During their long history, the Washington Redskins have achieved many heart-stopping victories in key games. Unfortunately, few of them have occurred in the past 20 years.
Today, however, the Redskins won as thrilling a big game as I can recall. Victory came in overtime, 31-28, at the expense of the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens entered the game with a 9-3 record, coming off of a tough loss to Pittsburgh. They had not lost back-to-back games since 2009.
The Redskins, by contrast, had been hard-pressed to win back-to-back games until their rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, led them to three straight victories beginning in mid-November. On the strength of that streak, Washington went into this agme at 6-6, good enough for a shot at the playoffs, but only if they could keep winning.
After three-and-half quarters of see-saw football, the Skins found themselves trailing 28-20 with less than five minutes remaining and the ball on their own 15 yard line. There was no need to panic, though; Griffin had plenty of time to engineer another successful late game drive.
But the going was tough. Facing third down and 6 to go, Griffin completed a six yard pass. After another first down, the Ravens sacked him for a nine yard loss.
Barely avoiding another sack, Griffin scrambled for 13 yards (to the Redskins 40) on second down. But the play ended with Griffin screaming in pain (in a manly way, as he later assured reporters) following a severe blow to his knee.
Facing third and 6, the Redskins turned to backup quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Redskins selected Cousins in the fourth round of this year’s draft, after taking Griffin the first round. The pick raised eyebrows at the time inasmuch as RG III is expected to solve our quarterbacking problems for a decade, and we have veteran Rex Grossman as his backup. But coach Mike Shanahan liked Cousins and after a solid pre-season, the former Michigan State star supplanted Grossman as the number two QB.
Before today, though, Cousins had only thrown a handful of regular season passes in the NFL. Those passes (following a concussion to Griffin against Atlanta) produced a long touchdown, but also two interceptions.
On his first play in this game, in the face of heavy pressure, Cousins made the correct read and threw to Pierre Garcon just ahead of the first down marker. The play produced a first down on pass interference. Griffin then returned to the huddle.
Though clearly hobbled, RG III completed passes to Santana Moss (15 yards) and, following an incompletion, Garcon (22 yards). But on the ensuing first down, Griffin stumbled upon taking the snap, intentionally threw the ball away, and fell to the ground in pain, unable to continue. The “grounding” call cost the Skins ten yards, moving the ball back to the Ravens’ 26 yard line.
On came Cousins, facing first and 20 with 45 seconds remaining. Cousins got the penalty yardage back and then some on a pass play. But the Redskins burned their final time-out, and now had only 36 seconds in which to reach the end zone.
On second down and 6 from the 11 yard line, Cousins saw no one open as the pocket began to collapse. He rolled to his right to extend the play. When Garcon finally broke open in the end zone, Cousins found him. Baltimore 28, Washington 26.
The quarterback draw is a staple of the Redskins “goal to go” offense. But that’s because RG III is one of the best running quarterbacks in NFL history. With Cousins at quarterback, no one expected Washington to seek the two point conversion via a quarterback draw. Yet that’s the play that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (son of the coach) called.
Showing decent running ability, Cousins crashed into the end zone to tie the game. Shades of Jeff Rutledge against the Detroit Lions 22 years ago, except that Rutledge was a 13-year veteran when, coming on in relief to rally the Redskins, he scored on a draw play to send that game into overtime.
In overtime, the Redskins defense and special teams supplied the heroics. The much-maligned defense forced a three-and-out, and rookie Richard Crawford (a seventh round draft pick playing in his first game as a professional punt returner) carried the ensuing punt 64 yards to the Baltimore 24 yard line. Two plays later, rookie kicker Kai Forbath kicked a 34 yard field goal to end the affair.
The Skins’ victory was deserved. We outgained the Ravens, and had more time of possession and more yards per play. However, Baltimore, in a sense, was a victim of its own success running the ball. Washington’s pass defense is among the worst in the NFL. Any team that passes the ball only 21 times against it (as the Ravens did) is doing us a favor, regardless of how well it’s running the ball. In fact, the better the team has run the ball, the more it should make sure to exploit our pass defense, which will be all the weaker for having to worry about the run.
With three winnable games remaining, the Redskins now have a realistic shot at making the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season and only the fourth time in 20 years. Despite Cousins’ performance, our hopes may well depend on whether Griffin can return, and how soon.