After too many seasons of losing efforts, the Washington Redskins sketched out a rough blueprint for a turnaround Sunday at FedEx Field. And it stirred memories of a near-forgotten, golden era of football in Washington, in which victories were earned on hard runs at the heart of wilting defenses.
Against the St. Louis Rams, Coach Jay Gruden put the ball in the hands of running backs Alfred Morris and rookie Matt Jones, who churned out 182 yards and two touchdowns between them en route to a 24-10 victory.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins did as promised after last week’s season-opening loss, steering clear of unnecessary risks while getting the ball to sure-handed receivers and backs. Jones, the Redskins’ third-round draft pick, was the star among them, rushing for 123 yards on 19 carries — including touchdowns of 39 and three yards.
The Redskins bolted to a 17-0 first-half lead and never trailed, so there was no need to panic, no reason for Cousins to throw up prayers of desperation.
Afterward, the quarterback seemed to speak for everyone — backs, receivers and coaches alike — in praising the Redskins’ offensive line for its work against one of the NFL’s more imposing defenses.
“If I could give you five reasons for us playing so well, it would be those five guys,” Cousins said of his linemen. The quarterback completed 23 of 27 passes for 203 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
Rams Coach Jeff Fisher joined the chorus after his seven-man defensive front, which features five first-round draft picks, managed just two sacks while getting gashed repeatedly by Jones and Morris, who carried 19 and 18 times, respectively.
“Coach [Bill] Callahan has done a great job with that offensive line,” Fisher said. “It’s Dallas all over again.”
With the victory, the Redskins improved to 1-1 heading into a short week before Thursday’s NFC East opener at the New York Giants.
But even after manhandling the Rams in the first half, a Redskins victory was far from certain.
There were glitches to give even the most ardent supporters pause. A fumble by Jones resulted in the Rams’ only touchdown — a 40-yard bomb from quarterback Nick Foles (17 of 32, 150 yards) to wide receiver Kenny Britt. It followed a 52-yard Rams field goal that spoiled the shutout, giving St. Louis 10 points in less than eight minutes. And the Redskins committed seven penalties.
Nonetheless, the result, before an announced crowd of 72,460, was a triumph for a team that has won just seven games in the past two years. And it backed up Gruden’s claim following the season-opening loss to Miami that the 2015 Redskins had positives to build on.
●The one-two combination of Morris and Jones that took pressure off Cousins and chewed up the clock. The Redskins controlled the ball for nearly 38 minutes, to the Rams’ 22.
●The offensive line stood tall for a second consecutive week despite a young, lightly tested right guard and tackle.
●Crisp tackling by the Redskins’ defense, which didn’t allow the Rams to cross midfield in the first half and held them to just 213 yards of offense.
●Though Cousins didn’t connect on a deep throw, tight end Jordan Reed (six catches, 82 yards) and wide receiver Pierre Garcon (six catches, 23 yards, including a four-yard touchdown reception) compensated for the loss of DeSean Jackson.
The first half could hardly have gone better for Washington, which was operating without two starters: Jackson, out three to four weeks with a hamstring injury, and safety Duke Ihenacho, out for the season with a broken wrist.
For a non-division opponent, the Rams rouse an unusual amount of animosity in Redskins faithful. Their visit to FedEx Field last season left a particularly bitter taste. Not only did St. Louis shut out the Redskins, 24-0, Fisher set a none-too-subtle mocking tone at the outset by sending out for the coin toss the six Rams acquired in the trade that enabled Washington to select Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick in the 2012 draft.
In benching Griffin two weeks before the 2015 season opener, Gruden all but conceded that the Rams got the better of the Redskins in that trade.
This time, the 2015 Redskins got the better of the Rams, with Jones carrying the ball like a freight train to deliver the touchdown that assured the victory with 2 minutes 38 seconds remaining.
Jones carried the final three plays of that 12-play drive, following left guard Shawn Lauvao to the end zone for the score. Cousins flapped his arms, encouraging the crowd to shower the rookie with praise, and teammates stood in line to pat him on the head.
The game couldn’t have started better for the Redskins.
While Morris typically takes 10 or 12 carries to hit his stride, he plowed 35 yards behind left tackle Trent Williams on the first play of the Redskins’ second drive. Two plays later, Jones steamrolled 39 yards into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown.
A Redskins drive that opened with another big splash — a 35-yard completion to Ryan Grant — was stymied by a holding call on Reed. Place kicker Dustin Hopkins, signed just last week, hit from 46 yards to extend the lead to 10-0.
With Redskins defenders flying in for hard-strike tackles, Foles couldn’t get his Rams in gear, even when given a short field.
Cousins led a gutting, 12-play scoring drive to pad the lead shortly before the half, hitting Garcon in the corner of the end zone for a 17-0 margin.
The momentum shifted early in the second half, with St. Louis reeling off 10 consecutive points before the Redskins’ final scoring drive.
“In this league, you’re only as good as your last game,” Cousins said. “So now we have to do it week in and week out.”
More on the Redskins:
Jerry Brewer: Redskins forging identity with running game
Thomas Boswell: Washington reveals a blueprint for success
D.C. Sports Bog: Best and worst from Redskins-Rams
The Insider: Healthy Reed proves dangerous
The Wrap: Redskins overpower Rams
The Insider: Cousins says Redskins ‘found a way to win’
The Insider: Gruden says only victories can back up his methods