And then they did. The highlights of Washington’s third win of the year — a 29-21 victory over the stumbling Panthers — probably will feature the final moments, when Washington nearly squandered a two-touchdown lead with 1:51 remaining by allowing a touchdown, botching an onside kick recovery and then holding on by stopping the Panthers four times from inside the 5-yard line.
But the game was won in a way the Redskins had hoped to play all year, with their backs bursting through the line and storming downfield.
Sunday was Derrius Guice’s breakout game after knee injuries had robbed him of much of his career’s first two seasons; he rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns. But Sunday was about Adrian Peterson, too. He ran for another 99 yards, and his fourth-quarter touchdown ultimately clinched the game.
“It was really a group effort through the running game, no doubt about it,” interim coach Bill Callahan said in his postgame news conference.
It had taken Callahan a long time to come to that news conference, so much that several players already had left the locker room when he finally made the short walk down the hall to the Bank of America Stadium’s interview room. But there had been so much to discuss, such as the Redskins finishing with 362 yards of total offense, explosive running back Christian McCaffrey being held to 102 total yards and rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins coming up big with several key completions.
Oh, and the fact that with two straight wins, Washington is the hottest team in an otherwise frozen NFC East, has moved past the New York Giants into third place and is just two games behind second-place Philadelphia and three behind the division-leading Dallas Cowboys — with all three of those teams left on the schedule.
But that’s for another day. Sunday was about a running game that finally took off and a defense that held on for dear life just when it looked as if everything was about to fall apart.
Guice brought the Redskins back to life Sunday after they had fallen down 14-0. He took a handoff late in the first quarter with Washington on its 25, cut right and rocketed downfield for 60 yards — a play that led to a field goal and the slow revival of Washington’s offense.
After that it was a mix of Guice and Peterson for the rest of the day, the 22-year-old second-round draft pick from last year switching off with the 34-year-old future Hall of Famer who is on the team because of Guice’s torn ACL suffered in the summer of 2018. Back and forth they went, blowing through holes and shaking through tacklers as the Redskins scored 29 straight points on three field goals and Guice and Peterson’s touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters.
“We finally got it,” guard Ereck Flowers said of Callahan’s long-promised running dominance. “We’ve been working hard, and finally everything came together.”
Across the locker room, Peterson smiled.
“It seems like we found the right recipe,” he said.
A moment later, Guice came from the shower and prepared to get dressed. He beamed. A group of reporters gathered around him. He pulled on a pair of undershorts and a gold and black silk dress shirt. A Redskins official asked him to put on pants. Guice laughed. The pants remained in a pile on the bottom of his locker. He had waited a long time for this day. The television cameras were finally there for him. His pants could wait.
“I’ve always had confidence, just bad luck and couldn’t really show it,” Guice said, standing there in his underpants and a dress shirt. “It’s always been there, though.”
“They finally got to see the two-headed monster,” he added, referring to the tandem of him and Peterson. “These are the days I have been waiting on since they called him when I tore my ACL.”
He looked around. The rest of the players had left. Undoubtedly, there would be meetings about the game’s final two minutes, about how the Panthers went 75 yards in 2:35 to cut a 29-14 deficit to 29-21. There would be lots of discussions about what Callahan said was a missed assignment on the onside kick that let Carolina get the ball back when it appeared no Redskins player moved to recover the dribbling football. There would be plenty of meetings trying to determine how the Panthers went 51 yards on five plays to the Washington 1-yard line.
But all anyone probably will remember are the four plays when the Redskins’ defense wouldn’t let the Panthers get the game-tying touchdown, how two linebackers who weren’t even on the active roster last week — Chris Odom and Nate Orchard — forced Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen to fumble on fourth down and that Haskins would make it onto the field to take the game’s final victorious snap a week after he had failed to do so.
And they would remember the day Derrius Guice finally broke free and became another hope for a brighter tomorrow, even if this season is too fractured to be saved.