Colt McCoy gripped both sides of the podium and tried to control his emotions as he reflected on the 19-17 comeback victory he and the Washington Redskins engineered over the Tennessee Titans at FedEx Field on Sunday.
McCoy took over at the start of the second half and completed 11 of 12 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown . He was not intercepted and was 5 for 5 on the final drive, which culminated with Kai Forbath’s 22-yard field goal on the game’s last play to lift Washington to a victory that snapped a four-game losing streak.
McCoy began that drive by stepping into the huddle and scanning a group of faces he hadn’t taken practice reps with since training camp.
“I looked them in the eyes and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to do my job. You do yours, and we’re going to win this game,’ ” McCoy recounted.
Job complete — and the Redskins improved to 2-5.
Nearly three years had passed since McCoy’s last meaningful game appearance. The garbage-time cameos with San Francisco last season and in 2012 with Cleveland didn’t count. He once was viewed as the franchise savior in Cleveland, but he lost his job with one month remaining in his second season and spent the next two years charting plays and running the scout teams.
“This league is very unforgiving, and I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to still be able to play,” McCoy said, his voice cracking.
But there he was Sunday, trotting onto the field at the start of the third quarter, charged with leading the Redskins back from a 10-6 halftime deficit. Griffin remained on the shelf, still working his way back from the ankle injury suffered in Week 2, and Cousins stood on the sideline, helmet on, arms folded, benched after a first half that saw him lose a fumble and throw his ninth interception of the season.
Gruden had opted to stick with Cousins this week, even after he threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss at Arizona. He believed the third-year quarterback needed to continue to work his way through his turnover tendencies and that eventually he would achieve a breakthrough.
But the problems resurfaced, and when Cousins threw right to linebacker Wesley Woodyard, Gruden had seen enough.
“After the interception, we decided to go with Colt,” Gruden explained. “. . . I thought after the interception — turning the ball over — we talked about accountability, ball security. That was a standard pass play that we’ve run for a long, long time, and he threw it right to him, unfortunately, and I decided to go with Colt in the second half.”
Washington’s offense needed a spark. In addition to Cousins’s two turnovers (he almost had a third, but a Titans defender dropped one sure first-quarter interception), the unit had managed only 184 yards while converting 2 of 7 third downs. The defense didn’t provide much support outside of rookie Bashaud Breeland’s interception just one play before Cousins’s interception forced Gruden’s hand.
The defense couldn’t get off the field on crucial third downs, and safeties Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather whiffed on a red-zone tackle that could have prevented Kendall Wright from scoring on a 14-yard reception from Charlie Whitehurst in the second quarter.
But as his team headed to the locker room at halftime with the home crowd raining down boos, Gruden believed the lack of ball security stood out as the most concerning element of all.
And so the coach went to his one-time third-string quarterback and told him he was getting the nod.
“I don’t know what the problems are right now,” Gruden said after the game. “It was just a bad throw and a bad situation, and I just thought Colt has earned the right to get an opportunity if Kirk struggled in the first half turning the ball over. That’s the basic reason. Had I not thought Colt had been ready, I would’ve stuck with Kirk, but I just thought Colt was ready to go. I know he felt ready. He’s been champing at the bit to play, but he’s always been a supportive backup in this time. When his number was called, he produced.”
Describing his mind-set as his role suddenly changed, McCoy said, “I like Jay a lot, and when Jay came and told me to be ready to play, I just didn’t want to let him down. You’ve always got to be ready to play. If he goes with you and you go in there and turn the ball over or don’t start fast or don’t win the game or don’t play well, that just doesn’t look good.”
On his first attempt, McCoy completed a short pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who juked cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson and raced 70 yards to the end zone. McCoy bounced and high-stepped his way downfield after Garcon, celebrated and returned to the sideline with the home crowd whipped into a frenzy as “Hail to the Redskins” blared.
“After the play, I always want to do something with the ball, and I just ran,” Garcon said. “It felt good, but I just try to play like that regardless. You want to get the ball in your hand, and I was just happy it came out. We need to stop any losing streak, but they were losing, so we are definitely glad against them, though.”
The Titans (2-5) took a brief 17-16 lead after Whitehurst completed a 38-yard touchdown pass to Derek Hagan, but Washington got the ball back with 3 minutes 14 seconds left, and McCoy had the chance to orchestrate a game-winning drive.
He went out and completed his next five passes. A sixth attempt — a deep ball along the sideline to DeSean Jackson — drew a pass interference call that placed the ball at the Tennessee 7.
The Redskins milked the clock until they called a timeout with three seconds left, and on came Forbath, who had made his first three field goal attempts of the game and had never gone 4 for 4 in a game until Sunday.
Forbath said he told himself to approach the kick as if it were an extra-point attempt, and following a timeout by the Titans, he made the kick, delivering the victory.
More Redskins and NFL coverage:
Game summary: Redskins 19, Titans 17
Photos: Images from FedEx Field
The Takeaway: Redskins turn to McCoy and he delivers
Boswell: A win, but still plenty of issues
Live blog transcript: Postgame quotes