The Washington Redskins are in such a bizarre groove right now that even their follies contribute to their best feats. On Sunday, they executed a game-defining rendition of keep-away using both the potency of their offense and the serial clumsiness that often impedes them.
Somehow, they took the Philadelphia Eagles offense out of the competition while simultaneously allowing their opponent to tie a game that began 14-0. And in case that juggling act didn’t make your eyeballs lunge, they emerged from the strange stretch seeming more dominant than they have been all season and won, 27-20.
“That was pretty weird,” Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said.
“I’ve never played in a game like that,” cornerback Bashaud Breeland said.
In real time, the funny business lasted 75 minutes. Washington turned the game into a monologue. Philadelphia didn’t run a true offensive play from the 13:33 mark of the second quarter until 8 minutes 40 seconds remained in the third quarter. In that span of 19 minutes 53 seconds of action, Washington ran 39 of the game’s 40 offensive plays. Philadelphia was limited to taking a knee to end the first half.
If you exclude the kneeldown, which isn’t a play as much as it is a concession, the Washington offense would have the first streak of at least 35 consecutive plays from scrimmage in the last 25 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The defense could have gone to Sunday brunch.
“We kind of had to do another dynamic warm-up after halftime because we’d been sitting for so long,” Kerrigan said. “You’re kind of getting stiff over there.”
How do you achieve this level of pigskin greed? Well, Washington won’t be hosting a clinic detailing the wonky way it, um, accomplished it.
The adventure began with a 90-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-0 lead. And then tight end Vernon Davis drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for celebrating by innocuously shooting the football over the goalpost. And then Philadelphia’s Wendell Smallwood dashed for an 86-yard touchdown on the kickoff return, the first of this six-week-old NFL season. And then Kirk Cousins threw an ugly interception, which Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins returned for a 64-yard touchdown. And after a few bouts of fans hyperventilating at a sudden 14-14 tie, Cousins directed a 75-yard touchdown drive just before halftime. Finally, to start the third quarter, Washington added a Dustin Hopkins field goal.
The long sequence opened with Washington leading 7-0. When it was over, they had increased the lead to 24-14. With the defense rested and playing with as much vigor and creativity and disruption as it has in 2016, victory would be preserved.
And so, when the chuckling ended, the players were left with a fourth straight triumph that came with a fourth straight caveat: Let’s not do it this way again, okay?
For a developing team, perhaps this is best. It’s a win that, despite the statistical dominance, can be picked apart. But this one comes with the reassuring clarity that the team is improving. It was a play or two away from a double-digit victory over a division rival with a winning record. And those plays — allowing a kickoff return touchdown and Cousins’s pick six — are correctable.
You wonder: Why is Washington, after consecutive losses to start the season, now 4-2 and in position to have a quality record at the season’s midpoint? Part of it is that this is the most unconventional 4-2 team in the NFL, and the team is aware of it and eager to be better. Some would say the worst 4-2 team, but that’s way too cynical after four straight victories and eight wins in 10 games dating back to last season.
Dissatisfying victories aren’t a bad thing, especially when there’s progress.
“Every week, we’re magnifying our mistakes,” safety Will Blackmon said. “We’re watching them. We’re magnifying them to correct them. So, we celebrate the small victories that we do well in the game, but then after that, with this team, we really are hard on ourselves in terms of making the right corrections and holding everyone accountable. That’s the cool thing, man. That’s what’s keeping us doing well.”
The optimistic view is that Washington finally controlled a game the entire way. The offense put up a 493 yards, including 230 rushing. The defense held rookie Carson Wentz and a solid Philadelphia unit to just 239 yards. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry called a strong game, exploiting the absence of right tackle Lane Johnson, mixing coverages and staying aggressive. The team had five sacks, two of them by Kerrigan. Overall, on both sides of the ball, this was the most physical that Washington has been in 2016. The mentality is shifting from living off the skilled positions to playing the rugged style that led Washington to the playoffs last season.
“They still have one of the best D-lines in the league,” Washington center Spencer Long said of Philadelphia. “But we are one of the best O-lines. So I’m super-pumped to come away with a win.”
They’re pumped, but not pleased. When asked if he considered this victory Washington’s strongest performance of the season — statistically, it was, and it’s not even close — Coach Jay Gruden hesitated. It was encouraging to play a more complete game. This was the best of Washington, at least the mid-October version. But its worst still invades the progress.
“If you compare them to the other games, then I would say so,” Gruden said, dismissing the rougher victories more than praising this one. “You still give up an interception for a touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown. That’s not good. I think statistically, probably, it was. Still, I’ve made the point many times before that our games are going to be a grind. They’re going to be coming down to the wire the majority of the time that we play. Our guys have to stay resilient through the good times and bad times, and they’ve done that so far the past four weeks.”
On Sunday, Washington was at its best, with its worst sprinkled around it, especially during those 75 minutes of keep-away. It was a long time to own the stage. At least it was entertaining.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.