Trent Williams runs with the ball after recovering Alex Smith's fumble in the fourth quarter Sunday. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

Redskins left tackle Trent Williams is like a freight train when he’s blocking downfield. But the 320-pound veteran no longer has the acceleration that he once did, and after multiple knee surgeries, he isn’t looking to get hit more than is absolutely necessary. That’s why Williams has a “cardinal rule” when it comes to going after loose footballs. Fortunately for Washington, the 30-year-old’s instinct took over Sunday.

Leading the Panthers 17-9, the Redskins faced third and seven from the Carolina 40-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Alex Smith dropped back to pass and was drilled by Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers. The hit caused Smith to loose control of the ball, which Williams plucked out of the air at the Carolina 46. After the Redskins' 23-17 win, Williams told reporters he thought the ball was a deflected forward pass and that he should’ve allowed it to fall incomplete.

“I never pick up the fumble or catch a pass behind the line of scrimmage,” Williams said. “Obviously, there’s still 11 defenders you’ve got to try to beat. Me having the knee issues that I got, I really wasn’t trying to get cut down. But I just turned around and the ball was in my hands. It was just reaction. When I caught it, I just tried to go north and get a couple of yards.”

Julius Peppers forces a fumble by Alex Smith (Fox)

Williams got more than a couple yards. He stiff-armed Panthers defensive lineman Mario Addison while advancing the ball eight yards — two yards closer to the first down marker than Washington had been when the play began.

Trent Williams was marked down at the Carolina 38-yard line. (Fox)

Those extra two yards turned out to be crucial. Dustin Hopkins attempted a career-long 56-yard field goal on the Redskins' next play and his kick juuuuuuust cleared the crossbar. It probably wouldn’t have been good from 57 yards, and Coach Jay Gruden may have punted instead of attempting a field goal if not for Williams’s clutch recovery and run. Without those three points, Carolina could’ve tied the game and potentially forced overtime with a field goal on its final drive.

A reporter asked Williams if he saw a lot of green in front of him on the play.

“I ain’t seen nothing,” Williams said with a laugh. “It was a blur.”

Running back Adrian Peterson joked that he wanted to see his former Oklahoma teammate attempt a spin move. When told that it looked like he made a cut while advancing the ball, Williams was surprised.

“Did I? I don’t remember, man,” he said. “I have to go back and watch that one. That happened so quick, I didn’t know what was going on. I never have the ball really, so I definitely didn’t want to fumble.”

Trent Williams recovers Alex Smith's fumble Sunday. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

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