A new chant was born at a jubilant FedEx Field on Sunday — one that sounded like “U-S-A! U-S-A!” when brayed by 80,204 revelers but, in fact, was “You Like That! You Like That!”
It was a tribute to quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw for four touchdowns and ran for another in leading the Washington Redskins to a 35-25 victory over the Buffalo Bills, taking one more step toward an NFL playoff berth that seemed implausible a few weeks ago.
With it, the Redskins strung together back-to-back victories for the first time this season, improved to 7-7 (.500 for the first time since Week 4) and, with the Giants’ 38-35 loss to Carolina, moved into first place in the NFC East. The Philadelphia Eagles also dropped a game back when they fell to the Arizona Cardinals, 40-17, on Sunday night.
Only the most zealous Redskins faithful would have predicted such a scenario for a team that had won just seven games since 2012 and opened the 2015 season with Coach Jay Gruden’s controversial decision to put a turnover-prone backup in command of the offense.
But Cousins was one-tenth of a point shy of statistical perfection in Sunday’s regular season home finale, based on the NFL passer-rating metric, completing 22 of 28 throws for 319 yards, four touchdowns and a 13-yard run for another score.
“You Like That!” was what Cousins shouted after the Redskins stormed back from a 24-0 deficit to beat Tampa Bay in Week 7. On Sunday, it became the anthem of a fan base that’s now proud to call Cousins its own — an anthem so deafening that Gruden had to turn up the volume on his headset to communicate.
Cousins was hardly the only hero on the day.
The Redskins’ defense pitched a first-half shutout, sacked Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor five times and three times dropped running back LeSean McCoy for no gain on the 1-yard line. The final numbers were ugly, however, with the Bills rolling up 359 of their 452 total yards in the second half.
DeSean Jackson, limping on a bruised left knee when last seen on a playing field, caught six passes for 153 yards — including an electrifying 77-yard touchdown that quashed any thought of a Bills rally. Jackson’s speed was so blinding as he raced into the end zone, ball aloft in his right hand, that it forced Bills Coach Rex Ryan to reevaluate the three-time Pro Bowl honoree.
To that point, Ryan was convinced his squad could mount a comeback and had assigned two defenders to Jackson to preserve his chance.
“Needless to say, it broke our back there,” Ryan said of the play. “I never thought [Jackson] was Jerry Rice, but I guess I was wrong.”
Tight end Jordan Reed caught touchdown passes of three and 18 yards. And running back Alfred Morris rushed for 84 yards.
Though the Bills (6-8) gashed the Redskins’ defense for 240 rushing yards, they never got closer than within two touchdowns after Washington scored on its first three drives.
The Redskins opened with a crisp 10-play series capped by Cousins’s three-yard strike to Reed as “Hail to the Redskins” broke out for the first of many renditions on the day.
Taylor (16 for 27 for 235 yards and two touchdowns) flashed his elusiveness at the outset, but penalties doomed the Bills’ first drive. The subsequent punt was flawed as well — credited as a drop kick that dribbled more than soared and handed the Redskins the ball at the 29-yard line.
Jackson made a midair adjustment to rein in a catch that could have gone for a touchdown had it been thrown ahead of him. But the offensive found another way to score. On third and 13, Cousins abandoned a shovel pass, quickly sized up available targets and took off toward the end zone, weaving and darting in for Washington’s second touchdown (and his fifth rushing touchdown of the season) to put the Redskins up 14-0 early in the second quarter.
“I’m sure there was some pretty good blocking for me to be able to get 13 yards down there,” Cousins said afterward. “I don’t think I would make anybody miss. Credit the guys around me for making that happen.”
Cousins spread credit for the victory all around: to balanced play-calling that put the offense in favorable down-and-distance; to solid protection by the offensive line, which allowed only one sack; and to his receivers, who gamely adjusted when throws were less than pinpoint.
“I can go on and on about DeSean, Pierre [Garcon] and [Jamison] Crowder and Jordan Reed,” Cousins said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can catch the football for us and make plays and be electric.”
Taylor was under pressure from Washington’s defensive line much of the first half, sacked on back-to-back hits by Ricky Jean Francois and Jason Hatcher.
And the Redskins’ offense kept rolling, with Cousins hitting Reed in stride for the third touchdown.
Then came Washington’s first hiccup, with rookie Crowder letting a punt slip through his hands. Buffalo recovered on its 42. But the defense denied McCoy three times on the 1. On fourth down, Taylor overthrew Watkins in the end zone, negating Crowder’s blunder. And the Redskins took a 21-0 lead into the break.
The Bills didn’t roll over, erupting instead for a 17-point third quarter.
Place kicker Dan Carpenter got the scoring going with a 32-yard field goal to salvage a drive on which McCoy left the game with a knee injury.
His backup, Mike Gillislee, burned Redskins defenders for a 60-yard touchdown run that narrowed the deficit to 28-10.
The Redskins were forced to punt, and the Bills’ offense kept the pressure on, covering 85 yards in just two plays. Watkins sped into the end zone ahead of Bashaud Breeland, his former teammate at Clemson, for a 48-yard touchdown catch that made it 28-17.
Cousins hit Garcon in the end zone for a five-yard strike that restored a more comfortable margin. And Taylor’s final touchdown, again to Watkins, was too little, too late.
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