Redskins beat Cardinals, 22-21, on late field goal, fumble recovery

September 18, 2011

The Washington Redskins improved to 2-0 on the season on Sunday with a 22-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals that came despite their offensive struggles on third down and in the red zone.

With some late-game heroics by their defense and place kicker Graham Gano , the Redskins scored nine points in the final 10 minutes to pull off the victory in front of a FedEx Field crowd announced at 76,330.

On the first play from scrimmage after Gano’s go-ahead 34-yard field goal, cornerback Byron Westbrook delivered a ball-rattling tackle on Arizona wide receiver Chansi Stuckey following a 12-yard reception. Safety Reed Doughty, who acknowledged a couple of mistakes in last week’s game, pounced on the loose ball, giving the Redskins possession at Arizona’s 32-yard line with 1 minute 39 seconds left.

With the home crowd chanting, “We want Dallas,” whom Washington faces next week at Cowboys Stadium, Rex Grossman and an offense that struggled much of the second half ran out the clock.

“You’ve got to find a way to win,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “We had our opportunities in the first half, and when you stub your toe, sometimes it’s hard to move the ball the way we did and to not get into the end zone and get behind by eight points and still find a way to come from behind in the fourth quarter.”

In the first half, two interceptions and a blocked field goal prevented Washington from building a comfortable lead despite a stingy defensive effort, five trips inside the Cardinals 40-yard line and four trips into the red zone.

With 10:58 left in the game, it appeared as if the Redskins were headed toward defeat. The Cardinals appeared to have found their rhythm and struck quickly when quarterback Kevin Kolb hit an open Larry Fitzgerald down the right sideline for a 73-yard touchdown pass.

Washington answered with a 13-play, 73-yard drive capped by an 18-yard touchdown pass from Grossman to Santana Moss that made the score 21-19. On the scoring play, the Redskins faced fourth and three and Grossman had a receiver in the flat for what would have been a first down. But the eighth-year pro passed up that option and hit Moss in the right corner of the end zone.

“Any time you’re in that situation and they make a big play and you’re down eight points, as an offense in the huddle, you know you’ve got to get going and have a fourth-quarter comeback, and that’s what we did,” said Grossman, who has thrown for at least one touchdown in each of his last five games. “Those are the types of situations that I think build momentum and confidence as a team, knowing that throughout the course of the year, you’re going to be put in a lot of adverse situations.”

The Redskins went for two points to tie the score, but Grossman’s pass was deflected, and the Cardinals maintained the lead.

But Washington’s defense delivered again. After limiting Arizona to only three third-down conversions all game to that point, the Redskins produced another stop when rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan swatted a Kolb pass on third and seven.

Following the punt, Washington’s offense reached the Arizona 16-yard line, but wound up having to settle for the 34-yard field goal from Gano and a 22-21 lead.

Westbrook’s play followed, and after three kneel-downs, Washington punted to Arizona’s Patrick Peterson with 10 seconds left, and the clock expired as the rookie tried to take the ball out of the end zone.

“I was sick to my stomach,” Arizona Coach Ken Whisenhunt said of Stuckey’s fate-sealing fumble. “I felt like when we got a good play, to get a first down and get them on their heels, we didn’t have to go far to get within field goal range. That was a pretty crappy feeling.”

With the win, Washington improved to 2-0 for the first time since the 2007 season and for one week, at least, sits alone atop the NFC East.

Grossman finished with 25 completions on 43 attempts for 291 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Running back Tim Hightower racked up 96 yards on 20 carries against his former team. Rookie Roy Helu added 74 yards on 10 carries, and tight end Fred Davis led the Washington receivers with six catches for 86 yards.

Washington tallied 28 first downs and 455 yards of total offense. The Cardinals managed only 16 first downs and committed 10 penalties for 97 yards.

Early on, the Redskins’ offense looked less like the highly effective attack that carried them in Week 1 against the Giants. The first two Washington possessions ended with interceptions.

On the first, they missed on an opportunity to score on the opening drive of the game. After moving the ball 68 yards to the Arizona 6-yard line, Washington faced third and goal, and Grossman threw an errant pass on a play that appeared to be designed for Moss. The receiver had to lunge to get back toward the ball, but couldn’t get there, and Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson picked off the pass and returned it to the Arizona 19-yard line.

Washington’s defense held, forcing Arizona to punt. Seven plays later, wide receiver Anthony Armstrong tipped a third-down pass from Grossman into the hands of cornerback Richard Marshall, who took the ball back to the Redskins 37.

The Cardinals needed only two plays to get on the scoreboard. Kolb completed a 16-yard toss to a wide-open Andre Roberts along the right sideline, and then hooked up with tight end Jeff King down the left sideline. King dived with the ball outstretched to break the plane of the goal line and give his team its first touchdown of the game.

Following Arizona’s touchdown, Washington put together a drive that spanned portions of the first and second quarters. The Redskins reached the Cardinals 3-yard line, but a false start penalty on left tackle Trent Williams pushed them back to the 8, and then Grossman had to throw the ball away with all of his targets blanketed. Gano, who missed his only field goal attempt in Week 1, nailed a 26-yard attempt to put Washington on the board with more than 10 minutes left in the first half.

The 14-play, 77-yard drive took 8 minutes 29 seconds, longer than any Redskins scoring drive all of last season.

The Redskins’ only first-half touchdown came on their next possession, after a pass interference call on first and goal from the 9. The ball was moved to the 1, and Grossman found Davis in the back of the end zone for the fourth-year pro’s 10th career touchdown reception.

But the struggles continued after yet another Arizona punt, the Cardinals’ fourth of the game. Gano’s 30-yard field goal attempt was blocked by the Cardinals’ Calais Campbell.

The first half ended with Washington clinging to a 10-7 lead that should have been larger.

“You usually lose those games, period. Not just a Redskins team, but any team. You normally lose those games,” said Moss, who recorded the 600th reception of his career Sunday. “When I was on the sideline, I was saying, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but you have two turnovers and a blocked field goal, you normally lose those games.’ But we just stuck in there, man.”

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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