Reporting David Elfin
The play happened more than a month ago. The Washington Redskins have played four games since. However, defensive end Stephen Bowen said that in his mind he can still see New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz streaking by cornerback Josh Wilson and free safety Madieu Williams, catching Eli Manning’s pass in stride and racing into the end zone with the 77-yard touchdown that gave the host team a stunning 27-23 victory in Week 7.
“We blew the coverage,” lamented Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
If not for that play – presuming that Washington was able to hold on for another 73 seconds – the Redskins would be 6-5, 3-0 in the NFC East and leading the Giants, who would be 6-5, 1-2, instead of trailing them by two games in the division race as the teams prepare for Monday night’s rematch in Landover.
“That can’t happen again,” Redskins strong safety Reed Doughty admitted about the critical breakdown before quickly adding, “It’s no different than any other mistake in that game.”
But of course it is.
While neither Wilson nor Williams, Prince George’s County natives and teammates at Maryland in 2003 who have been reunited this year, has forgotten what happened, each is a little, ahem, defensive about the failure to prevent such a big play just 19 seconds after the offense had seemingly pulled off the upset on a gorgeous 30-yard touchdown pass from Robert Griffin III to Santana Moss.
“That one play’s not going to define us as a unit,” said Williams, a nine-year veteran who was supposed to be Washington’s No. 3 safety before Tanard Jackson was suspended for the season after another failed drug test. “It’s not going to define me as a player. It was a lack of execution on everybody’s part. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do. The longer you play this game, the longer you’re in this league, you’re going to have moments like that. You learn from it and capitalize on the opportunity in front of us.”
Wilson, a seven-year veteran who overcame an ailing shoulder to force a Bryant fumble in last week’s upset at Dallas, joined Williams in declining to allocate blame.
“It’s something you don’t dwell on, but it’s definitely something you keep remembering so you make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Wilson said. “Live and learn. I hope that we can overcome it and still make this a successful season.”
Wilson also credited Cruz and Manning for coming through in the clutch like the defending Super Bowl champs they are.
“They made a great play, great throw, great catch,” Wilson said. “Cruz is a great player. He’s quick and fast. He can shake you at the line and vertically extend you downfield. That’s a deadly combination. And the guy throwing it is amazing. He can put the ball in places other guys can’t.”
Wilson and Williams are part of the NFL’s second-most porous pass defense, a unit which still sparkled for nearly seven straight quarters in its past two games, holding faltering Philadelphia and inconsistent Dallas to just four field goals before reverting to form and giving up three touchdowns in the span of less than eight minutes which allowed the Cowboys to almost pull off an incredible comeback that would have just about killed Washington’s playoff hopes on Thanksgiving.
“The Cowboys were in a hurry-up tempo … in their four-minute offense,” Williams said. “We needed to match their intensity. But how we played in that game before that and against the Eagles shows the capability of our defense.”
Wilson, as DBs are wont to do in this pass-happy era, blamed the rules.
“If our job was easy, nobody would watch football,” he claimed. “It would be 0-0 games. I love hard-nosed football, but supposedly fans don’t. [Offensive players are] allowed to touch us. We’re not allowed to touch them. You can’t hit them in certain places. They can hit you wherever they want. It’s called an offensive league for a reason.”
If Wilson, Williams and Co. can play the kind of defense on Monday that they played against Philadelphia and most of the way at Dallas, Washington fans surely won’t find it offensive.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin