It was a playoff rematch billed for prime-time television. A little over 10 months ago, the Washington Redskins crumbled through 60 minutes at the hands of the Green Bay Packers in the first round to end their surprising 2015 season. Just 10 weeks ago, the Redskins couldn’t handle the national stage in a season-opening blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On Sunday night, the Redskins showed a national stage how far they’ve come. They received contributions from both sides of the ball in a 42-24 win over the Packers at FedEx Field, their most resounding victory of the season.
Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers traded haymakers in a 34-point fourth quarter. Green Bay cut into Washington’s 12-point lead on the first play of the final quarter when Rodgers connected with running back James Starks, who sneaked out of the backfield on a delayed route and went untouched on a 31-yard touchdown reception. Cousins responded on the ensuing drive with a 70-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon just 26 seconds later.
“I don’t know how he did it,” Coach Jay Gruden said of Cousins’s deep-ball accuracy in the fourth quarter. “The one to Pierre was a 70-yard touchdown. I don’t think I could throw the ball 10 yards into that [wind], but he spun it. He’s always been able to knife a ball through the wind, really.”
Rodgers followed a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with an eight-play, 82-yard drive that ended with the same result. He fired a six-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook, who beat safety Will Blackmon in one-on-one coverage on the slant, for his third touchdown pass.
“That man is an alien,” rookie linebacker Su’a Cravens said of his first matchup against Rodgers. “That’s one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. He’s a wizard in the pocket and the thing is he never takes his eyes from down the field. He just feels you, somehow runs away to avoid everybody else to throw a 30-yard rope down the field. That man is a savage.”
Washington followed with an 11-play drive to seal its sixth win in eight games. Gruden opted to go for it on fourth and one at the Washington 41, and Cousins gained two yards on the sneak to extend the drive. He threw another bomb to wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who was open in the middle of the field for a 53-yard gain. Rob Kelley ended the drive on a one-yard touchdown, one of three scores for the undrafted rookie. He scored another touchdown, from four yards out with less than three minutes left, to put the game away. Kelley gained 137 rushing yards on 24 carries, averaging 5.7 yards per attempt.
Cousins finished 21 of 30 for 375 yards with three touchdowns and a 145.8 passer rating in one of the best performances in his career. He matched the efforts from Rodgers, who finished 26 of 41 for 351 yards with three touchdowns and a 115 passer rating. Neither quarterback threw an interception.
The Redskins led 13-10 at halftime following Kelley’s 10-yard touchdown run with 39 seconds left in the first half. Chris Thompson failed to convert on the two-point attempt as Washington opted to run a play instead of attempting the extra point to seek a four-point lead. The Redskins dealt with windy conditions in the east end zone and a new long snapper, Rick Lovato, that would’ve made for a more challenging point after touchdown on a day in which an NFL-record 12 extra points were missed. Packers place kicker Mason Crosby later missed a 36-yard field goal wide left toward the east end zone during the third quarter, and Dustin Hopkins missed an extra point late in the fourth quarter to justify Gruden’s decision.
The touchdown drive gave Washington the lead in a second quarter that felt strikingly similar to the first-round playoff matchup last year up until that point. The Redskins dominated the first quarter, like they did in the playoffs, before giving away the lead. They forced Rodgers into three straight three-and-outs to start the game for the first time in his career, according to NFL Research. Green Bay gained just nine yards on its first nine plays, and that resulted in three punts as Washington’s defensive line controlled the trenches in the opening quarter.
Cousins struck first on a 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who was listed as questionable because of a shoulder injury. The score capped an eight-play, 55-yard drive in which Cousins was 5 of 6 for 48 yards.
The Packers responded with 10 unanswered points in the second quarter. They tied the score at 7 on a 17-play, 75-yard drive that ended on Rodgers’s 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who lost control of the ball once cornerback Josh Norman poked it out. It was still ruled a touchdown after review. Crosby later drilled a 36-yard field goal to give Green Bay its first lead with less than four minutes left before halftime.
Washington’s defense couldn’t maintain its first-quarter performance, allowing 424 total yards in the victory, but it came through with two turnovers late in the game to avoid a late collapse. Norman stripped Cook on a six-yard reception, and linebacker Will Compton recovered the loose ball with about three minutes left to set up Kelley’s third touchdown. Martrell Spaight added an interception with 1:31 left.
The Redskins will now have a quick turnaround to prepare for their Thanksgiving contest against the Dallas Cowboys, who sit atop the NFC East at 9-1 after beating the Baltimore Ravens. Washington won’t practice this week as a result of the difficult stretch and instead will opt for two walk-throughs before taking off for Dallas on Wednesday.
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