JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In the moments before his game-ending 36-yard field goal gave the Washington Redskins an unlikely 16-13 victory Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars and saved his team’s season, Dustin Hopkins refused to consider the weight of what he was about to do.
“I’m not thinking of the consequences,” the Redskins kicker said later.
And yet on the Washington sideline, his field goal meant everything. As the ball twirled through the northern uprights at TIAA Bank Field, the Redskins erupted with joy. Four weeks of disaster that started with quarterback Alex Smith’s broken leg Nov. 18 and lingered through four losses, three new quarterbacks, an almost daily run of tabloid-like stories and a near tumble from the playoff race ended with that kick.
Many of the players threw their arms in the air. Coach Jay Gruden, whose job security has been a constant topic through the slide, smiled. Josh Johnson, the newest quarterback — a man who had not won a game he started in a 10-year NFL career — fell to his knees and pounded the ground.
“It’s been like 30 days since we last got the ‘Dub,’ ” running back Byron Marshall said with a sigh in the locker room afterward.
Suddenly, a team burdened by suggestions that some of its defensive players had mentally quit on the season is 7-7 and a game out of first place in the NFC East and just a half-game out of the conference’s last wild-card spot. A season that seemed dead is alive again even if none of it makes much sense.
Washington won with a 32-year-old quarterback who hadn’t started a game since 2011 and an offensive line pieced together with guards who weren’t in the league at the start of the season. Even Andrew East, the long snapper on Hopkins’s game-winning kick, was someone the team signed Saturday after its regular snapper, Nick Sundberg, went on injured reserve with a back injury.
“It was all about resilience,” Johnson said.
The Redskins won when they probably should have lost. A 74-yard punt return for a touchdown and two field goals had given the Jaguars a 13-6 lead that they held until late in the fourth quarter. Given Washington’s inability to move the ball against one of the league’s best defenses, Jacksonville’s lead seemed formidable.
Then came the third-down pass that Johnson fired from his 40-yard line that wide receiver Jamison Crowder leaped to catch 33 yards away. Crowder touched the ball with his hand, tipped it in the air and somehow caught it tumbling to the ground. Given life when any real chance at the postseason seemed close to done, the Redskins went 27 yards in four plays, tying the game on Johnson’s six-yard scoring pass to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle.
With Washington still giddy over Crowder’s catch and Sprinkle’s touchdown, defensive back Fabian Moreau jumped and intercepted a pass from Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler, returning it to the Washington 45. Running back Adrian Peterson then was given the ball on six straight plays — one pass and five runs — gaining 38 yards and setting up Hopkins’s field goal.
Later, Johnson said of his throw to Crowder: “Give the guy an opportunity. What do you have to lose?” And Crowder said, “Hopefully it’s one of those plays that can turn the season around.”
After the locker room had emptied, Peterson stood near Crowder’s vacant locker and said: “He made a play, never giving up. He was dialed in, and that is what is going to work for us.”
The game might well have been won back at their Ashburn practice field Thursday afternoon, however. Last week had been a bad one for the Redskins, with their 40-16 loss to the New York Giants on Dec. 9 and grumbling from some players that the season was done. Gruden had said that day that he could “feel some of the guys who are starting to feel the weight of the negativity that’s surrounding a four-game losing streak in this market.”
But on Thursday, special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica posted a graphic in a special teams meeting that showed the Redskins still had a chance to make the postseason. Sitting in that meeting, linebacker Pernell McPhee said to himself that Kotwica’s message “was a message to me to give the team a message.”
That afternoon, as practice ended, McPhee called a players-only meeting that lasted 10 minutes.
“Faith, bro,” McPhee said he told his teammates before turning biblical.
“God moves mountains,” McPhee said in the meeting. “God will move a mountain if you have faith.”
The faith, he explained while sitting at his locker Sunday, was not meant to be faith in just a spiritual sense but also in a football sense.
Gruden said Sunday that something had changed in the team between Thursday and Friday’s practice. He remembers leaving the field that afternoon certain that the malaise left from the Giants loss — and the three losses before that — was gone.
A Redskins defense that had given up 400 yards in four of its previous five games allowed just 192 to the Jaguars. It sacked Kessler six times and forced him into a fumble and an interception. And while Jacksonville has one of the worst offenses in the NFL, Sunday’s victory was one the Redskins desperately needed.
“I believe we still have enough good players to have a successful team,” Gruden said.
Just when the season seemed dead, it came back to life.
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Game summary: Redskins 16, Jaguars 13