I'm not going to call it a must-win game, mostly because I don't believe must-win games exist four weeks into the season in any sport. But that was a huge win.
If the Washington Redskins lose that game, they're suddenly 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the NFC East. Not only that, but the Philadelphia Eagles are then on a two-game win streak, 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the division, and after the New York Giants won, the Redskins are in last place in the division they were so recently considered dark horse favorites in. With the win, the Skins are technically third in the division, but they're behind two teams that have the same overall record they do, and one is the injury-riddled Dallas Cowboys, who have now lost two in a row.
While it's certainly not impossible for the Redskins to beat the 4-0 Atlanta Falcons next week, suffice to say they'll be heavy underdogs at the Georgia Dome. Simply for the sake of argument, assume Washington loses that game. That makes it 1-4 with games against the 3-1 New York Jets, who will be coming off a bye, the 3-0 New England Patriots and 4-0 Carolina Panthers all coming in the next seven weeks. Oh, and all three of those games are on the road. The Jets and Panthers games are certainly winnable — none of Carolina's wins have come against especially impressive teams and New York's wins have been only marginally more noteworthy — but there's a chance nobody beats the Patriots this year. If Washington loses all three of those games, the season looks mighty grim.
Unless Brandon Weeden and Terrance Williams turn the difficulty on opposing defenses way down, Dallas is likely not going to the postseason this year. Philly needs a huge turnaround to get back in the race, and I don't see Sam Bradford leading it. This division could very well come down to the Redskins and Giants, which is weird.
Anyway, to the list.
#1. Chris Baker
Baker had, I would argue, his best game as a pro on Sunday. Numbers can be misleading, but he had double the sacks against the Eagles than he's ever had in a full season. Baker has 2.5 sacks already in four games; he had two in his first six years in the league. I profiled Swaggy in the offseason, saying he was a valuable part of the defense, but I'd be lying if I said thought he would earn as much playing time as he has already. Baker started over Stephen Paea and played 24 snaps to Paea's 12, and his performance has been one of the most pleasant and unexpected surprises of the season for Washington.
Baker also delivered one of the more noteworthy quotes of the day after the game, via Jerry Brewer of The Washington Post:
"Give Coach Gruden credit for making a hard decision, but making the right decision," Baker said. "This was the game that showed you why he went to Kirk. We all love Robert, and we hate to see him not getting the chance he worked so hard for. But you see the production with Kirk, and now you see he can lead us to victory in the fourth quarter."
#2. Pierre Garcon
I know it's an obvious pick, but I have to acknowledge Garcon for the game he had. More specifically, I have to acknowledge his fourth quarter. After going to the sideline with an injury early in the fourth quarter — a sprained knee, according to the team's website — he came back and played just as big of a role in the final drive as Kirk Cousins.
One #Redskins player on Garcon's toughness: "He was hurt. Coach was like, 'are you all right?' He was like, 'f*** it,' and went out there."— Anthony Gulizia (@AnthonyGulizia) October 4, 2015
Not only did he catch the game-winning touchdown on a pass that he had no business catching and holding onto, but he made two other catches on the drive for 14 and 12 yards, respectively, both up the middle with defenders looming large.
Garcon also made a very smart play to go to the ground on his second catch, on the Eagles' 4-yard-line, instead of fighting for an extra yard or two and risking a fumble. After all, he fumbled against the Giants in Week 3 — it was reversed, but still — and did you see what happened to Calvin Johnson on Monday Night Football?
#3. Trent Murphy
It cannot be understated how valuable Trent Murphy was on the final drive for the Redskins defense. OK, it probably could be understated, but you get my point. With 26 seconds on the clock and three timeouts remaining, and only needing a field goal, the Eagles had more than enough time to put together a game-tying drive. Murphy made sure that didn't happen. Three times. In a row.
After a seven-yard gain on first down, Murphy got to Bradford for a seven-yard sack that also ate up five seconds. On third down, Murphy teamed up with Ryan Kerrigan to bring down Bradford again, thereby forcing a desperation play on 4th-and-16 from the Eagles' 14-yard-line. Not to be forgotten, Murphy even stepped in the way of a cross-field backwards pass and picked it off (it goes down as a fumble recovery) to seal the win.
Not only was it a monstrous sequence by Murphy on its own, it also helped keep Preston Smith, who had a sack of his own, at bay.
Honorable Mentions: Jamison Crowder, Chris Thompson
#1. Quinton Dunbar
Dunbar didn't play on defense, and he didn't do much on special teams. The one thing he did was forget to look at Darren Sproles as he waved for a fair catch to start the Eagles' second drive of the second half. He also didn't really tackle Sproles, he just kind of wrapped him in an awkward hug-type thing and drew a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary hugness (sorry). That penalty allowed the Eagles to start the drive at their own 44-yard-line, and they already had the momentum of scoring on their first drive of the second half and forcing a three-and-out on the Redskins' first drive of the half. Philadelphia scored five plays later, thanks to another unnecessary roughness call, but this one was less justified.
On that note ... not a great game (or season) for the officiating crew. There were a handful of blown calls for each team, but none worse than the insane unnecessary roughness call on Trenton Robinson mentioned above. If that's a penalty by the rules, the rules need to be changed.
Some of these personal foul calls on DB's are laughable. Trenton Robinson took a shoulder to his shoulder and was flagged for 15 yards.— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) October 4, 2015
By the way, can't figure out how that was a penalty on Trenton Robinson earlier on the drive. Irrelevant now...— John Keim (@john_keim) October 4, 2015
Jay Gruden as confused as you are about some of those personal foul calls on safety Trenton Robinson. #Redskins— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) October 4, 2015
Trenton Robinson is apparently not old enough to get that call.— michael phillips (@michaelpRTD) October 4, 2015
#3. Jeron Johnson
Plot twist! This is a curious selection, I know, and there were a handful of others that warranted a spot on this list (Chris Culliver, though his injury somewhat excused his play; the offensive line's run blocking, early on at least; Andre Roberts, who seems destined to go the route of David Amerson), but I want to draw attention to one of the biggest surprises of the season so far.
Johnson was signed to be the starting strong safety, though Duke Ihenacho figured to make it interesting. I'm not above admitting my errors, and holy shit, I was so wrong in my offseason profile of Johnson. I expected Johnson to be starting by now, especially because Ihenacho is out for the year. But Johnson has been riding the bench and making guest appearances on special teams all season, and Trenton Robinson had pushed Johnson down to third string when Ihenacho was healthy. Nothing against Robinson, who has been a welcome surprise, but it's a bit concerning that Johnson hasn't been able to work his way to a starting role yet.