The New Orleans Saints came marching in to today’s game on a seven game winning streak, during which they’d held their opponents to fewer than 17 points on all but one occasion. The Washington Redskins, however, put up that many points in the first half alone and the burgundy and gold almost went marching out of the Super Dome with a win. Almost.
On their opening drives, Washington did what they could to get off to a fast start and put some distance between themselves and the high-powered Saints offense. Safety D.J. Swearinger continued his interception streak, picking off Drew Brees and giving Kirk Cousins and the Redskins offense their first shot at the end zone. Cousins and rookie Samaje Perine led the team toward the end zone, picking up 27 yards before Nick Rose took the field to put Washington up by three.
The remaining first half series, for the most part, mirrored a tennis table match. The Saints followed Washington’s field goal with one of their own, coming on a drive when Preston Smith sniffed out a reverse for a 12 yard loss and Ryan Kerrigan sacked Brees. Cousins then took the Redskins 75 yards down the field for seven points, showing fans glimpses of his ever-growing chemistry with wide receiver Josh Doctson and further proof for why Chris Thompson has been considered the team’s MVP thus far, and New Orleans responded with an 80 yard touchdown drive of their own. The following drive continued the trend of long trips down the field, and Perine capped Washington’s efforts with a touchdown of his own. When all was said and done at the end of today’s contest, Perine, who continues to get better as he gets more playing time, earned 117 yards, becoming the first Redskins running back to do so since Rob Kelley earned 100+ yards on November 20, 2016.
The half would end with the continuation of two frustrating trends: the offense’s inability to earn points in the final two minutes of a half and the defense’s inability to stop their opponent from earning points in the final two minutes of a half. Though Cousins lucked out, getting the ball back after nearly having it picked off by De’Vante Harris, Washington couldn’t attempt a long field goal after a false start penalty on Stacy McGhee pushed them out of range. New Orleans then put up several big plays, like a 22 yard pass to Ted Ginn, Jr., and a 24 yard pass to Michael Thomas, in the final 1:39 to bring themselves within field goal range, closing the gap to 17-13 as the teams headed into the locker rooms.
The Redskins started the second half with the ball, but their efforts went no where. After managing just seven yards, they punted the ball back to the Saints, giving Brees and company another opportunity to close or overcome the small gap on the scoreboard. The defense, which managed consistent, though not always perfect, pressure on Brees and his receivers throughout the game, stopped the Saints’ march, and the Redskins’ offense responded to their counterparts’ efforts with a touchdown.
It’s something Cousins hasn’t done routinely this season: take advantage of the opportunities given to them by the defense by scoring touchdowns. However, this drive exemplified the fight this team has shown in the face of injuries, battles, and bruises all year. Both Cousins and Thompson went down following a two yard scramble by the quarterback, Cousins with a head injury and Thompson with a leg injury. Thompson ended up being carted off the field, and the obvious pain and the air cast that accompanied it leaves a lot of questions about whether or not he’ll return this season. Cousins, though, quickly bounced back and, he joined forces with Doctson, Niles Paul, and Ryan Grant showed up to inspire their teammates, finishing the drive with a 40 yard touchdown pass from Cousins to Grant.
During the remainder of the half, New Orleans slowly closed the gap in the score, building off Washington’s mistakes and wearing down the defense with additional long drives, including ones of 75 and 82 yards. While Brees deserves credit for tiring out Washington’s defense, it was ultimately Washington’s errors that cost the team the win. Following Tress Way’s punt that gave the Saints the ball back with just under two minutes remaining in the game, cornerback Kendall Fuller appeared to put a dagger in New Orleans’ comeback efforts with an interception, but it was cancelled out by an illegal hands to the face penalty against him. The Redskins still had a chance, however, after the Saints tied the game up, 31-31, with a minute left in the game. All Cousins and the offense had to do was drive down the field, put themselves into field goal range, and let Rose win the game, and yet, the final two plays of regulation were as follows: intentional grounding call against Cousins that cost the team 10 seconds and a down and a fumble by Cousins that was recovered by New Orleans as the clock ran out.
The team’s bumbles carried over into overtime. Washington won the coin toss and started the extra time with the ball, but the offensive unit looked inept and went nowhere. New Orleans responded with a dominant 51 yard drive, crushing Washington’s hopes at playing spoiler. The momentum that the Saints had built at the end of the quarter clearly continued in overtime, and running back Mark Ingram gashed the Redskins’ defense, picking up that yardage on just two plays before Wil Lutz finalized the win with a 28 yard field goal.
The Redskins will have just days for a gut check before they face an embattled NFC East opponent, the New York Giants, at home on Thanksgiving night. The team’s flashes and bright spots, like Perine and Doctson, are promising, but until they can manage to put together a complete 60 minute effort, not a 56 minute attempt that ignores the final two minutes of each half, they’ll continue to be in trouble.
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