Injuries aside, the Redskins enjoyed some early game positives, which were supplied mainly by the starting defense.
The unit demonstrated again an ability to both get to the quarterback and generate turnovers. Despite playing without leading pass rusher Brian Orakpo, who missed the game while nursing a bruised right thigh, the Redskins flustered Ben Roethlisberger, sacking him once, hurrying him two more times and forcing him into an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
The Redskins held the Steelers to three-and-out on the opening possession of the game, and on the next, Cofield and defensive end Kedric Golston combined for a sack on Roethlisberger.
On second and 16 from the Pittsburgh 28, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan got his hands up and blocked Roethlisberger’s pass at the line, juggled the ball for six yards, then secured it as he rumbled 22 yards for a touchdown.
“Hopefully I didn’t waste a pick-six in the preseason, but it felt good to get in the end zone,” said Kerrigan, who has returned an interception for a touchdown in each of his first two NFL seasons. “We didn’t force any turnovers in the first game, so to get a couple of them out there, it felt good. Hopefully more to come both this week against Buffalo and then in the regular season.
In the next quarter, Kerrigan registered a sack-fumble on backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, and Cofield recovered. Washington running back Keiland Williams fumbled one play later, giving the ball back to Pittsburgh.
But the Redskins’ defense registered another turnover — this time on a play by rookie safety Bacarri Rambo.
Rambo entered the game looking to redeem himself from an open-field whiff that led to a 58-yard touchdown run by Chris Johnson in Tennessee the week before. But the sixth-round pick missed on two open-field tackle attempts in the early going Monday.
However, Rambo made up for it. He darted into the backfield, tackled Pittsburgh running back Jonathan Dwyer behind the line of scrimmage and knocked the ball free with his left hand.
Washington linebacker London Fletcher recovered the fumble, and two plays later, the Redskins scored on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Grossman to Hankerson, who leaped into the air, snagged the high pass with his left hand, pulled it down and tucked it into his belly for the catch.
Grossman directed a late-second quarter drive for a 38-yard field goal that led to a 17-6 lead at halftime. The Steelers pulled within 17-13 on a 10-yard Derek Moye touchdown catch from Landry Jones. But Roy Helu Jr. gave his team breathing room again, scoring on a 30-yard run up the middle with 3:21 left in the game.
The Redskins now have a quick turnaround before they host Buffalo on Saturday. Tuesday represents a rest and treatment day, and the team will practice Wednesday and Thursday and have a walk-through Friday. At this time, it remains unclear whether Cousins will play, but if not, Grossman said he is ready to handle a heavier workload.
“I don’t think anything changes for anybody,” he said. “You just go out there and try to make the most of your opportunities. Bottom line, I think Kirk is going to be healthy by Saturday, and when I get in, I’m going to ball. I don’t try to overthink it. Just go in, ball out, let the chips fall where they may.”