from where he had fumbled. That set up the third and 29 that New York converted with the help of a penalty, leading to a Giants touchdown just before halftime. Arrington forced another fumble when he sacked quarterback Kerry Collins near midfield late in the third quarter. Again, the ball went flying back and was up for grabs, but Barber recovered it.

Fast forwarding to the third quarter of the game against Patriots on Sunday, there were two very similar plays. This time, both of them went the Redskins' way.

One you'll likely see designated as the "Play of the Game" in the Monday papers. With the Redskins leading 6-3, New England tried a bit of trickery, a direct snap to halfback Kevin Faulk from the shotgun formation. Not only did Champ Bailey sniff it out, he popped the ball away from the carrier. Bailey didn't realize that he had caused a fumble and began to celebrate when he noticed the ball on the ground nearby. He couldn't recover it, but Matt Bowen could and got possession for the Redskins inside the Patriots' one yard line. Ledell Betts took it over from there.

A fumble also preceded Washington's next touchdown, but this time it was a Redskin coughing it up. Trung Canidate converted a first and 20 from the Washington 42 with a 30-yard run, but the Patriots punched the ball out and it squirted forward to the New England 12. Rod Gardener was there and pounced on it. Two plays later Rock Cartwright scored to push the Redskins to a 20-3 lead and give them all the points they would need to hang on for the won.

News flash here: The Patriots and the Giants both work hard on recovering fumbles during training camp and in practice. For that matter, so do the Redskins. They all know how to do it and, when the ball's on the ground, they all get after it. Recovering a fumble on the ground is pretty much a 50-50 proposition. A given team is rarely better or worse at it than the rest of the league; it's mostly a matter of luck.

Against the Giants, the Redskins were unlucky. Had they recovered either of those New York fumbles, they may well have won the game.

Lady Luck smiled on them this week; if the Pats have managed to fall on either of the fumbles in that game, the complexion of the game would have been different and the outcome might have been, too.


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