The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For one game at least, the Redskins were all of the things they say they want to be

Redskins tight end Jeremy Sprinkle scores the team’s only touchdown in a 16-13 win over Jacksonville.
Redskins tight end Jeremy Sprinkle scores the team’s only touchdown in a 16-13 win over Jacksonville. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Early in the game, before Josh Johnson led the Washington Redskins to a comeback victory, he couldn’t finish reciting a play. He spit out most of the verbiage and paused. Uh-oh. No worries, though. Chris Thompson knew what he meant.

So the running back completed the call in the huddle to assist the team’s latest emergency quarterback. And when tight end Vernon Davis didn’t understand his instructions, Thompson told him what to do. It was that kind of day — disheveled but beautiful. The players, maligned and bickering just days ago, covered for one another. They didn’t quit. And then this defensive game turned in their favor, and they seized it, and as they exited TIAA Bank Field on Sunday afternoon, they watched their ­32-year-old journeyman quarterback — their backup’s backup’s backup — skip and scream in joy.

With a 16-13, last-second win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington restored a little belief in what this team has built this season. This performance magnified the players’ best traits. You saw toughness, resiliency and unselfishness. You saw a team willing to grind and refusing to relent, even though it had lost two quarterbacks to broken legs and four straight games over the past month. Washington defied the recent story line of sloppy and unfocused play, disgruntled teammates and controversy. Because the Redskins have had so many low moments, it’s false to declare that this game illustrates who they are, but for certain, it’s who they want to be.

Redskins earn a 16-13 comeback win over Jaguars, keeping playoff hopes alive

So they won’t lose seven straight games to end this season. They’re better than that. The game means more to them than that. And now that they’re back in a better frame of mind, they can look up and see that there’s still plenty to play for with two games remaining. At 7-7, they trail Dallas by one game in the NFC East, and they’re just a half-game behind Minnesota (7-6-1) for the last NFC wild-card spot.

They’re alive. And now they’re acting like it.

“It shows just how resilient this team is,” said linebacker Mason Foster, reflecting upon a wild week in which he became the center of negative attention after a fan exposed angry and vulgar private messages about the team that came from his Instagram account. “I feel like we’ve been resilient all year. A lot of things have come at us, a lot of stuff on and off the field, and guys kept pressing, kept working, kept fighting, kept clawing. And it’s just a sign to show you that we’re all brothers. We’ve all got each other’s back, and we know we’re always going to stick together, no matter what.”

They still have work to do to validate that “no matter what” part, but let’s allow them to enjoy this one. Lesser teams would’ve called it a season. And, yes, this victory came over a 4-10 Jacksonville squad that has already clinched the title of the NFL’s most disappointing team. But the Jaguars still possess an imposing defense, and Washington had to put together two fourth-quarter drives to score 10 points and rally from a 13-6 deficit.

It took some magic, most notably Jamison Crowder’s 33-yard, self-tip circus catch. The play set up Johnson’s six-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Sprinkle. But it wasn’t just about luck and pixie dust. Washington competed to put itself in favorable situations. And then it made plays, from Fabian Moreau’s late interception to Adrian Peterson’s determined runs on the final drive to Dustin Hopkins’s 36-yard field goal as time expired.

Johnson led it all. This was his game. In his sixth career NFL start, he earned his first victory. His passing numbers weren’t much: 16 for 25 for 151 yards and a touchdown. But he also rushed for 49 yards, didn’t commit a turnover and played his best when it mattered most. In the fourth quarter, Johnson was 5 for 8 for 71 yards and his lone touchdown pass.

Before his season-ending injury, Alex Smith had won games with similar stats. Playing quarterback isn’t always about pretty numbers. Leadership matters. Playing well in critical situations matters. Johnson played a very relaxed, controlled game for a player who has been with the team for 12 days. Then he took command.

Throughout the season, Washington has struggled to rally in games. In fact, the team had been embarrassingly predictable. Entering Sunday, it hadn’t posted a come-from-behind win. At last, that streak has been broken. And it was Johnson — not Smith, not Colt McCoy — who ended it. He’s one of the best stories of the NFL season.

“It was all about resiliency,” Johnson said.

At 32 years old, Josh Johnson gets first win of NFL career: ‘I always had belief in myself’

It took the resiliency of a quarterback who has played for 12 NFL teams and hadn’t thrown a regular season pass since 2011 until last week. Johnson’s presence is a reminder of how precious these opportunities are. If you can’t draft off his determination, then you’re a fool. The team has to compete for a player such as him.

“I’ve always had belief in myself that I can do things like this, but I’ve never been one to talk about it because talking does nothing,” Johnson said. “I mean, you’ve got to really be about the action, and today, I was in the action. And just to have it go our way and be able to just have everything that has been building up in me for years and finally let it out, it was a relief. Honestly, it was. It was just a relief.”

The defense held Jacksonville to 192 yards, sacked Cody Kessler six times and forced two turnovers. Washington looked like the team that started this wild season 6-3.

“I believe we still have enough good players to be a successful team,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “It is our jobs as coaches to get the most out of them and put them in the right spot, then try to protect some of our deficiencies because of injury. But it can be done. I have seen other teams do it, and we have to continue to do it. We just have to work together and play together.”

For at least one game, Johnson proved to be the unifier. It will be much more difficult at Tennessee on Saturday, but now that Washington is competitive again, the focus will be on a meaningful December football game, not controversy and potential firings.

Move over, drama (for now). Josh Johnson’s team is in a playoff race.

More Redskins coverage:

Analysis: Four takeaways from Washington’s win over Jacksonville

Alex Smith goes home from hospital after ‘difficult ride,’ with his NFL future still uncertain

Ty Nsekhe aggravates knee, but Redskins avoid major injury in win over Jaguars

The best photos from the Redskins’ 16-13 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars