Once the football went through the uprights, securing a Redskins victory, quarterback Josh Johnson clenched his fists, kneeled and then slammed his helmet down towards the ground in exasperation and gratitude and joy, letting out all the adversity that had been bottled inside him.
“It was a relief honestly, it was,” Johnson said. “It was just a relief."
Kicker Dustin Hopkins’ 36-yard field goal as time expired completed a 16-13 comeback victory over the Jaguars on Sunday afternoon, ending the team’s four-game losing streak and maintaining a glimmer of playoff hope. The win – the franchise’s 600th – was the first for Johnson, who hadn’t started a game since 2011.
“It’s no secret this team’s been plagued with injuries,” Hopkins said. “Guys have been stepping in and trying, ball just hadn’t bounced our ways a lot of times. It’s going to be a fun flight home. It’s going to be a fun afternoon and evening.”
Check out photos of the Redskins celebrating the win in Jacksonville.
It didn’t appear like that might be the case entering halftime, after the Redskins special teams unit allowed a touchdown on a punt return and trailed 10-3. But this was a game where the usual demons flipped into fortunes, and in a season where the Redskins have felt cursed, good news came when needed.
The defense, much maligned over the last several weeks, didn’t allow and offensive touchdown, returning to form at a crucial time. Instead of folding and allowing explosive plays to pile up, they maintained their dominance in the second half, holding quarterback Cody Kessler to 57 yards passing. The offense then used a fortuitous catch by wide receiver Jamison Crowder, unlikely help from tight end Jeremy Sprinkle and a final statement from running back Adrian Peterson, who took on the bulk of touches during the final two minutes to set up Hopkins for the victory.
"It was all about resiliency,” Johnsons said. “We had a message in the week, we just said, I'm not going to say the words but it was 'F it,' like we just said we wanted to have that mentality. And everybody applied that out there, you felt it on the sideline, we were never rattled.”
The momentum shifted during the Redskins’ first fourth-quarter drive, following a Jaguars field goal that increased their lead to 13-6. On third-and-15 on the Redskins’ 40-yard line, Johnson rifled a pass over the middle that Crowder and cornerback Tashaun Gipson both tipped. Maintaining concentration, Crowder collected the floater for a 33-yard gain, keeping the drive alive.
“The ball just kind of hung in the air, right there in the area and I was able to put my foot in the ground and get back to it,” Crowder said. “I kind of stumbled when I caught it, I wish I stayed up because I probably could have extended the play a little bit more but, you know it's just one of those plays that comes around every so often and I was able to make a play."
“You could say it was luck or whatever but I mean those plays happen in football, that's what makes the beauty of this sport,” Johnson said. “You need things like that to go your way every now and then.”
“I challenged the receivers a little bit to make the big play, and Jamison took it upon himself to figure out a way to make one,” Gruden said.
The Redskins completed their red zone opportunity with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Sprinkle, his first score of the season.
“We had a lot of drives that stalled, a mistake here and there,” Sprinkle said. “Just focusing in at critical times in the game, just being able to drive down the field. It was good.”
With the game tied, the Redskins defense then stepped up in their own third down situation. After an offensive pass interference call, and the Jaguars needing get into field goal range, Kessler threw high to wide receiver Dede Westbrook, and cornerback Fabian Moreau grabbed his first career interception.
Unable to produce much on the ground for the majority of the game, running back Adrian Peterson ran with authority after the turnover. He gathered 29 total yards on two runs and a catch, then collected one more first down to ensure the Jaguars wouldn’t get the ball back, finishing with 51 yards rushing.
“Hall of Fame running backs do what Hall of Fame running backs do,” Johnson said. “Close games."
And so after three quarters in which the Redskins struggled to find rhythm and move the ball at will, they rose to the occasion. Johnson threw for 151 yards, ran for 49 yards and protected the football. The defense forced two turnovers and benefited from a considerable time of possession difference. This was the Redskins team that had begun the season 6-3.
Except that it’s not. On the same day the Redskins received news that quarterback Alex Smith had returned home from the hospital, a quarterback out of football for the past couple of years, Washington’s fourth name to start a game this year, made enough plays to get this team a victory, one it hadn’t accomplished since Smith’s season ended.
It has been a month of adversity, but the Redskins climbed back to a .500 record with two games left, with two more opportunities to fight for the playoffs when it seemed as though everyone believed that to be out of the question.
“All week guys just continued talking about having faith and just believing that if we continue to stay together, and fight for each other and not just give up, we still got a shot at making the playoffs and that's what guys did,” running back Chris Thompson said. “Jonathan Allen came up to almost every guy on the offense and was like 'Hey, y'all about to get something going, y'all about to get us a touchdown here,' And we went down and we did, so I think that just shows where we are as a team and that's the key, is just for us to stick together and continue believing."