Of all the amazing, improbable, gob-smacking games in Washington’s long football history, the Redskins’ 30-24 overtime victory over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday at FedEx Field is probably the most unlikely, the most impossible — and the longest shot of all.
If you are asked if NFL games really can be decided by a foot or whether “certain” defeat can be avoided, you can always say, “Remember the day the Chargers scored a touchdown to lead 27-24 with 21 seconds to play? The game seemed decided, but the score was reversed on replay. The Redskins held for three downs at their own half-yard line, then took the overtime kickoff and drove 78 yards to win. Did you forget that one?”
Nobody’s going to forget this one. But just how large the memory becomes, how long the tale is retold, will depend on what this team makes out of it, what they build on in a season that still stands at 3-5. Or whether they squander their good fortune. This is the type of “miracle” that turns seasons. That is, if you’re good enough.
Unless Washington plays better, and better than they did against the Chargers, who came within inches of overcoming a 24-14 fourth-quarter deficit, this win will recede quickly, becoming more of a dazzling curiosity than a win of significance.
But if Washington turns its season around, remembers its run-first identity (209 yards on the ground, 121 by Alfred Morris), gets a reinvigorated Robert Griffin III as its leader (23 for 32 for 291 yards) and defends its NFC East title, this will be talked about for years.
Then the focus will be on 172 yards of acrobatic receptions by Pierre Garcon and three touchdowns inside the 5 by fullback Darrel Young, who’s seldom allowed to touch pigskin, including the game-ender.
“I can’t remember when, but in 40 years [of coaching], yeah, there are a couple of those miracle games that you look back and the ball bounces your way,” Coach Mike Shanahan said. Yeah, yeah, but you can’t name ’em.
On the verge of a 2-6 mark at midseason, with a sea of questions about a blown 10-point lead, dubious late-game clock management and two blocked field goals (one from just 25 yards), suddenly Shanahan was talking about his team’s wonderful character. That’s what one inch, one foot, can mean. And Shanahan could single out, as “the play of the game,” a scramble by Robert Griffin III when he flipped in the air and landed on his head but got an important first down. That’s Shanny and RGIII, all right, just best of buds.
No Redskin even tried to pretend he could remember a similar game. “That’s almost impossible odds,” said defensive back DeAngelo Hall, who covered likely Hall of Famer Antonio Gates on all three of San Diego’s goal-line plays. On second down, he blanketed Gates on his favorite fade route — overthrown and incomplete.
“Helpless,” said 325-pound offensive tackle Trent Williams of the way he and the whole offense felt. “You can only watch. Whatever happened there was going to be the end of it.”
What made this one unique was the sequence of plays and decisions that all had to go in Washington’s favor for this crazy game to become a win. There was no one Hail Mary pass or long field goal at the gun. First, there was the reversal of what had been called a Danny Woodhead six-yard touchdown reception from Philip Rivers. Had Woodhead, while in mid-air, touched the pylon with the ball for a score?
“Oh, I didn’t think there was any question about it [that Woodhead was out of bounds],” said Shanahan, awaiting the all-scores-reviewed decision.
Still, with two timeouts left and first and goal, the Chargers were probably in 98 percent win territory. Yet they tried a plunge to their smallest back — the 5-foot-8 Woodhead — then passed incomplete twice in the end zone. They never attempted a run with their best back, the 220-pound Ryan Mathews.
“I’m glad they passed,” Williams said.
“I’m not going to question any calls,” Chargers Coach Mike McCoy said. “We called what we called and they didn’t work.”
When the Redskins held and forced a 19-yard game-tying field goal, the offense held its meeting. “It’s time to right our wrongs,” Williams said of an offense that had allowed a gift San Diego touchdown on a batted Griffin pass.
With the Chargers deflated in overtime, the Redskins swept downfield, their key gain being a 12-yard Griffin-to-Jordan Reed pass on third and eight.
“It’s huge,” Griffin said. “This means a lot to our fans so they could believe in us. We appreciated those that stayed ’til the end.”
For the first time, the offense actually had a balance that resembled 2012, with 40 rushing attempts to 32 passes. “It felt more like last year,” Griffin said.
Even so, the Redskins, after taking a 24-14 lead, still went to their passing game — gaining some yardage but failing to take much time off the clock — in a situation when dominant rushing teams chew up clock with runs.
Now, all those nags can be forgotten for four days.
Was this simply a game to remember or a game that may begin to change a whole season? Find out Thursday.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.
More on the Redskins:
Game summary: Redskins 30, Chargers 24 (OT)
D.C. Sports Bog: Redskins-Chargers best and worst
Photos: Scenes from FedEx Field
The Insider: Latest Redskins updates