LOS ANGELES — Before Mason Foster could ice the game, he needed to get his right shoulder fixed. It dangled out of its socket in the first half, one of about 10 calamities the Washington Redskins suffered on this punishing Sunday. Foster reacted the only way he knew.
Get the shoulder popped back into place. Strap on a brace so it couldn’t escape again. Go win the game.
With 1:44 remaining, the bum-shouldered linebacker received an opportunity to make a brutal game rewarding. Washington had just taken a 27-20 lead over the Los Angeles Rams on a Kirk Cousins touchdown pass to Ryan Grant, and now the defense had to hold or else surrender a deflating late drive that threatened to ruin a dogged, character-revealing effort. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Foster read the eyes of Rams quarterback Jared Goff, broke on the route of wide receiver Cooper Kupp and saw a football spiraling toward him. He bobbled the pass at first — hey, the man was practically playing one-handed! — and then intercepted it. Once Foster secured it, he stopped running and fell safely to the turf at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Game over. Pain soothed. Nerves calmed.
The Washington football team — your most persistent headache, the squad whose light hadn’t even flickered during the preseason and the first game — awoke Sunday with a kind of performance that can bring a team together, that can be called upon in difficult times throughout the long year.
“It develops a mentality,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “It’s a mentality that we’re not going to be denied, that we’re going to finish the game.”
It wasn’t just about playing through injuries. The way Washington had to win — having success by prospering in areas of perceived weakness, getting contributions from all over the roster, thriving in the clutch after blowing a 13-0 lead — also helps to establish a resilience that can be enhanced. This team needed to receive such a message. This was only Week 2, but Washington had shown signs of being fragile. On Sunday, a stronger aspect of the team’s slow-developing identity was revealed.
In Foster, you saw a dramatic example.
“I mean, it’s one thing to return after being injured,” Kerrigan said. “It’s another thing to return and play effectively after being injured. For Mason to come back from an injury like that and to play as well as he did, that’s awesome.”
Foster wasn’t the only player who did that. Josh Norman came back from a shoulder injury. Morgan Moses returned after missing time with an ankle injury. Jordan Reed and Deshazor Everett wouldn’t stay down, either. Foster amplified the resilience of the entire team with his interception at the end.
“Mason is a quality guy,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “He always has been. Very tough individual. He’s played both linebacker positions and been very successful. He’s a great leader for us. It’s great when you have a high-character guy like that and for him to have some production so people can start to realize what a great player he is, not just a great guy. We had a lot of guys come in and step up despite being hurt. We had some tough guys come back in.”
Gruden also had a quarterback who fought through difficulties and made winning plays at the end. Kirk Cousins threw for just 179 yards on Sunday, the first time he hasn’t surpassed 200 yards since Week 4 of last season. He ran away from pressure all game. He took two sacks for double-digit losses. He managed a pedestrian 6.6 yards per pass attempt and couldn’t get anything going down the field. But after committing three turnovers in a Week 1 loss to Philadelphia, Cousins didn’t give up the ball in this game. For the most part, he was patient. He missed some opportunities and was the victim of a few dropped passes.
But on Washington’s game-winning drive, Cousins completed all three of his passes for 42 yards. His 23-yard toss to Terrelle Pryor Sr. put Washington in the red zone. His 11-yard touchdown to Grant was a beauty.
The offense will be remembered most for rushing for 229 yards, 167 of which came in the first half. On its first touchdown drive, Washington ran six times for 65 yards, ending the possession with a seven-yard Chris Thompson score that opened a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Washington had just 64 rushing yards last week. It had 75 in the first quarter Sunday. The commitment to a power run game set up the entire afternoon. The offensive line played like Hogs 2.0, finally. The defense benefited from only being on the field for 23:41 of this 60-minute affair. Even after Rob Kelley left the game with an injury, Washington stayed with the run.
At last, Washington looked energized and physical. That run-heavy touchdown drive serves as the moment the team realized it was time to compete this season.
“Coach Gruden was letting us know, ‘I’m going to run the ball. I’m going to give you guys the ball,’” said Thompson, who had 77 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just three carries. “His plan was to keep running it until we got it right. We did enough to win. That was good, and now I think as a group, we’ve just got to continue to keep it up.”
Said Gruden: “We tried it, and that’s what we thought we had the most success at is running the ball. From counters or powers, we have a lot of different schemes going at them — gaps, traps, wraps, all that stuff, pitches, guys pulling. We have an athletic line, a powerful line, and it was great to show their versatility today.”
The whole roster was able to show its versatility. From the beginning, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky offered wrinkles, and that unit rotated personnel and utilized sub-packages brilliantly. It gave up too many big plays and allowed Rams running back Todd Gurley to have a few moments of hurdling heroics. But overall, it was a solid defensive performance against the Rams and Goff, their second-year quarterback. And it ended with Foster preserving the victory.
Did his shoulder hurt when he reached for the football?
“Nah,” Foster said, smiling. “Pop it back in and go play. That’s what we do. I’m going to play until the wheels fall off.”
The wheels didn’t fall off Sunday. This team isn’t quite rolling, but it’s moving finally.
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