Redskins' defensive stand delivers win, hope

Redskins' defensive stand delivers win, hope
November 4, 2013, 9:00 am
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Redskins gain confidence from win over Chargers

In every football season, there arrives a moment when things can take a decisive turn for better or worse. For the Redskins, it’s possible that moment came in the form of goal line stand in Sunday’s win over the Chargers.

Keeping Philip Rivers and Co. out of the end zone did much more than set up an overtime opportunity for Washington, it might have preserved the Redskins’ season. At 3-5, there’s still hope thanks to the woeful NFC East, where the Cowboys (5-4) and Eagles (4-5) have a tenuous hold on first and second place.

Had the Redskins lost, however, the competitive portion of their season likely would have been all but done. In fact, since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, no team has ever made the postseason after starting 2-6.

They came oh so close to ending up on the wrong side of that statistic. But a series of clutch defensive stops that linebacker Brian Orakpo called “one of the best moments” he’s been a part of and cornerback DeAngelo Hall described as “character-building” prevented it.

The stand began when rookie cornerback David Amerson blasted Danny Woodhead as the Chargers’ 5 foot 8 running back dived for the pylon with the seconds ticking off the clock in regulation. One more inch, and we'd be discussing another storyline this morning.

What ensued was test of the defense’s resolve after it had coughed up a double-digit, second half lead for the second consecutive week against an AFC West opponent.

On first down, with the ball inside the 1-yard line and only 17 seconds remaining in 24-21 game, London Fletcher, Ryan Kerrigan and Brandon Meriweather converged to stuff Woodhead at the line of scrimmage.  

On second down, D-Hall did what he’s been doing all season. Which is to say he made a play when the Redskins needed it most. Hall jammed eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, disrupting the timing of the fade route. Gates, who measures six inches taller and 62 pounds heavier than Hall, implored the official for a flag. But it was not warranted. Hall’s play was not only clutch, it was clean.

On third down, Amerson and Josh Wilson blanketed their assignments, leaving Rivers with nowhere to go with the ball as the clock wound down toward all zeros.

The Chargers had been given three chances to move the ball six inches. And Jim Haslett's unit neither bent nor broke.

Although Nick Novak’s 19-yard field goal on fourth down forced overtime, by keeping the Chargers out of the end zone, Washington breathed new life into their season. And, thanks to a resurgent Robert Griffin III, a pivotal third down catch by Jordan Reed and the rugged running of Alfred Morris in the extra session, they escaped with a 30-24 victory on an afternoon where nothing less would have sufficed.

It was the kind of stand gritty win a team can build upon. If it so chooses, that is.

“It was definitely a character-building situation,” Hall said of the goal line stand. “But to be up 10, you can’t let a team march down the field a couple times and have a chance to win it there. We’ve got a lot of things to correct.”

“Do you like the fight in the guys? Absolutely,” he continued. “Do you wish you weren’t in that situation? Absolutely. There are a lot of things we can learn from that and a lot of things we have to work on, but you can see the resiliency in these guys and get the stop. That’s almost impossible there—when a team has the ball like that with a few seconds left on the clock, that’s a tough situation to be in. But these guys just kept fighting.” 

Added Orakpo: “It was huge. Like I said, one of the best moments I’ve been a part of. We needed this; it was a must-win. We needed this, especially with the other teams int he division winning.”

As the drama unfolded at FedEx Field, the Redskins could have used some help from Minnesota and Oakland. But none was forthcoming. Tony Romo and the Cowboys pulled off a last-minute win over the Vikings and Nick Foles tossed a record-tying seven touchdowns to rip the Raiders.

Despite the wins by Dallas and Philly, Fletcher said his teammates still see some daylight.

“In our situation, in our division, yes,” Fletcher said. “That’s the great thing about our division. Because it’s been so bad, we’re still only a game behind Dallas [in the loss column] even though they won. It’s a great situation for us.”

It’s impossible to know what exactly the Redskins’ skin-of-their-teeth win over the Chargers will mean a month from now. Actually, the positive vibes could be gone as soon as four days from now if they don’t go into Minnesota and string together back-to-back wins for the first time in 2013. But here’s what beating the Chargers has done in the short term: it’s provided the Redskins’ players, coaches and fans hope that the improbable can happen for a second straight year.