As kicker Dustin Hopkins’ 36-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired in Sunday’s games against the Jacksonville Jaguars, quarterback Josh Johnson fell to the ground and slapped the field. Moments later, he took off his helmet, let out a scream and allowed a smile to slowly creep across his face.
For Johnson, the kick was more than a play that provided the Redskins with a much-needed win. It symbolized his resiliency and determination, and provided him with a new milestone. After stints with 12 different teams in 10 years, Johnson finally had his first career NFL win.
“I've always had belief in myself, that I can do things like this, but I've never been one to talk about it because talking does nothing,” Johnson said. “I mean, you've just got to really be about the action and today I was in the action. And just to have it go our way, and be able to just have everything that's been bottled up in me for years to finally just let it out, it was a relief honestly, it was. It was just a relief."
Entering Sunday’s matchup, it was a mystery as to how the Redskins’ new quarterback would perform under center. His NFL track record wasn’t great, spending time with almost half of the teams in the league and compiling just an 0-5 record in games he’d started.
Additionally, Johnson would need to adjust on the fly. Not just to his new team, but to the league in general. Having thrown a pass in an NFL game for the first time in five years just a week prior, the quarterback was preparing to make his first start since 2011. Before Washington signed him less than two weeks ago, Johnson was scheduled to play for the Alliance of American Football’s San Diego Fleet in 2019.
However, as kickoff approached and head coach Jay Gruden told him to “calm down,” those stories and stats no longer mattered. Johnson was beginning a fresh start, and had a chance to earn an important win for both the Redskins and himself.
He did just that.
“He played good. He played really good, actually,” Gruden said about his quarterbacks performance. “What can you say, we just came to Jacksonville and beat the Jaguars. He was a big part of that.”
Johnson’s day may not have looked great on paper, but the quarterback did what was asked of him. Johnson managed the offense, avoided turnovers, extended plays and kept Washington within striking distance at all times.
Specifically in the second half, the quarterback played a crucial role in the comeback. Besides finding tight end Jeremy Sprinkle in the end zone for a touchdown to tie the game at 13, Johnson used his legs to keep countless plays and drives alive. Finishing with 49 rushing yards, the quarterback’s versatility helped the offense do just enough to squeak out a victory.
“He played a hell of a game,” defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said about Johnson. “He did everything that he needed to do to help us win."
In addition to his physical contributions, teammates credited Johnson’s leadership and energy as a main factor in the outcome of the game. Running back Chris Thompson mentioned earlier in the week that the new passer’s confidence had the team feeling the same way they did when Alex Smith was at the helm.
"You can tell he’s very confident in what he’s doing,” Sprinkle said. “It’s easy to get behind him.”
“When it comes to being a leader, I always know what it takes to be a leader as a quarterback. In the beauty of, I guess you could say my upbringing and everything, I know how to relate to people of all different walks of life,” Johnson said about his ability to take charge. “I've always had that ability but at the end of the day I know what players respond to in this league. They respond to action, they respond to you going out there and doing what you're supposed to do. And if you want to fight, and if you're going to leave it all on the field guys will plays for that.”
Though Johnson may not have been in the Redskins’ quarterback plans just a few short weeks ago, he’s now the guy they trust to get the job done as the team enters the playoff push. The win on Sunday was a big one for both Washington and him personally. However, much like the events that led him to Washington, he knows the only thing that matters now is what’s next.
"Nothing I can say right now won't mean anything if we don't go out next week and get the job done,” Johnson said. “So I'm really just focused on all the action. Our action tomorrow, our action Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday is what's going to put us in position to win and that's the most important thing to focus on."