Josh Norman was the second-to-last Redskins player to leave the field Sunday. The Pro-Bowl cornerback flittered around the turf, hugging former Carolina Panthers teammates and basking in the glow of a fantastic ending to a week that began poorly for him.
The Redskins held on for a 23-17 victory six days after an embarrassing 43-19 Monday Night Football loss to the New Orleans Saints in which Norman was benched for the first series of the second half. Norman’s ability and commitment were questioned by many in the media, and a report surfaced that the benching was a result of him wearing headphones during Coach Jay Gruden’s halftime speech.
After Sunday’s win, Norman alternated between his usual toothy smile and an I-told-you-so smirk.
“This week was a little bit different, I’m not going to lie,” Norman said. “[Criticism] came from everywhere. The fan base. I was just like, gosh. … It was just the weirdest thing ever.
“But I went home into my nice, humble abode … [and] everything shuts off. Everything goes quiet. I’m at peace, I really am. I’m going to live my best life regardless of what these people say or what anyone else says. I’m going to do what we do best. My teammates know that. … [I] have their back and they have my back, I can stand the test of time.”
Norman had his best game of the season, with an interception and a forced fumble for a defense that kept Cam Newton in check and held the No. 1 rushing team in the league to just 81 yards on the ground. The interception was his first since Dec. 24, 2016. Newton threw the ball short when pressured by the defensive line, and Norman skied over teammate Montae Nicholson to high-point the ball.
“It’s fitting that we break that little streak against the team that I was with,” Norman said. “I guess we’ve got a flair for the dramatic, somehow. I wouldn’t let God’s angels …. take it from me if they were out there.”
The Panthers placed the franchise tag on Norman in spring of 2016 but rescinded it when it became apparent the two sides could not agree on a long-term deal. He then signed a five-year, $75 million deal with the Redskins.
Questions swirled during the week whether the 30-year old was still the player that developed into one of the best in the league while in Carolina. Norman was benched after not playing particularly well in the first half, and a busted coverage on Drew Brees’ record-setting touchdown pass was the most blatant incident. Norman confirmed that Gruden’s decision was a result of his frustration with Norman wearing headphones during the coach’s halftime speech.
“Josh and I have swept it under the rug right after it happened,” Gruden said. “It was great to see him play well against his former team. I know it meant a lot to him.”
There was also a Twitter spat with Saints receiver Michael Thomas that went on until the early morning hours Tuesday. Norman took issue with some of Thomas’s post-whistle antics, and the two went back and forth before Norman eventually deleted the tweets.
On top of it all, former teammate DeAngelo Hall said Norman was more concerned with being a celebrity than playing football. Hall tweeted support for Norman during Sunday’s game.
“Josh has been fine, man,” Redskins cornerback Quinton Dunbar said. “When you’re a guy of his caliber, everybody want to take shots at him. The highest-paid guy. An awesome corner. So everybody’s going to try to nitpick at him and find any little thing about his flaws in his game. But everybody knows he’s a top corner in this league . . . You guys were just waking up a sleeping bear.”
Norman brought a bible verse, Joshua 1:9, to his postgame news conference, because he said he didn’t want to misquote it.
“ ‘Have I not commanded you to be strong and courageous?’ ” Norman read. “ ‘Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged because the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go.’
“That struck a match in me to be like, okay, be strong,” Norman said. “Whatever may come up against us, we know we’re going to be able to stand the test of time.”