CHICAGO — On this topsy-turvy ride of a 2015 Washington Redskins season, late-game heroics have proved almost elusive as road victories.
Aside from last-minute, game-winning drives against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay earlier in the year, Washington’s players have wilted when faced with dire circumstances. They have also played poorly on the road — losing all five games away from FedEx Field this year, in addition to four in the second half of the 2014 season.
However, Sunday afternoon at a rain-soaked Soldier Field, Washington bucked the trend, delivering game-clinching moments on both offense and defense, while earning its first road win of the season, prevailing, 24-21, to improve to 6-7 and remain in the hunt for the NFC East title.
“I like the way our team fought. I like the way we overcame adversity,” Coach Jay Gruden said after directing the team to only the second road win of his young career. “We had some lulls. . . . They made some plays and we’ve got to make some plays, but when it’s all said and done, to come out here with our first road win was big.”
The defense came through in arguably the most important juncture of the game.
Linebacker Will Compton and his teammates desperately needed to find a way to slow the momentum of Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears, who had just ventured into Washington territory thanks to pass plays of 26 and 25 yards, threatening Washington’s three-point lead with 7 minutes 10 seconds left in the game.
“We were on the sideline and had said to each other, ‘All we need is three points. All we need is three!’ ” Compton recalled. But Cutler & Co. had moved the ball seemingly at will for much of the second and third quarters, and on this drive, they started at the 6, and marched down to the Washington 41.
That’s when Compton — making his sixth straight start at ‘Mike’ linebacker and signal-caller of the defense after replacing an injured and struggling Keenan Robinson — had his finest moment of the game.
Facing third and 10, Cutler came to the line, surveyed the defense and saw the Redskins set up to send an all-out blitz.
That’s when Compton heard him call out, “Prison! Prison! Prison!”
“[Safety] Kyshoen [Jarrett] and I were in the A gaps, so really, the only play that could beat us, they’d have to check to a screen or something like that. . . . I heard ‘prison’ and started yelling, ‘Hey it’s a screen! Run on the snap!’ ”
Sure enough, Cutler zipped a screen pass out to his left to wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey. But the entire Redskins defense was barreling that way, and defensive end Chris Baker engulfed Jeffery with a bear hug of a tackle. Compton joined in shortly after as the three toppled to the ground after only a two-yard gain.
“I saw my offensive lineman take one step, then go out, and I retraced my steps and was there to make the tackle,” Baker recounted. “It’s just film study, knowing what the offense likes in certain situations. We played great situational football. Compton yelled it out, and I got there for the tackle.
“We’re starting to learn how to win games,” said Baker, whose tackle of Jeffery followed Dustin Hopkins’s deciding 47-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and preceded two more high-stakes moments that the Redskins delivered in.
The stop resulted in a fourth and eight from the 39 and forced Chicago to punt rather than attempt a 56-yard field goal. After the punt from the 39, Washington’s offense needed to move the ball and eat up as much of the 6:18 left as possible.
“End the game. Just end the game with the ball,” left tackle Trent Williams said, relaying the message in the huddle. “We knew all we needed was a first down, which is easier said than done. But guys did a great job . . . and we came away with the victory.”
Washington moved the ball from the 8-yard line to the 37 in six plays and two minutes. Then came a circus play that clinched Washington’s fortunes.
Facing third and six, Cousins took the snap but came under pressure from defensive lineman Eddie Goldman. The quarterback spun away to his right, then made a half-leaping, off-balance throw 18 yards downfield to Reed, who was in double coverage. Tight end Jordan Reed leaped for the ball but only tipped it. The tipped pass found the hands of trailing running back Matt Jones, who bobbled and caught the ball, falling backward. Then Jones actually sat the ball on the ground, thinking he had been tagged down. Upon realizing it was a teammate that touched him, Jones scrambled and recovered his own fumble before the Bears could.
“Hey,” Williams chuckled, “Every now and then you need a little bit of luck. Just be in the right place at the right time.”
Said Gruden of the pass Cousins threw, “It’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘Please don’t do that. Please don’t do that.’ And then it’s complete, and, ‘Hey, great play.’ That happened a couple times today. So, you know, it’s a crazy game, man. Not every play that you draw up is going to be how you want it.”
The Redskins milked another two minutes off the clock before their drive stalled at the Chicago 41. Then, the ball bounced Washington’s way one final time. Bears place kicker Robbie Gould missed a 50-yard field goal attempt wide right with 1:40 left, sealing his team’s fate.
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