The Cleveland Browns came to Landover, seeking their first win of the 2016 season, but faced a tough challenge from a Redskins squad that had gotten off the schneid with their first victory of the year a week ago against the Giants.
Fans were deprived of the matchup that many had circled on the calendar for months prior to the season, one that would have pitted the Redskins against former quarterback Robert Griffin III, who went down with a long-term injury in week 2. Despite being the elephant in the room, Griffin appeared calm and cordial in the pregame, chatting with stadium staff and snapping photos with fans.
Throughout the game, he was shown on the sideline donning the signature ear-piece he has become very familiar with for the last year and a half. With both Griffin and his backup Josh McCown on the shelf, rookie Cody Kessler got the starting nod for the visitors. Coming into the game, the Redskins defense has struggled in pass defense, allowing an average of 425 yards per contest.
Pregame hype was high, as Martrell Spaight delivered another signature legendary pre-game speech to the linebackers (don’t worry, this one is SFW):
The Browns won the opening toss, but deferred to the second half, allowing Kirk Cousins to take the field first. Cousins came into the game with the second-most passing yards (989) of all quarterbacks in the NFL, and has passed the eye test, having shown signs of improvement in each of the last several weeks.
An effective mix of run and pass netted five first downs, as the Redskins moved the ball with relative ease deep into Browns territory. Cousins set the tone on the 12-play, 75-yard opening drive, going 7-for-7 for 52 yards, resulting in an 8-yard passing TD to Jordan Reed, his first scoring grab of the year.
On their opening drive, the Browns deployed their wildcat formation with Terrelle Pryor Sr. at quarterback, though the Redskins defense appeared prepared for the unconventional look. After a first down through the air, Cleveland failed to advance beyond the 50-yard-line, and were forced to punt.
The Cousins lofted a ball up the sideline to DeSean Jackson, and a 50-yard defensive pass interference penalty on Joe Haden, quickly set up the Redskins at the opposing 30-yard-line. The Redskins pounded the football on the ground with Matt Jones, setting up a third-and-goal at the 9. Cousins stepped up in the pocket, evading pressure and pulled of a sequel the hometown fans could get behind "Feed Reed II: The Feedening." The duo once again connected in the end zone, as Reed’s second touchdown catch on as many drives made it 14-0 in the waning moments of the first quarter. After converting in the redzone, the Redskins offense capped off an 8-play, 80-yard scoring drive in 4:14.
At the end first quarter, Washington outplayed Cleveland, 115-37 in offensive yards, 10-2 first downs, and controlled the ball for 11:34 to just 3:26 for the Browns.
The Browns ran the football effectively, complementing solid passing by Cody Kessler on the first drive in quarter number two, and Isaiah Crowell capped of a 12-play, 81-yard drive with a two-yard plunge into the end zone for their first score of the ball game, 14-7 in favor of Washington.
On the first play of the Redskins next drive, Cousins made his first mistake of the afternoon, throwing an interception to Jamar Taylor, that he returned down to the Redskins 12.
A Kessler threw a dart on a 9-yard crossing route and found a double-teamed Terrelle Pryor for his first touchdown reception as a Cleveland Brown, bringing the game to even at 14 apiece with 7:55 left to go in the second quarter, proving, once again, that there is no such thing as a comfortable first half lead.
After the score, Pryor received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, for emulating LeBron James' signature celebration. [Update: it appears that the NFL has deleted the Tweet showing the touchdown and subsequent celebration.]
A well-paced chip route by Jordan Reed picked up 26 yards after the catch, setting the offense up inside the 30-yard line. The drive stalled and NFC Special Teams Player of the Month, Dustin Hopkins, stayed perfect on the season and connected on a 49-yard field goal, putting the Redskins back in front 17-14.
An effective two-minute drill for the Browns resulted in a game-tying 51-yard field goal by much-beleaguered Cody Parkey to tie the game at 17 as the teams headed to the locker room.
In a matchup of dueling quarterbacks, Cousins was 13/17 for 97 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT at the halftime gun, and his counterpart Kessler was 11/14 for 98 yards and a score.
The Browns received the ball to begin the second half, and made it scores on four consecutive possessions with a 45-yard field goal by Parkey to to take their first lead of the ballgame, 20-17.
The Redskins went three-and-out, and the Browns capitalized on the ensuing possession, converting on a key third-and-fourteen after a slew of missed tackles allowed that Crowell to pick up the first down on a screen pass down the sideline.
Third-down conversions allowed by the Redskins this season:— michael phillips (@michaelpRTD) October 2, 2016
14, 13, 13, 11, 11, 10, 10, 9, 9, 9, 8, 8, 8, 7, 7.
The defense though stepped up, as Quinton Dunbar jumped on a fumble, stripped from Malcolm Johnson by Chris Baker and Will Compton just as the Browns threatened to add to their lead. It was the first carry of the season by the second-year fullback, and his lone opportunity to rush on the afternoon.
Long gainers by Jamison Crowder and Matt Jones moved the Redskins out of the shadow of their own goalposts as the third quarter expired.
Cousins once again baited Joe Haden into another pass-interference call on DeSean Jackson, which brought the Redskins into Browns territory, before Jones tacked on back-to-back first down rushes of 11 and 16 yards for a 1st-and-goal from the 9-yard-line. A short screen pass out to the flat found Chris Thompson for a five-yard touchdown pass on second down, capping off a 10-play, 91-yard drive to retake the lead 24-20 with 10:39 remaining in regulation.
On the first four Redskins redzone possessions, they converted with 3 touchdowns and 1 field goal, a marked improvement over their performance through the first 3 games of the season.
The Redskins defense struck again with Isaiah Crowell on the sideline, as Duke Johnson put the ball on the ground where it was swallowed up by Josh Norman at the bottom of a horde of burgundy and gold. Matt Jones struck quickly, with a 25-yard carry off left guard, breaking tackles as he marched into Browns territory.
On 3rd-and-18 from the Browns 40, Cousins took a sack back to midfield, the Cleveland defense continued their impressive streak of not allowing a third down conversion of longer than 10 yards this season, while knocking the Redskins out of field goal range.
Tress Way did what he does best, and pinned the ball inside the two-yard-line for the Browns to take over with 7:14 left in the 4th quarter.
Cleveland made it turnovers on three straight possessions, as Josh Norman undercut a slant route by Pryor, and picked off the pass as Kessler tried to earn some breathing room deep in their own territory.
The Redskins were set up with sensational field possession on the 37-yard-line, in spite of a "shooting a bow and arrow" (?) unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play.
After a 21-yard catch by Pierre Garcon and a 16-yard sprint off left tackle, Matt Jones plunged into the end zone off the inside hip of Arie Kouandjio. A Dustin Hopkins extra point made it 31-20 with 4:25 remaining.
Down by two scores, the Browns went into the hurry-up offense and moved the ball to the Redskins 42, but on 4th-and-6 a shallow crossing route was over the head of Pryor, giving the ball back to the Redskins on a turnover on downs.
The Browns got the ball back for one final possession, but were unable to cut into the deficit, and the Redskins came away with the victory, a 31-20 final score.
Much has been made of the Redskins offensive line in the past several weeks, but in Arie Kouandjio’s first career start on the unit in addition to Spencer Long filling in for the injured Kory Lichtensteiger, they paved the way for 145 total rushing yards and 5.6 yards per carry and showed major signs of improvement in pass protection efforts.
Kirk Cousins logged another stalwart performance, going 21 of 27 for 183 yards, with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception through the air.
Jordan Reed finished the day with 9 catches for 73 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also joined Chris Cooley, Jerry Smith and Don Warren as the only tight ends in team history with 200 career receptions, and did it in the fewest games of any TE in NFL history (38 games.) It was also Reed’s fifth career multi-touchdown game.
Pierre Garcon added 4 catches for 39 yards, and recorded his 500th career grab on the day. Jamison Crowder and Matt Jones both logged 2 grabs for 21 yards. DeSean Jackson was quiet with just one reception for five yards, but he drew penalties to pick up first downs in key situations, and showed an ability to extend the Browns’ secondary on the afternoon.
A renewed emphasis on establishing the run game was on display, with a more balanced 27-to-26 pass-to-run play comparison. Matt Jones kept his feet moving after initial contact all day long, and finished with 117 yards on 22 carries and a score. Chris Thompson spelled jones, and sparingly and chipped in 3 carries for 24 yards.
Will Compton was all over the field on defense, leading the team with 11 total stops, 1 QB pressure, and a fumble recovery. Kendall Fuller had 8 tackles; Josh Norman finished with 6 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, and an interception; Trent Murphy registered 5 solo tackles and a sack. The Redskins led the turnover battle by a 3-to-1 margin.
Josh Norman had his hands full matched up with with Terrelle Pryor on the outside. The quarterback-turned-receiver made the most of his 6-foot-five-inch frame and hauled in 5 catches for 46 yards and a touchdown, in addition to drawing a handful of pass interference penalties in key situations. 42 of his yards came in the first half, but Norman stepped up, allowing only him just 1 catch for 4 yards over the final two quarters.
Cody Kessler went 20/40, for 223 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT in the air, and was only sacked one time on the afternoon. Though just a rookie, he showed poise in the pocket, and evaded the Redskins’ pass defense efficiently.
The interior defensive front continued to take their lumps, as the Browns finished with 28 carries for 163 yards combined primarily from Isiah Crowell (15 carries, 112 yards, 1 TD) and Duke Johnson (9 carries, 53 yards). The majority of their yards on the ground came between the tackles, and were aided in no small part by former Mason/ Brennan nominee, Austin Reiter, who go the start at center but went down with an ankle injury in the 4th quarter.
The win brings the Redskins back to an even .500 record after losing their first two games of the year. They once again overcame late-game adversity, scoring 14 points in the final quarter after surrendering a lead of that size in the first half. They will have plenty to build on as they prepare for a challenging matchup with regional rivals, the Baltimore Ravens next week north up I-95.
Though it may have not been the prettiest win, the Redskins can breathe a sigh of relief after earning their first home victory of the season.