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Closers Found: Learning By Experience

It was the fourth quarter at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Once again, the Redskins found themselves with a precarious 17-9 lead.

This time the Redskins made plays on offense, defense and special teams to end any chance of late-game heroics from the Rams.

After three weeks of losing leads in the fourth quarter, the Redskins finally closed out a win on Sunday against the Rams. The Redskins had built on a 10-7 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, and put away the Rams 24-9 with two offensive touchdowns, a key special teams tackle and an opportunistic defense.

The only points the Redskins allowed in the fourth quarter came on a fumble by Mark Brunell. The ball dropped behind Brunell, into the end zone and all the Redskins' quarterback could do was knock it out of the back of the end zone for a safety.

It turned out to be a key play. Several Rams defenders hovered around Brunell and the ball, but it was Brunell who was able to get to the ball first and knock it out of bounds.

"It was a bad play that could have been a lot worse," Brunell said. "That could easily have been five more points for the Rams, instead of just two."

Added head coach Joe Gibbs: "Mark did the right thing getting it out of there. That's smart on his part. It could have been a real costly thing and we got out of there with a safety."

On the next play, the Redskins dropped back to punt. On the ensuing return, Shawn Springs made a key tackle by tripping up kick returner David Allen. Allen had raced around the Redskins' coverage units and was close to breaking into open field, but Springs was able to tackle him.

With the score 17-9 and the Rams with the ball, flashbacks of the Redskins' last three losses popped into the minds of players. Against Tampa Bay, Oakland and San Diego, the Redskins had let fourth-quarter leads slip away.

But one play after Springs' tackle, rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and running back Steven Jackson mishandled an exchange. Renaldo Wynn pounced on the ball at the Rams' 45-yard line.

"The turnover on defense was huge there," Gibbs said.

The Redskins' offense took over from there. Using a dominating rushing attack, Clinton Portis and Rock Cartwright combined for 41 rushing yards on the next eight plays. On the ninth play, Brunell found Chris Cooley wide open in the flat for a touchdown and a 24-9 lead.

"We scored 14 points in the fourth quarter--the last few weeks we haven't been able to do that," Brunell said. "It just shows the resolve of this team. We had three games that were well within our reach. Today we made the plays. It's a good response to the struggles of the last few weeks. It feels very good for us.

"Finishing games has been our problem. We've been up by 10 in the second half each of the last two weeks. Those were some hard lessons to learn, but we're figuring things out."

On that final drive, Portis converted a key 3rd-and-1 play, picking up three yards behind Randy Thomas and Jon Jansen. Short yardage plays have been a struggle in recent weeks.

"To run the ball on third-and-short, it just gives us confidence," Portis said. "Then when we got down to the goal line, we stuck it in again. We stuck with our bread and butter. We wanted to run the ball and dominate the line of scrimmage."

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