Desperate to put an end to their sputtering offense, the Washington Redskins leaned heavily on two unlikely heroes and pulled off their second victory of the season Sunday at FedEx Field.
Until Sunday, Reed — a third-round pick out of Florida — had shown flashes of ability, particularly late in games, but had yet to receive extensive work as he tried to climb the team’s tight end depth chart. Helu, meanwhile, had served as a moderately used backup to Alfred Morris, but with Washington unable to run the ball consistently, his opportunities had been limited.
Both players’ fortunes changed against Chicago. Reed morphed into Robert Griffin III’s go-to receiver, catching every ball that came his way, and Helu provided a much-needed change of pace in the rushing attack. Meanwhile, Washington’s offense erupted for 499 yards (the most in regulation since 1999) and 45 points (the highest total since 2005).
“I think any time you get a tight end that has a game like that, it’s very easy to see what type of ability he has — the ability to break off linebackers and defensive backs and get open and run the ball after he catches,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “Helu is a great change of pace with Morris. . . . Helu got the ball and he has speed to not only break through tackles, but to get the ball in the end zone quickly.”
Logan Paulsen — the team’s best run-blocker — started at tight end, while Fred Davis was inactive because of the need for more special teams contributors, Shanahan said.
Griffin went to Reed on two of his first three passes. He went to him again later in the first quarter, and then connected with the Florida product for a three-yard fade route in the back of the end zone to give Washington a 24-17 lead at halftime.
“He makes it easy,” Griffin said of Reed. “He has such a wide target radius. He catches everything.”
Quiet for the bulk of the third and fourth quarters, Reed emerged again with the game on the line. Down 41-38 with 3:52 left and his team in need of a winning drive, Griffin found Reed two more times — first on a 26-yard strike down the center of the field to the tight end to move the ball to midfield, and then on a 10-yard, third-and-four pass that put the ball at the three and set up Helu for the winning touchdown run.
“It felt great, and just to have an opportunity be out there playing with these kind of caliber athletes, it feels great, and I just have to keep working hard,” Reed said. “The win feels better than the stats. I’m just happy I was able to be a part of the win and help us get down there near the end and get the win.”
Said left tackle Trent Williams: “You’re watching a huge NFL talent. He’s going to be a star in this league for a long time. We’re blessed to get him. You can see what he’s able to do. Whenever the ball’s in his hands, it’s a real threat.”
Sunday marked the first time in Helu’s young career that he has scored multiple touchdowns. His first came from 14 yards early in the second quarter and tied the game at 10. Then a three-yard run late in the third quarter gave Washington a 31-24 lead.
The winning run, however, provided the greatest sense gratification for a back who lost virtually his entire second season to Achilles’ tendon and toe injuries.
Until Sunday, Helu had been used sparingly as he recorded 88 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. But in an attempt to keep Morris fresher, the Redskins called Helu’s number more often. Morris had 19 carries for 95 yards, and Helu added 11 carries for 41 yards. Three of those carries from Helu changed the outcome of the game, and proved special for the back.
“I think [the win and comeback from injury] are kind of one. I can’t weigh one over the other,” Helu said. “We’d definitely be having a different conversation if we hadn’t won, and it’d be a different kind of feel for me too. But, we did win, and so, secondly, overcoming adversity is just an amazing thing.”
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