Best and worst moments from Washington’s 28-18 win over the Dallas Cowboys, the biggest D.C. football result in who knows how long.
Best Play: Rob Jackson. That was the play that put nightmare visions of Pete Kozma and Jaroslav Halak temporarily on ice. That was the play that rescued all of greater Washington from a terrifying final few minutes, as the Redskins took the ball back and rammed it into the end zone to clinch a win and an NFC East title. Plus, the young linebacker — who wasn’t even supposed to be starting — earned that late fourth-quarter leaping grab, his fourth of the season and Tony Romo’s third of the game. No player signified the defense’s late-season turnaround more than he did.
Best Offensive Rookie: Alfred Morris. That is officially the weirdest best/worst item I’ve ever typed. But the 6th-round pick from Florida Atlantic carried the offense when the first-round Heisman Trophy-winner could not. Morris finished with 200 yards on 33 carries, setting the franchise single-season rushing record, setting a career single-game mark, and reminding everyone of the Riggo Drill. I mean, we were having legitimate debates about who would be Washington’s running back this summer, and this kid wasn’t even a candidate. And now he’s being compared to a Hall of Famer.
Best Rally: At this point, it doesn’t matter what Mike Shanahan was or wasn’t trying to say after his team lost to Carolina at home. The Redskins haven’t lost since, becoming just the fifth team in NFL history to go from 3-6 to the playoffs. He could have been cursing to Mayan Gods in an ancient German dialect, but it worked.
Best Veteran: Look, I joined everyone else in suggesting, loudly and repeatedly, that London Fletcher looked well past his prime earlier this season. Sunday night, all he did was have two sacks, double the number he had through 15 games. That also gave him at least three sacks for his first season since 2005.
Best Veteran, II: Look, I joined everyone else in suggesting, loudly and repeatedly, that DeAngelo Hall often cost the Redskins earlier this season. Sunday night, he blanketed Dez Bryant, allowing just three completions the first nine times the ball was thrown in his direction, according to NBC. “They can’t beat DeAngelo Hall down the field,” Cris Collinsworth marveled.
Best Tweet: “I love how they are doing it with the running game,” Joe Jacoby wrote. “Just over powering the Cowgirls.” Ok, I might not have used that phrase, but he comes by it honestly.
Best Tweet, II: “An infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters would eventually intercept an infinite number of Romo passes.” Via here.
Best Substitute: Look, I can’t judge the intricacies of Josh LeRibeus’s performance while watching live and typing up all this nonsense. But the rookie lineman made his NFL debut mid-drive in a pressure cooker of a game, after Kory Lichtensteiger got hurt. And the Redskins’ didn’t miss a beat, marching 82 yards for a third-quarter touchdown that gave them their first lead. The starter came back on the next drive, but LeRibeus later returned, and the rushing attack mowed on.
Worst Sign: Robert Griffin III ran twice in the first quarter, gaining 12 yards, which seems fine. But on both runs, he appeared so obviously gimpy and limited that it was almost uncomfortable to watch. This was not the dynamic quarterback who ripped through NFL defenses with sprinter speed during most of his rookie season. This was, like, Jason Campbell in a potato sack race or something. Wound up being good enough, though.
Worst Field: “Is it hard to grow grass in D.C.?” one of my Twitter followers asked early in Sunday night’s game. “Why does the Redskins’s grass always look like they let elephants run amok on the field before opening the gates?” another asked. “Why can they grow grass in every outdoor stadium except FedEx?” a third asked. I don’t know how to answer these questions. And I don’t know if it matters. But for two months, that field has looked as pristine as a sixth-month old’s bib after eating squashed peas with chocolate sauce.
Best Congratulations: Clinton Portis did everything he could have done to congratulate Alfred Morris on breaking his franchise rushing record, from standing to applaud to almost immediately sending out a congratulatory Tweet. “Congrats to my young homie alfred morris job well done sir!!!” he wrote. “Big fan & the sky is the limit HTTR.”
Worst Play Clock: Cris Collinsworth’s explanation of how the offense usually gets a half-tick of extra play-clock time due to the official having to look from the number to the ball was interesting. But it didn’t much apply during Tony Romo’s second-quarter touchdown pass to Jason Witten, which came after the play clock had expired. That was, like, four half-ticks.
Best Response: The ensuing drive was the best of Washington Redskins football, circa 2012. After an incompletion, the Skins ran for 3, passed for 8, ran for 13, ran for 12, ran for 9, ran for 6 and ran for 17. That was seven consecutive positive plays — with each nearly better than the last — and a running game that just could not be stopped.
Best Hands: Logan Paulsen’s second-quarter catch was only worth eight yards, but it was about the most impressive eight-yard catch you will ever see. With safety Sterling Moore draped all over him and, with Moore’s arm clutching the ball, Paulsen somehow managed to clutch the ball and Moore’s arm all the way to the ground.
Worst Hands: This is a one-day only award, because Pierre Garcon has made some amazing grabs this season. But his third-quarter drop was about as easy a catch as a No. 1 NFL receiver will ever make; instead of a first down, Washington was forced to punt. Honorable mention to London Fletcher for dropping an interception, though that’s not really his main job.
Worst Camera Angle: Why so many high high high shots, NBC? Why change what we’re used to during the final game of the regular season, when we just don’t want to be distracted by anything new and different?
Worst Streak Ender: You knew that Kai Forbath wouldn’t hit every field goal attempt for the rest of his NFL career. But you sort of hoped that maybe he wouldn’t miss one in a crucial situation. Like, say, a 37-yard attempt in a scoreless game with a division title on the line.
Worst Start: Both teams had extremely ugly first drives, at least on offense. The Skins gained two yards on three plays, while burning a timeout due to a helmet malfunction. The Cowboys gained two yards on two plays, and then Tony Romo threw an unsightly interception.
Best Punter Tackle: Dallas’s first punt return went for 28 yards and could have been far worse had Sav Rocca not thrown his sizable body into Dwayne Harris. Later in the game, Rocca one-upped himself, throwing Harris down by his head, earning a penalty but massive “holy punter!” plaudits. “That’s a big punter,” Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had said earlier in the week. “I don’t know if he’s any good or not, but he’s big as hell.”
Worst False Start: This game had remarkably few penalties, but Trent Williams earned a brutal one in the fourth quarter with a false start, turning a 2nd-and-2 into a 2nd-and-7. The Skins wound up punting, and the Cowboys then got a touchdown and two-point conversion to cut the deficit to three.
Best Kickoff Return: Niles Paul? The tight end has often underwhelmed returning kicks since Brandon Banks lost his job, but Paul’s 48-yard return in the fourth quarter Sunday night helped reverse a late momentum shift. Don’t forget that moment.
Worst Special Teams Play, Combined: Dallas’s final snap of the first half featured mass chaos on both sides of the ball, with the Redskins shuffling their field-goal block unit off and their punt return unit on, and Brian Moorman booming a kick into the end zone from the 34. Lame, all around.
Worst Special Guest Appearance as a Punt Returner: Hey, it’s DeAngelo Hall! Cool! Hey, DeAngelo Hall dropped the punt at his own 18-yard line and fell on it and gained 0 yards. Not so cool.
Best Prediction: “I do think we’re gonna at least get to the playoffs,” Marion Barry said in August. “I think that’s realistic.”
Worst Prediction: Pete Prisco, the CBSSports.com columnist, had the Redskins finishing 3-13, with eight double-digit losses, not topping the 21-point barrier once. Mayor For Life >>> Professional Football Columnist.
Best Trade: I thought the Redskins gave up too much for Robert Griffin III. Guess I was wrong. The entire tenor of the franchise has completely changed, due to one kid. “The rest of the league better damn well hope he doesn’t get to 100 percent,” Brian Mitchell said after the game.
Best Chance For Revenge: Washington’s last two playoff runs ended in Seattle. This time, the Seahawks are coming to the District. Well, Landover. Whatever.