ST. LOUIS (AP)—In what amounted to a playoff elimination game, the Washington Redskins’ defense refused to let their season go down the drain.
Clinton Portis and Rock Cartwright both topped 100 yards rushing and the defense made Ryan Fitzpatrick, the St. Louis Rams’ rookie from Harvard, run for his life in a 24-9 victory Sunday that snapped Washington’s three-game losing streak.
“You hate to say fight scared, play scared,” linebacker LaVar Arrington said. “But at this point I think our guys are scared of missing the playoffs and scared of not having the chance to play for more than your pride and your dignity.”
The Redskins rushed for a season-best 257 yards, getting 136 yards on 27 carries from Portis, to keep alive faint playoff hopes after losing the previous three games by a total of 10 points. They likely knocked the Rams (5-7), allowed the most yards rushing since they moved from the West Coast in 1995, from the field of playoff hopefuls.
St. Louis is an NFL-best 42-12 at home since 1999, but a pedestrian 3-3 this year. Seattle clinched the NFC West thanks to the Rams’ loss.
“I ain’t even worried about the playoffs or anything like that,” defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. “We’ve got to win a game.”
The Redskins (6-6) didn’t have an abundance of success on offense, either, except for five well-timed gains of 28 yards or more. Portis ran in untouched from 47 yards for the game’s first score and Santana Moss’ 30-yard catch from Mark Brunell set up Portis’ second touchdown, a 1-yarder.
A 52-yard run by Cartwright set up John Hall’s field goal at the end of the half. Cartwright, who entered the game with only 68 yards all season and 501 in four seasons, had 118 yards on only nine carries.
“The offensive line did a great job,” Cartwright said. “All I had to do was get the ball and run with it.”
Washington held the Rams to a season-worst 210 yards, 87 fewer than the team’s previous low against Arizona in Week 2. Steven Jackson was bottled up, gaining 24 yards on 11 carries and catching four passes for 18 yards, and the Rams were reduced to one-dimensional status with 12 runs and 44 passes.
“We wanted to run the ball more, but every time we tried it they were in the backfield,” interim coach Joe Vitt said. “Pretty soon you’re just wasting plays.”
Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been mentioned as a possible successor to the ailing Mike Martz if the Rams decide to make a change. Team president John Shaw has been noncommittal on his status for next season.
Fitzpatrick, a seventh-round pick and third-string quarterback, led the Rams back from a 21-point deficit to an overtime victory at Houston last week filling in for injured Jamie Martin. The lone highlight of his first career start was a 7-yard scoring scramble in the second quarter that tied it at 7.
“It was a roller coaster ride, all the phone calls and e-mails last week,” Fitzpatrick said. “Now, we’ve lost a game, so the bandwagon is gone.”
Fitzpatrick, who threw for 310 yards in three quarters last week, was 21-for-36 for 163 yards, got sacked three times and was routinely flushed out of the pocket. He missed connections with Jackson on a handoff with 11:10 to go and the Rams trailing by eight, giving the Redskins the ball at the St. Louis 45.
That led to the clinching score, a 4-yard pass from Brunell to Chris Cooley.
The Rams closed within 17-9 after Brunell fumbled and then batted the ball out of the end zone for a safety.
Portis topped 1,000 yards for the fourth straight season. In the first half he was shaken up trying to block defensive tackle Damione Lewis, but topped 100 yards on his first carry of the second half, a 12-yarder.
Portis said Cartwright’s success helped him feel better fast.
“I couldn’t let him have all the yards,” Portis said. “So I knew I had to shake the cobwebs off and get back on the field.”
Rams OLB Dexter Coakley dislocated his left ankle and broke his left leg in the first quarter and soon will undergo season-ending surgery. … Arrington left in the second quarter with an injured right quadriceps, but returned in the second half. … Torry Holt, who caught six passes for 75 yards, topped 1,000 yards for the sixth consecutive season. … The last time the Rams allowed a pair of 100-yard rushers in the regular season was in 1980 against the Lions’ Billy Sims and Dexter Bussey. The Rams surrendered 327 yards rushing and 100-yard games to Warrick Dunn and Michael Vick in their second-round playoff loss at Atlanta last season.