The Redskins and Bears had virtually the same yardage totals on Sunday (374 to 377), virtually the same penalty problems (eight for Washington and seven for Chicago), the same number of turnovers (one each), and the same success inside the red zone (both teams were perfect).
How did Washington emerge with a 24-21 win? Here are six reasons.
1) Jordan Reed
The tight end was Washington’s most dangerous player on offense, and it wasn’t close. After one catch it took just about the entire Bears’ defense, plus a few members of the 1985 Bears, to bring Reed down. He scored a touchdown immediately after a botched delay-of-game that would have loomed large in a Washington loss, sparing us days of delay-of-game introspection. And in the first quarter, Reed bulled through several Bears to apparently score a touchdown, although he was marked down a few inches shy. In some less replay-obsessed universe, that was a two-touchdown game for Reed, and that’s not just my DraftKings lineup speaking.
It felt like every time Kirk Cousins looked Reed’s way, the play was a success, which made you start to wonder whether they shouldn’t just throw it to Reed on every play. If you had tried three slants to Reed on three consecutive plays, were you really not going to gain at least 10 yards?
“Pro Bowl player, man” Trent Williams said on CSN after the game. “I think he’s the best receiving tight end in the NFL. I haven’t seen different.”
Reed finished with nine catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. Only three times since 1960 has a Redskins tight end every reached all three of those numbers in a single game: Jerry Smith did it in 1967 against the Eagles (9-145-2) and Reed himself did in in 2013 against, yes, the Bears (9-134-1).
Which brings us to the final point: Reed has only topped 100 receiving yards three times in his career. He’s only had at least nine catches five times in his career. His combined 18 catches for 254 yards against Chicago means he should probably transfer to the NFC North at some future date. Or just put a pin-up picture of Ditka in his locker.
2) The first quarter
Bearing in mind that all these NFL situational stats are horribly influenced by small sample sizes and in-game quirks, have you noticed how good Washington has been in the first quarter this season? There was a 3-0 lead against Miami, a 10-0 lead against St. Louis, a 6-0 lead against Philadelphia, a 14-7 lead against New Orleans, and Sunday’s complete first-quarter domination, which ended with Washington up 7-0.
The Redskins, in fact, have been leading or tied after the first quarter 10 times in 13 games, including in five of their six wins
all six of their wins.
In Chicago, the Redskins got 11 first-quarter first downs, their most in an opening quarter since at least 1991. They held the ball for more than 11 minutes, converted all three of their third-down attempts, and allowed Chicago to run a total of five plays, plus a punt. Washington also scored a second touchdown two plays into the second quarter.
The time of possession was virtually equal for both teams after the first quarter ended, but Washington’s early domination gave them the ball for almost nine more minutes for the game.
3) Kirk Cousins’s bounce-back drive
Whether it was fair or not, Kirk Cousins entered this season with a reputation of someone who might crumble after he made a few mistakes. There were questions about his body language last season, about whether he tried to do too much to atone for interceptions, about whether he had the mental and emotional fortitude to be a franchise quarterback.
That made the drive after Cousins’s only interception on Sunday possibly the most important drive of the game. The Bears had tied the score at 21 near the end of the third quarter, the weather was getting worse, and the crowd was engaged. Then Washington moved 51 yards, with Cousins hitting 3-of-4 passes for 44 yards, including a beauty to DeSean Jackson. The drive might have been more, too, had Rashad Ross not fallen down after a third-down catch. Still, the drive ended with a Redskins field goal, the game’s final score.
Cousins has just two interceptions in his last five games. And in both cases, the Redskins scored on their next possession. Whether or not you believe Cousins is the future, it’s hard to argue that interceptions or mental fortitude should be disqualifiers.
4) Two Gray Zone stands
Ok, it’s not really called the Gray Zone. I’m not sure what you call that area between, say, the 35 and the 41, where you are sort of in (or close to) field-goal range, but you’d probably like a few more yards to feel comfortable.
Anyhow, the Bears reached that small slice of territory in both of their final two drives. The first time, the Bears went incomplete pass, incomplete pass, two-yard screen to Alshon Jeffery, in a play brilliantly sniffed out by about a third of Washington’s defenders. Then they punted. The second time, the Bears went three-yard run, incomplete pass, incomplete pass. Then they missed a field goal.
In either situation, a first down might have been deadly. Instead, the Bears gained five yards on six plays and turned things over to their kickers. Those two defensive series — which included a Bashaud Breeland pass break-up in the end zone — saved the game.
5) The defensive replacements
I don’t know that Quinton Dunbar or Mason Foster are going to make the Pro Bowl off Sunday’s showing. But Washington’s patchwork defense probably isn’t getting quite enough credit for being a creditable unit, something you hardly even notice. Foster, who led Washington with six tackles on Sunday, wasn’t in training camp. Dunbar, who was listed as a starter, was in Richmond, but as a wide receiver. Will Blackmon, also listed as a starter on Sunday, arrived in September. DeAngelo Hall — who had another six tackles — is playing safety instead of cornerback. The other listed starters also included two rookies (Preston Smith and Kyshoen Jarrett) and Will Compton, who has gone from special teams stalwart to defensive signal-caller. That’s kind of a lot of turnover.
Yes yes yes, every NFL team is putting together a misshapen bandage-covered jigsaw puzzle by mid-December. Including, certainly, the Bears, who were without a host of key contributors. But the Redskins got a professional defensive effort from a starting group that would have portended the apocalypse five months ago. And that defense has now forced seven turnovers in its last three games.
6) The Breaks
Many losing teams probably feel like they’ve gotten more than their share of bad luck. Count Redskins fans in that group.
So if you were to tell Washington fans that this game would include a jump-ball thrown into coverage that would be caught and then voluntarily fumbled by a running back, those fans would assume the result was a tragedy for their side. Instead, a weird decision by Cousins was somehow not intercepted, and Matt Jones somehow caught it, and Jones somehow reacquired the football that he had willingly offered up to the world without realizing he wasn’t yet down.
I mean, look at this pass! This ended up as an 18-yard gain!
“I really didn’t draw it up like that,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “Neither did [Offensive Coordinator] Sean [McVay]. It’s really a play that Kirk made and Jordan made and Matt Jones made. It’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘Please don’t’ do that. Please don’t do that.’ And then it’s complete, and, ‘Hey, great play.’ That happened a couple times today. So, you know, it’s a crazy game, man.”
Or how about a last-second field goal attempt by Robbie Gould, until recently one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers? Entering this month, Gould was 15-for-16 on field goal attempts in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, with the one miss coming from 66 yards. But he missed against the 49ers last week, and he missed again against Washington. For years, that felt like the sort of break successful teams got. Sunday, the Redskins benefited.
They probably didn’t mind.