LANDOVER, Md. -- The Washington Redskins did everything except hold a big neon sign to let the world know that a trick play was in the works.
The Denver Broncos still couldn't stop it. Life was so much easier when they were 6-0.
Energized by the odd sequence that somehow resulted in a first-half touchdown, the Redskins kept the momentum the rest of the game and beat the Broncos' 27-17 Sunday, ending Washington's losing streak at four and extending Denver's skid to three.
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"The way we play as a team these days, with these close games, you really need momentum-builders and things like that," said holder and punter Hunter Smith, who cranked up his rusty throwing arm and launched the 35-yard touchdown pass to Mike Sellers. "I thought it was the right call."
Of course he did. He's a punter getting to throw a pass.
But it was fourth-and-20 at the 35, and the Redskins had already showed fake by splitting tight end Todd Yoder wide as a receiver in field goal formation. The attempt was initially aborted when coach Jim Zorn had to call timeout because Washington had only 10 men on the field.
Then, even though the Broncos were on notice, even though there were 20 yards to go, the Redskins still ran the fake.
Yoder split out and went in motion. Smith took the snap, rolled right and lobbed the ball deep -- and back across the field -- to Sellers for the touchdown that tied the score at 14.
Two hours later, the Broncos were still trying to figure out what happened.
"They were setting up something -- we knew it," defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday said. "They came back, and I think they may have even yelled out on their sideline, 'Let's just punt it. Let's just punt it.' And I guess we just bought into it, because we didn't lock in on the play and what was going on. It seems like it took forever to unfold. You've got to know coming into a game like this, with a team like this, to expect it."
The fans that had booed the Redskins all season -- and were booing earlier in the first half when Denver's Brandon Marshall was wide open for two long touchdown passes -- cheered the trickery with one of the biggest ovations of the season.
"They definitely got the momentum," Holliday said, "and, from there on, it seems like we never got the momentum back."
The ramifications for the Broncos (6-3) were huge, and rookie coach Josh McDaniels now has his first genuine rough patch. Three weeks ago, they had a 3½ game lead over the San Diego Chargers. While it was hardly an embarrassment to lose to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the loss to the Redskins (3-6) helped the Chargers tie Denver for the division lead when they beat Philadelphia later Sunday.
"Crisis? No. Tough spot? Absolutely," safety Brian Dawkins said. "There's not going to be too many teams that's going to have a straight shot and not go through some adversity. ... You can't sit there and dwell on the piddly-poo of tears and worry about the last game. You have to move forward and that's what we're going to do."
Compounding matters, the Broncos had to play the second half without Kyle Orton, who limped to the locker room after hurting his left ankle during a third-down scramble on his team's final offensive play of the first half. Chris Simms, seeing his first action of the season, completed 3 of 13 for 13 yards with an interception, and Denver had only 36 yards of total offense after halftime.
"It's a tough sport and it happens," said Orton, who went 11 for 18 for 193 yards with touchdown passes of 40 and 75 yards to Marshall. "You've got to try to play through it. I was hoping to come back out and I just wasn't able to. So hopefully I'll be able to go next week."
Washington's Ladell Betts scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run with 2:44 to play. With Clinton Portis sidelined after suffering a concussion in last week's loss at Atlanta, Betts made his first start since 2006 and ran for 114 yards on 26 carries, including 91 yards in the second half, better numbers than Portis had in any game this season.
Jason Campbell completed 17 of 26 passes -- and was 9 for 9 in the second half -- for 193 yards for the Redskins, who broke the 17-point barrier for the first time this season. In fact, the 27-point outburst was their greatest since Week 2 of last season.
"We've had a desert experience -- very arid, if you will -- for the last few weeks," Zorn said, "so to be able to come out with a win, you almost don't know how to feel."
- Smith now has two big plays on fakes this year. He ran for an 8-yard score against the New York Giants in the opener.
- Washington CB Carlos Rogers was benched after getting beat on the first TD pass to Marshall.
- Redskins DT Albert Haynesworth sprained his left ankle in the second half but said it "should be all right."