Had Samari Rolle returned the interception 80 yards, it wouldn’t have meant a thing.
Instead, Rolle stumbled his weary body across the goal line for that final yard on the last play of the first half, and the Tennessee Titans were well on their way to their seventh consecutive victory.
Rolle’s score was one of two touchdown on returns for the Titans as they beat Washington 27-21 Monday night, ending the Redskins’ five-game winning streak.
Derrick Mason returned a punt 69 yards, and former Washington tight end Frank Wycheck caught an 18-yard TD pass as the Titans (7-1) maintained a two-game lead over Pittsburgh in the AFC Central. The loss knocked the Redskins (6-3) out of first place in the NFC East, one-half game behind the New York Giants.
Rolle’s interception was as dramatic as they come. The Redskins, trailing 13-7, had the ball on the Titans 34 with 10 seconds remaining in the half.
Sideline to Sideline
Rolle stepped in front of Irving Fryar and caught the ball at the 19. Then, knowing that he had to run it all the way back because time had expired, Rolle went from sideline to sideline, reading his blocks all the way to the end zone.
Rolle was then buried under a pile of teammates in the end zone and couldn’t make it off the field without an injury timeout.
Rolle also had another interception at the Redskins 33 with 1:59 to play, ending Washington’s last real chance to drive the ball downfield.
The Titans used Eddie George on seven consecutive plays to set up their only offensive touchdown, scored by Wycheck in the fourth quarter. George sprained his right knee early in last week’s 14-6 victory over Baltimore and was not confirmed to start until shortly before kickoff. Showing no obvious effects from the injury, he carried 22 times for 71 yards.
The Titans defense had held every offense it faced this season to three plays and a punt on its opening series. The Redskins ended that streak emphatically with a 16-play, 84-yard drive that took 8:19 and included four third-down conversions.
Johnson Plays Magician
The most dynamic third-down play came when Brad Johnson, hardly the most mobile of quarterbacks, escaped a sack by spinning away from Jevon Kearse and scrambling 13 yards before taking a stiff hit from Denard Walker. A pass interference call on Rolle gave the Redskins first-and-goal, and Johnson hit fullback Mike Sellers two plays later with a 5-yard pass to make it 7-0.
The Titans responded with a more chaotic, 11-play drive that included three scrambles by quarterback Steve McNair. Al Del Greco capped it with a 46-yard field goal that barely cleared the crossbar.
Less than two minutes later, a flying block by Keith Bulluck sprang Mason for a 69-yard punt return to put the Titans ahead 10-7. Mason darted left and juked punter Tommy Barnhardt for his second career punt return touchdown.
Late in the half, a bad snap by Joe Zelenka forced Barnhardt to abort a punt attempt. After the play, Bulluck pushed Barnhardt’s helmet off. Barnhardt retaliated and was flagged for a personal foul, giving the Titans good field position to set up a 21-yard field goal by Del Greco.
Rolle’s touchdown then made it 20-7 at the half. The Redskins closed to 20-14 late in the third quarter with a 13-play, 66-yard drive, relying heavily on Stephen Davis. Davis’ seventh touch of the drive was a 1-yard TD run.
But the Titans scored the insurance touchdown as George’s runs and a roughing the passer penalty on Kenard Lang led to Wycheck’s score.
The Redskins came back one more time, passing on 10 of 11 plays to go 71 yards. Larry Centers caught a 3-yard touchdown pass with 6:42 to go to make it 27-21.
But Rolle’s second interception ended the Redskins’ last real chance. Dainon Sidney also picked off a desperation pass by Johnson on the last play of the game.