If the Redskins had lost to the Chargers today, had they not survived the high-wire act at the goal line that sent the game into overtime, a lot of the conversation today would center around the drive that the Redskins started leading by three points with just over four minutes left to play. San Diego had all three of its timeouts left but a few first downs would have killed the clock regardless and the Redskins would have walked out with a tense, but not nerve-fraying, win.
It started off great, with the Redskins flipping field position with a 22-yard pass from Robert Griffin III to Pierre Garçon. That put the Redskins near midfield at their own 48. Two plays later, however, Chris Chester committed the unforgivable sin of holding on a running play. Not only did it turn a third and about five into a second and 19 but it also stopped the clock.
“I think any time you have a holding penalty, you set yourself way back and the mindset changes,” said Mike Shanahan, reflecting back on that drive. “Are you going to run it, throw it? You have to execute.”
As he went to the ground, Garçon made a nice catch of a Griffin pass thrown a bit behind him. That picked up 16 yards and forced the Chargers to take a timeout with 2:22 left in regulation.
The play call on third and three is the one that would be debated endlessly had things turned out differently. If they get the three yards they are either down to the 2:00 warning or the Chargers have only one timeout left. The could not have run out the clock without getting another first but even a punt would have come with around a minute and a half left.
They had been running the ball well so perhaps they should have run. But the Chargers lined up with 10 in the box so it seems doubtful that a run would have gained the needed yardage. In any case, it would have either run the clock down to the two-minute warning or it would have forced the Chargers to use another timeout.
As it was, Griffin lined up in shotgun formation, took a step back and fired to Garçon near the left sideline. The play never seemed to have a chance as the ball sailed over Garçon’s head.
It’s hard to tell from the TV replays if another receiver may have been a better option. As it was, the incomplete pass stopped the clock and the Redskins had to punt.
“We were close. We almost got it done, but on third-and-four we couldn’t make it,” said Shanahan. “We threw a quick out route, but overall on third downs, we had some of the best plays of the year.”
Yes, they did make some good third down plays and they converted 12 of 17 on the day. But one of those they didn’t convert almost cost them the game. They punted and the Chargers drove to within the length of the football to the winning touchdown.