CHICAGO — After failing to capitalize on their fast start in Sunday’s rain-soaked game at Soldier Field, the Washington Redskins seemed to be spinning another sad tale of squandered opportunity — one that would extend their winless streak on the road and deal a major blow to their playoff hopes.
What could and should have been a rout came down to a tense fourth quarter, with the Chicago Bears storming back from a 14-point deficit to tie, rousing the crowd of 61,026.
And it took a bit of risk on quarterback Kirk Cousins’s part, a splash of luck in the form of a completion to an unintended recipient and a missed Bears field goal, along with a monster game from tight end Jordan Reed, for the Redskins to eke out the 24-21 victory.
With it, the 6-7 Redskins remain atop the NFC East by virtue of a tiebreaker. And Redskins players gained new appreciation for sticking together and sticking with it despite missed tackles and missed scoring opportunities.
“It keeps us alive. It keeps our heart beating,” Coach Jay Gruden said afterward, buoyed by the result yet sober about the challenge that remains.
Nose tackle Terrance Knighton went further, declaring Washington’s first victory on the road “a demon we conquered.”
Cousins made some terrific throws and a few poor ones, including an interception that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler quickly parlayed into a tying touchdown in the third quarter.
But Cousins made the plays that kept the victory in reach and got a major assist from Reed, who led all receivers with a season-high nine catches for 120 yards and one touchdown.
Cousins finished 24 for 31 for 300 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
Cutler was 19 for 31 for 315 yards and two touchdowns in the loss, which dropped the Bears (5-8) out of the division race in the far-tougher NFC North.
If the victory represented a figurative demon conquered, no Redskin celebrated with sword-slaying swagger in the locker room afterward. Instead, players spoke of the upcoming challenge of Sunday’s home finale against Buffalo and the chance to prove their postseason mettle by winning back-to-back games for the first time. And while there was praise all around for Reed, there was also keen awareness that serendipity played a part in two key moments in the fourth quarter.
After weathering a sloppy third quarter, the Redskins retook the lead on Dustin Hopkins’s 47-yard field goal, and the defense held Chicago to a three and out to open the fourth quarter.
Cousins made a gutsy, pinpoint throw to DeSean Jackson for a first down, but the wide receiver came up limping on an injured knee. Jackson insisted he didn’t need to come out of the game despite being hobbled, so Cousins went back to him on third and four. The throw was behind him, and the normally explosive Jackson couldn’t compensate.
The defense held again, and the Redskins’ offense got the ball back with just over six minutes remaining. With a heavy rain falling, Cousins scrambled out of heavy pressure, first to his left, then back to his right. Finally, he spotted Reed and heaved it in his direction as defenders closed on the tight end. Reed staved off a potential interception, but the ball caromed off him and into the hands of running back Matt Jones.
“I was on pins and needles,” left tackle Trent Williams said of the wild play, thrilled that the ball wasn’t picked off and a bit awed that Jones came up with it.
“It’s good to be good,” Williams said, “but you need a little luck every now and then.”
The drive fizzled, however, giving Cutler a chance to orchestrate a game-winning drive with 2 minutes 11 seconds remaining. He got halfway there with a 50-yard completion to Alshon Jeffery. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland nearly had a game-clinching interception but did well to break up the deep shot in the end zone.
That brought up Chicago place kicker Robbie Gould, who had missed two field goals in the previous week’s loss to San Francisco. His 50-yard field goal attempt would have tied it with 1:40 remaining, but it sailed wide right instead.
From there, the Redskins needed only to hang on to the ball and run down the clock.
“It wasn’t perfect today,” Cousins said. “But the fast start certainly helped us and gave us a cushion. The key is, when we have those fast starts, to find ways to sustain throughout all four quarters. If we can do that, then we can be pretty dangerous.”
Sunday’s game featured an early return to prominence for running back Alfred Morris, who carried eight times on a balanced, time-chewing opening drive—including the one-yard scoring run after what appeared to be an 18-yard touchdown reception by Reed was overturned on review. Morris finished the day with 11 carries for 24 yards, while teammate Jones had a game-high 62 rushing yards on 18 attempts.
Knighton got his first solo sack of the year to spoil the Bears’ first series.
On the next series, Cousins took a deep shot to Jackson that failed, but a pass interference penalty advanced the ball 32 yards. From the 3, Cousins faked a handoff to Jones and scooted in for the score, putting the Redskins up 14-0 with 14:19 remaining in the second quarter.
Linebacker Trent Murphy stripped Cutler and recovered the fumble to hand the offense the ball on the Washington 49. But the Redskins came away with nothing, going three and out.
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