With the Washington Redskins trailing by seven in the second quarter, Dustin Hopkins studied the afternoon sun as it marched up the field at AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving Day. “We’re in the clear,” the place kicker thought to himself, “unless we kick a long field goal.”
It was then that a potential game-tying drive stalled on an incompletion. So Coach Jay Gruden called on Hopkins to salvage the effort, as he has done so often this season. The 55-yarder into the retreating glare sailed wide right, his second miss of the day.
Hopkins didn’t have his best outing in the 31-26 loss at Dallas, missing two of four field goal attempts, as well as putting a bit too much punch in an onside kick.
On Wednesday, as the 6-4-1 Redskins turned their attention to Sunday’s game at Arizona (4-6-1), Gruden reiterated his confidence in Hopkins, who’s tied for second in the NFL with 25 field goals. He has as many makes in 31 attempts through 11 games as he had in 28 tries in 15 games last season .
“I’m not going to waver on my level of confidence,” Gruden said, reaffirming his faith in Hopkins’s leg and his own commitment to taking calculated risks in crucial situations. “I’m not going to say I’m not going to kick a field goal, because I’m afraid he’s going to miss it. If we need the points, we’re going to kick it.”
Gruden’s faith means a lot to Hopkins, who has supplied 100 of the Redskins’ 280 points .
“I know he wouldn’t put me out there if he didn’t have confidence,” Hopkins said Wednesday. “It’s huge. I’m just going to keep going and hopefully come up big for us this year.”
In his second season with the Redskins, Hopkins has experienced the gamut through the first 11 games. After the team’s 0-2 start, the kicker was the Redskins’ most valuable player against the New York Giants, hitting all five of his field goal attempts, including the game-winner, to deliver a 29-27 upset that staved off panic among the team’s fan base.
It was the sort of day that Hopkins, at 26, knows he will treasure decades down the road — the time he hit five field goals in a game, with his parents, in-laws and grandparents in MetLife Stadium stands to share it.
Five weeks later came the inexplicable miss from 34 yards in overtime of the seesaw battle against Cincinnati at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Throughout, Hopkins has remained even-keeled, with an old soul’s steadiness in a young man’s body. “You’re never as good as people say you are at something,” he muses, “and you’re never as bad as people say you are, regardless of circumstances.”
He credits much of that steadiness to his religious faith, which provides an identity apart from sports and provides a constant reminder of the profound challenges facing the less fortunate around the world.
He also credits his Redskins teammates, who went out of their way after the 27-27 tie with the Bengals to let him know that they shared in the outcome. It wasn’t his doing alone.
“In my eyes, [making that game-winning kick] is my role. I’m at fault,” Hopkins recalled Wednesday. “But the other guys were taking responsibility in their own way.”
Not every NFL team resists finger-pointing in such situations.
But in the Wembley locker room and on the eight-hour flight home, teammates made a point of giving Hopkins a pat on the back or offering a word to remind him they were all in it together. Cornerback Josh Norman was among several who stopped by Hopkins’s seat to check on him during the flight and talk a little bit.
“I was so disappointed,” Hopkins recalled. “But I got a lot of encouragement, knowing my teammates have my back. It makes you appreciate your teammates that much more.”
In many ways, the support Hopkins is getting tells a lot about the 2016 Redskins.
They’re not without faults, by any means. The offense, loaded with playmaking receivers, piles up yardage at breathtaking pace but continues to sputter in the red zone. The defense has wilted in stretches; other times, it has stood tall to preserve leads. In the Thanksgiving loss at Dallas, the defense was a weak link, unable to stop rookie quarterback Dak Prescott on third down.
Heading into Week 13, the Redskins are also injured and ailing on both sides of the ball. Three members of the offensive line are hobbled yet pushing through: Left tackle Ty Nsekhe, right guard Brandon Scherff and right tackle Morgan Moses all have ankle sprains and sorely could use extended rest. Tight end Jordan Reed’s left arm is basically non-functional as a result of a hit that sheared his shoulder blade from his collarbone.
But Reed suited up in his No. 86 jersey for Wednesday’s practice in the Redskins’ indoor facility. Too injured to take part, Reed stood on the edge of the field, left hand in his sweatpants pocket to rest his ailing shoulder, and caught high-velocity passes from quarterback Colt McCoy with his one good right hand. He didn’t drop any.
Third in the NFC East, the Redskins are battling hard for a playoff spot despite the shortcomings that aggravate fans. But rather than find fault in one another, they’re working to pull out the best in each other.