For a couple of minutes in the fourth quarter Saturday in the NFC wild-card game, the Washington Redskins looked like a team of destiny. All week they had talked about drawing strength from their slain teammate, Sean Taylor, and now at Qwest Field, it appeared they would find a way to win him another game.
A kickoff that got lost in the swirling Seattle winds gave the Redskins the ball at the Seahawks' 14-yard line with a 14-13 lead. A touchdown might have knocked Seattle out, but a field goal would have at least sustained the momentum.
And that's when kicker Shaun Suisham toe-hooked a 30-yard field goal attempt. Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who had thrown two second-half interceptions, quickly led his team down the field for the go-ahead touchdown, and the Redskins never recovered. Seattle scored a 35-14 victory and advanced to play at Green Bay on Jan. 12.
I've known Suisham for several years, and trust me, no one will take this harder than he will. I once chided him in a column for reading a self-help book an hour before kickoff when he played for the Cowboys, but he's actually as mentally tough as any kicker I've ever been around. It was a perfect snap and hold, so he just hit a bad ball.
In the second half, the Redskins started shifting their defensive fronts on almost every play. They forced Hasselbeck into poor throws and eliminated any semblance of a Seahawks running game. This game was there for the taking, but Washington simply blew its opportunity.
Here are a few other observations from wild-card Saturday:
1. Redskins' offensive line outmanned
The Seahawks used defensive end Patrick Kerney and a host of linebackers to overwhelm the Redskins for most of the game.
Once it was clear Washington wasn't going to be able to run the ball, Seattle could concentrate on pressuring Todd Collins. He was sacked four times, but I counted 13 knockdowns and at least 11 hurries. It was obvious from the start that Redskins' undrafted rookie right tackle Stephon Heyer was in big trouble. The Seahawks overloaded his side with pressure, and the Skins were forced to try to help Heyer with tight end Chris Cooley. They even ran backup defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander in there at one point.
Nothing worked because Kerney simply split the double-teams.
"They were keeping a tight end and a back in on me," Kerney said. "The tackle would go down and check back out in case I beat the first two guys, but that's life. I came into this game expecting that. I know it's going to happen. I expect the same thing next week. My defensive linemates did a great job of rising up and making plays when extra attention is paid to me, and the coverage guys did a great job as always. It's something you have to will your way through."
When Washington sold out to stop Kerney, Seattle started bringing Darryl Tapp and Julian Peterson from the other side. One of the reasons you didn't see Redskins running back Ladell Betts much in this game is because he kept getting overwhelmed on the blitz.
The Seahawks used a lot of stunts to confuse the Redskins' offensive line. Veteran guards Jason Fabini and Pete Kendall were exposed. Fabini spent his entire career playing tackle, so it's no surprise to see him struggle against a defense that's sending linebackers up the middle.
It was surprising to see all the miscommunication, though, with so many veterans on the field. When Fabini tried to pass Peterson off to Clinton Portis on a play in the first half, Portis appeared stunned. Washington finally started having success in the second half when it put more receivers into patterns. The Seahawks went back to their base coverage, and it looked as though the Redskins might pull off the upset.
2. Hasselbeck will need to be better in Green Bay
Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs is an instinctive player who loves to read the quarterback's eyes and go for interceptions. On Saturday, he got burned on a couple of double-moves, the worst coming against Nate Burleson in the first half. After the game, Springs was bemoaning the fact that Washington didn't put enough pressure on Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
"You gotta hit him, and we didn't," Springs said. "You gotta hit Matt. Everybody thought I was talking crazy I was like, 'This could be the best quarterback we've faced all year in the NFC.'
"That is no disrespect to Tony Romo or Brett Favre, but Matt doesn't have the weapons they have and he single-handedly carried this team. I truly believe this team would be not even nowhere close to being in the playoffs if he wouldn't have played the way he's been playing."
But for a long time, it looked as if Hasselbeck would be the goat. Redskins safety LaRon Landry read his eyes all the way on his two second-half interceptions. And Hasselbeck missed open receivers throughout the game.
3. Farewell, Cromwell
Once the season is over, Mike Holmgren is going to lose a valuable assistant. Receivers coach Nolan Cromwell, who has been with Holmgren since the Green Bay days, accepted the offensive coordinator job at Texas A&M on Saturday. Cromwell is staying through the playoffs.
"Nolan has been with me the whole time, 16 years or whatever it is," Holmgren said. "He's a very bright guy. It's a great opportunity for him. As much as I hate to lose him, I think for he and his family, the opportunity to coordinate and call the plays, I just said, 'You go for this.' I told him: 'Make sure they pay you enough.'"
4. Garrard offsets shaky passing with great footwork
Against Pittsburgh, he threw two interceptions in his first 14 attempts. But when the game was on the line, Garrard decided to rely on his legs. Facing a fourth-and-2, Garrard saw daylight and rumbled for 32 yards.
"They lost their gaps," he said of the Steelers defense. "They thought it was a passing situation, and I was able to sneak through."
Once in the open field, Garrard said he used some "slow moves" to throw off Pittsburgh defenders. It was obviously the biggest play of his career, and it put Jacksonville in position for a 31-29 victory.
Matt Mosley covers the NFL for ESPN.com. John Clayton and Mike Sando in Seattle also contributed to this report.