By Thomas Boswell
Monday, December 27, 2010; 12:00 AM
Rob Jackson, Joe Joseph, Darrion Scott, Macho Harris, Byron Westbrook, Vonnie Holliday, Chris Wilson and Kevin Barnes led the defense in the Washington Redskins' 20-17 overtime victory against the playoff-hungry Jacksonville Jaguars here Sunday.
You had that, right?
Of course, you didn't. Even the Redskins themselves didn't see this coming.
"Some of these guys who helped us win today were sitting at home on their sofas last week watching the game on TV," said Holliday, a 13-year defensive line vet.
Along with backup linebacker Wilson, Holliday blasted Jags quarterback David Garrard just as Garrard threw a crucial pass on the first series of overtime, inducing a fluttering post-Christmas gift of an interception that landed right in Barnes's arms.
When your season is one long soap opera of disappointments and the other team is still fighting for the postseason; when the wind chill is below freezing - in Florida - and you wonder why your job takes you away from home on Christmas, you need anything you can find for inspiration.
The Redskins looked at each other and found it in themselves.
"The key word is professionalism," said linebacker London Fletcher. "We'd like to be 9-6, not 6-9, but that's not our reality. We get an opportunity to play on Sunday with the man next to us. We go out and fight for each other.
"Oh, and we have great captains," added Fletcher, a co-captain, laughing.
At that, the linebacker's whole corner of the locker room erupted in insults directed at the popular former Pro Bowler. "Just kiddin', guys," he said.
The idea of the Redskins bursting out in laughter and camaraderie after their 15th game of a season filled with bad blood and open wounds seems hard to fathom. But pros, the best of them, have their own codes. As Fletcher was teased, just 10 feet away stood Donovan McNabb, demoted to third-string quarterback this week. But he was grinning and mocking, too. He'll just be doing things the classy, team-oriented way somewhere else next year, maybe on a squad that makes the playoffs while the Redskins are still in early-to-mid-rebuilding mode.
This game, with the Giants ahead of them in their finale, was probably the Redskins best chance to avoid a season-ending six-game losing streak that might have left a cloud over the end of Coach Mike Shanahan's first year in town.
The Albert Haynesworth fiasco and the ugly war of words between the Shanahan and McNabb camps in recent days could have, and may still, define the offseason. But this win gave an alternative interpretation of the Redskins' trend for those who choose to seek it.
"I told our football team before the game, when you are expecting to play a game against a team that is playing for a playoff spot and you are playing for pride, then you get to see the type of character you have in your football team," said Shanahan. "You want to see how hard the guys fight. . . . They played hard. . . . It was pretty rough out there today. . . I give credit to our defense with the way they adjusted [to injuries].
By halftime, even though they led 10-7 thanks in part to Jacksonville's mental mistakes and penalties, the Redskins' defense was in a mad scramble to cope.
During the break, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett dreamed up six new blitzes, trying to utilize the skills of the players he had left, including defensive linemen Joseph and Scott, as well as linebacker Jackson - all of whom really were on their sofas last week while the team was in Dallas.
On the decisive blitz on third and four in overtime, the Redskins showed a nine- or 10-man front, pressing the line of scrimmage, daring Garrard, who passed for 299 yards, to figure out who was coming and who was dropping back. "Fire zone," said Holliday, who was one of six rushers in the Redskins' gamble.
Why didn't Garrard simply throw the ball away? A whole city, now hanging by a playoff thread, wants to know. "Obviously on third and four you can't throw a pick. You just can't do it," said Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio. "All they have to do is line up for a field goal."
Which, after two line plunges, the Redskins, and place kicker Graham Gano, gladly did.
For Barnes, who was scrambling with unfamiliar coverages all day, Garrard's balloon was a chance for redemption. He'd been burned on a 50-yard bomb and had been the Redskin assigned to pick up Garrard on a simple quarterback draw play that went for an almost untouched 20-yard touchdown run to tie the score in regulation.
"Both my thumbs hurt real bad this week. I just didn't want to drop it," said Barnes.
As delighted as the Redskins were with their win, not too much weight should be given to it, aside from the demonstration that team morale is still intact. Maurice Jones-Drew, who entered the weekend as the NFL's No. 2 rusher, could not play with a bad knee.
With a typical Jones-Drew day, coupled with Garrard's deep passing, the Redskins might have ended up with dour faces and more concern about the development of Rex Grossman as their new quarterback of the moment. In their first two possessions, thanks to Jaguars blunders and a Carlos Rogers interception, the Redskins only had to "drive" 14 yards and 18 yards to find themselves with 10-0 first-quarter lead.
But Grossman was happy enough, after a one-yard touchdown pass to Fred Davis, to do the "Gator Chomp" to celebrate both his pass and his Florida alma mater. "I figured there were a lot of Gator fans in the stands so I wanted to say hello," he said.
The rest of the day, Redskins fans may have gotten a hint of the Grossman they will say "hello" to after rival defenses study some tape of him. The Cowboys and Jags have two of the league's absolutely worst defenses, yet Grossman completed only 19 of 39 passes for 182 yards, an interception and a 60.0 passer rating. The coldest day in Jacksonville's NFL history (38 degrees) and a stiff wind didn't help. But, all in all, it was a typical late-December game for an NFC East team.
Grossman did manage a 68-yard touchdown drive, capped by a one-yard scoring plunge by Ryan Torain on fourth and goal, for a 17-10 lead. Until then, he hadn't converted a single third down all day. But he was 3 for 3 on that drive, including two passes to Santana Moss, who topped 1,000 yards receiving.
The Jags are a humble NFL bunch who have been outscored for the season by more than 40 points, despite their decent 8-7 record. Yet it's a measure of how far the Redskins have sunk in recent years that Jacksonville was appalled by this loss, even without Jones-Drew.
"We should have put our feet on their throats at the beginning of the game," said Jags' defensive end Jeremy Mincey.
Last year's Redskins team almost certainly would have let them do it. So would about 10 other teams since '92 that have spent December with their hearts elsewhere.
The Redskins have so many areas to fix, on top of all their current injuries, that their long-term future hopes of becoming a playoff contender are just that - l-o-o-o-n-g term.
But, on the day after Christmas, when they might have been thinking about the home fires they missed or the bitter dregs of another losing season, they showed up like pros.
"We're playing," said tight end Chris Cooley, exhausted, eyes level, voice flat. "Just playing."
And there's honor in that.