Rain fell in steady silver sheets Sunday afternoon, soaking the FedEx Field turf until clumps of grass gathered beneath the Washington Redskins defenders’ feet. Across the line stood Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers calling audibles, changing the tone of his snap count, trying anything to rattle them in hopes of staging another comeback win.
Already he had led the Packers to a third-quarter touchdown, and with an 11-point lead burning in the scoreboard above them, a sick fear lingered in the stomachs of the players on the Redskins’ defense.
“Ohhhhh, shoot, heeeere we go. We’ve seen it so many times,” Washington cornerback Josh Norman would later say.
Except that comeback never happened. Rodgers didn’t make the huge downfield throws, scramble for big first-down runs or even get a chance to attempt one of his famous Hail Mary passes. In the rain, inside a stadium nearly half-filled with Packers fans, the Redskins stopped Rodgers. They broke him with a relentless pass rush and a defensive backfield that refused to allow him many deep throws until he was too hobbled with his lingering knee injury to bring the Packers back in a 31-17 Washington victory that might be one of the best in Jay Gruden’s run as Redskins head coach.
After the game was over and the Redskins danced off the field at 2-1 with significantly more optimism than after their sluggish loss to the Indianapolis Colts last week, they laughed in the locker room. They said they believed. They said they knew they could stop Rodgers, no matter how many comebacks he had delivered over the years.
Then safety D.J. Swearinger smiled and said this: “It’s not your old Redskins.”
Maybe they needed to convince themselves of this fact. Maybe after so many years of near-misses and blown leads, they wondered whether they could stop Rodgers even with the big brace wrapped around the knee he sprained two weeks before. Norman ran along the sideline, reminding players that the game clock was ticking down and they had a big enough lead to keep Rodgers from beating them.
“Just don’t let him beat you with one of those miracle plays,” he said.
And so they didn’t.
In a season in which it is hard to know just what kind of team the Redskins have, they played a rough, physical game, opening holes for running back Adrian Peterson, who had 120 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and allowing quarterback Alex Smith to throw for 220 yards and two touchdowns. And the defense stifled any hopes of a Rodgers comeback.
Over and over, Washington’s defensive linemen and pass rushers poured in on Rodgers, forcing him to scamper. As the afternoon grew long, several of the Redskins players noticed he had trouble standing again after tackles. They thought he looked tired.
“Just the way he was getting up, it was tough for him,” linebacker Zach Brown said. “Most guys would have said, ‘I’m going to call it a day.’ ”
In the end, Rodgers led Green Bay to only one second-half score — a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took more than seven minutes. After that, his passes got more and more flat, falling short of his receivers. Midway through the fourth quarter, it seemed certain Washington would hold on.
Of course, it helped that the Redskins’ offense finally took off the way Gruden and the rest of the coaches have said they believed it will. After struggling last week against the Colts, they thundered downfield in the first two quarters, scoring touchdowns on four of their first six possessions.
Everyone, it seemed, contributed. Paul Richardson Jr., one of the team’s wide receivers maligned for not having a bigger impact, caught a 46-yard touchdown pass on the game’s fourth play. Three pass interference calls drawn by the receivers set up the second score, a two-yard touchdown run by Peterson. The third score came on a pass to Jamison Crowder that capped a 98-yard drive — the team’s longest touchdown drive since 1999. The last touchdown again was scored by Peterson but was set up by a 50-yard pass from Smith to tight end Vernon Davis.
Aside from a 64-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Geronimo Allison, the Packers did little in the first half. Washington’s 28-10 lead at halftime carried it through the rest of the day.
The last week had been a hard one for the Redskins. They had been so excited about their dominant 24-6 win in the opener at Arizona that some players complained that everyone had relaxed before the Indianapolis game. Swearinger, in particular, suggested the team had been complacent. The way they were beaten by the Colts led to a belief that everything had been too casual, that they weren’t prepared.
This week they said they were focused.
“The urgency was there all week, and it showed,” Swearinger said.
This was especially true when the rain kept falling Sunday, the Redskins’ 28-10 lead had dwindled to 28-17 and Rodgers was trying to move the Packers against them the way he had in a heartbreaking playoff loss on this field three seasons ago.
“You knew, I knew Aaron Rodgers was going to make a run,” Gruden said. “I mean, he does it all the time. He’s been playing for a long time and made many, many, many runs.”
Only this time he didn’t. This time, the Redskins held. And with a bye week looming before their first prime-time game, a Monday nighter in New Orleans, they seemed to have a sense they could do something like this again.
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