Skins slip past Rams

LaVar Arrington jotted down a mental note as the game unfolded. He knew that Rams tackle John St. Clair liked to stick his hands on Arrington's facemask as he pass rushed. So as Arrington lined up with 17 seconds left in the game, Arrington hoped St. Clair would try that again.

He did.

And Arrington made him pay.

Arrington lunged forward into St. Clair, getting him off-balance, then he burst inside, swatted the arm of St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner, knocking the ball free--and perhaps saving the Redskins' season.

Or, at the very least, he provided Washington a lifeline for another week. Especially after Redskins tackle Daryl Gardner smothered the loose ball, preserving a 20-17 victory in front of 79,823 fans.

The Redskins snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 5-6. Their playoff chances remain tepid and their best chance might be to win the NFC East, considering they trail Atlanta by two and a half games for the second Wild Card spot.

But that's for another day. And Sunday was about redemption as Washington did its best to forget two bitter defeats, followed by a week of players wondering about the direction of the team. Not to mention the play calling.

That resulted in a players-only meeting Thursday. Whether that helped is subjective. But the Redskins were a different team Sunday, starting at quarterback.

Danny Wuerffel, making his first start since Oct. 6, completed 16 of 23 passes for 235 yards--with no interceptions or sacks.

''I've seen him play like he did [Sunday],'' said Redskins coach Steve Spurrier, Wuerffel's coach at Florida. ''It's his demeanor and presence. This kid won a state high school title and a national championship [in college]. You don't do that without a good brain. Usually good things happen to Danny and those around him.''

But Spurrier helped by sticking with a balanced attack, something he hadn't done in the two-game skid, drawing public and private criticism from his players. Sunday he ran the type of offense he enjoys, one that keeps the defense guessing.

Running back Stephen Davis gained only 88 yards on 31 carries. But Spurrier's persistence in the rushing attack paid dividends. He forced St. Louis to honor the run--the Rams often walked an extra safety up for run support, leaving them vulnerable in the air.

''A lot of times they were looking for the pass and we'd hit them with the run,'' Redskins left tackle Chris Samuels said. ''And then they'd look for the run and we'd pass. It helped a whole lot to keep them off-balance. Anytime you have a back like Stephen Davis, they have to respect the run. He kept pounding and we wore them out and that creates passing lanes.''

Yet it still came down to the last play and the Redskins' defense. They allowed the Rams to drive from their own 20-yard line to the Washington 6 in nearly three minutes, the last 22 yards coming on a draw play by running back Trung Canidate. Linebacker Jessie Armstead tackled him from behind, possibly saving a score.

That's when Arrington saved the game, with help from Gardener. On the play, Arrington rushed from the left side against St. Clair, beating him to Warner.

Gardener, also pressuring Warner, shoved the Rams' quarterback out of the way after the fumble and pounced on the ball.

''That's what you dream of all your life, to save the game,'' Arrington said. ''You never know what's going to happen. They have the momentum and they were making a move for it. But I felt the way the game was going we would have won. We had the feeling we were invincible.''

That's how Gardener felt, too.

''I was thinking about all the hard work and all the weight room work I had done,'' he said. ''There was no way I was giving up the ball.''

Turns out there was no way Washington was giving up this game.

But the offensive balance kept St. Louis guessing, which provided Wuerffel with plenty of time to operate. That's what happened on Washington's two second-half touchdown drives, taking the Redskins from a 10-7 halftime deficit to a 20-10 lead entering the fourth quarter.

''We had a great plan and we stuck with the plan,'' said Wuerffel, who did not practice fully until last week because of a shoulder injury. ''We mixed things in an created some conflict assignments for them. They had to worry about both things.''

A 39-yard Champ Bailey punt return gave Washington the ball on the Rams' 42. On second and nine, Wuerffel froze the Rams' linebackers with a play-action fake, then delivered a strike to receiver Rod Gardner, over an unclogged middle, for 15 yards. A defensive holding penalty on third and five from the 13 gave Washington a first and goal at the 8. Two plays later, Davis bulled his way three yards through the right side for a touchdown.

Washington's defense forced another Rams punt on the ensuing series, this time from their own 6. Once again good field position led to a touchdown. A 26-yard crossing pass over the middle to receiver Derrius Thompson moved the ball to the 14. On fourth and one from the 5-yard line, Davis swept left end, using blocks from tackle Chris Samuels, who took out two defenders, and fullback Bryan Johnson, to reach the end zone.

For Spurrier, the decision to go for the first down was easy.

''We needed seven points the way our kicker was kicking,'' Redskins coach Steve Spurrier said. ''We like to go for those half yards and go for [a touchdown]. It's worth the risk.''

Besides, Wuerffel said, when he saw the alignment he knew the play would work. St. Louis had stacked its defenders inside.

Holder Bryan Barker couldn't control the extra-point snap, leaving the score at 20-10. Then it was time to hang on. Especially after kicker James Tuthill missed a 34-yard attempt wide left early in the fourth quarter--his second miss of the day.

The Rams capitalized. Warner, who completed his first 15 passes and finished 34 of 49 for 301 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, led a touchdown march. He completed 10 of 11 passes on this series, the last a five-yard toss to receiver Ricky Proehl with six minutes, eight seconds left in the game.

St. Louis got the ball back with 3:28 remaining at its own 20. The Rams moved downfield with underneath passes and a 22-yard draw to running back Trung Canidate to the six.

On the sidelines, Redskins tackle Chris Samuels said he told teammate Tre Johnson the Rams would fumble on the next play. Samuels was right.

Rams coach Mike Martz blamed himself for having Warner take a five-step drop, rather than release the ball earlier.

''It's a shame to come back like that and not win it,'' Martz said. ''I made a bad [play] call at the end. We missed three points and that was a coach's error.''

The Rams took a 7-0 lead on their opening possession, driving 66 yards on seven plays, with Warner passing four yards to receiver Troy Edwards for the touchdown. O'Connell graduate Terrence Wilkins rushed 18 yards around right end on one play in the series.

The Redskins had watched St. Louis score often on opening drives.

''Once we gave them that little touchdown, now it's time to settle down and make them beat us,'' Redskins corner Fred Smoot said. ''That's what we did.''

Jeff Wilkins made it 10-0 with a 30-yard field goal with 4:17 elapsed in the second quarter. But Wuerffel led a 75-yard touchdown drive, with the last five plays all Davis runs, including a one-yard plunge for the score.

Gardener figured in another defensive stop. With 51 seconds left in the first half, he hit Warner as he released a pass, causing it to flutter. Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter made a diving interception at the Redskins' 16.

The Redskins needed such plays to erase the bitter taste of the past two weeks.

''Hopefully this will give us something to build on,'' Spurrier said.

If nothing else, the Redskins proved a point.

''Everyone was saying a juggernaut had been awoken [in St. Louis],'' Arrington said. ''A lot of people had counted us out to win the game. Maybe they took us for granted. But by no means is this team a slouch. We wouldn't lay down and be a doormat type team. We can still jump into these playoffs.''


Thanks, in the end, to Arrington and Gardener. The Rams had the ball on Washington's 6-yard line with17 seconds left when quarterback Kurt Warner dropped back to pass. But Arrington, rushing from the left, beat right tackle John St. Clair, ducking inside him and hammering Warner's arm, forcing the ball free.

Arrington displayed a veteran's savvy on the play. During practices, the rushers are taught to go for the ball, a point often stressed by defensive end Bruce Smith. That's what Arrington did. Also, Arrington said St. Clair had constantly grabbed his facemask when he rushed.

This time, Arrington lunged into St. Clair, who tried to go for his facemask again. Then Arrington raced inside to Warner.

''In the end it worked to our advantage because [St. Clair] missed and I had an opportunity to get to the quarterback,'' Arrington said.

 

 


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