Some times, the offense carries the day. Other times, it’s the defense. (Rarely, if ever, for the Washington Redskins, is it the special teams unit.) Today, the defense kept Washington in the game and, ultimately, allowed for the win over the incoming 6-7 Arizona Cardinals.
On just the first series of the game, the defense made their presence felt, as Anthony Lanier tackled quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Lanier’s fourth sack of the season, causing Gabbert to lose the ball. Preston Smith scooped up the lost ball and nearly, but for a shoestring tackle by Arizona, made it into the end zone. Consequently, in what has been an uncommon feat this season, Kirk Cousins took the field after a turnover and quickly struck gold. On just second down, going from the five yard line, Cousins hit wide receiver Jamison Crowder for a touchdown.
Arizona returned to the field, marching 60 yards and dominating the time of possession, taking nearly ten minutes off the clock before being stopped short of the end zone. Junior Galette had a nice rush off the left side of the line, wrapping up Gabbert for a sack, and Lanier followed shortly after with his second sack of the game. Their efforts helped Washington hold the Cardinals to just a field goal.
As the game continued, the defense clearly came out of the locker room with a little more fire than they showed in last week’s embarrassing meltdown against the Los Angeles Chargers. Josh Norman seemed to play especially physically, knocking Pro Bowl legend Larry Fitzgerald out of the sky as Fitzgerald attempted to leap over the corner back.
After trading punts with Arizona, Cousins led the Redskins on a five play, 63 yard drive to put another touchdown on the board. Newly activated running back Kapri Bibbs, who cost the team with a false start penalty early in the drive, made up for his error when he took off for a 36 yard run to earn his first NFL touchdown. For the second time in the game, Dustin Hopkins, who returned to the team this week, drilled an extra point through the uprights, putting the Redskins up 14-3.
In the remaining minutes of the first half, the defense spent the majority of the time on the field. They nearly had their second fumble recovery of the game after knocking Gabbert’s arm, a play that was ruled an incomplete pass, and they again held Arizona out of the end zone, forcing the Cardinals to settle for three.
Shortly after, Smith had his second big impactful moment of the game, juggling and ultimately intercepting Gabbert’s pass and giving the ball back to the offense. Unfortunately, Vernon Davis, who’s been a reliable force since Jordan Reed began spending most of his time on the inactive list this season, gave the ball right back to his opponents with a fumble. The defense responded, coming close to earning another sack and with Lanier tipping another pass, for a third time short changing Arizona for three points instead of seven to bring the first half to a close.
To start the second half, the Redskins’ weakest unit handed Arizona an opportunity to generate some momentum. When Arizona’s kick took an unexpected spin, Washington seemed unprepared to handle it, and the ball was ultimately recovered by Budda Baker. Though they took over from the Washington 24, Arizona could only manage six yards, as Smith and Zach Vigil teamed up to stop the running game. The visiting team settled, for the fourth time in the contest, for a field goal.
Cousins returned to the field, targeting Crowder and Davis while also trying to get running back Samaje Perine going, but their efforts fell short, and Washington quickly returned the ball to the Cardinals, who were held to just three plays of their own before punting the ball back to the Redskins. For the first time in the game, the offense put together a sustained drive, amassing both time of possession and yardage. Perine tallied his longest play of the day, a 23 yard gain off a short pass from Cousins, and the team made it 88 yards before having to settle for a field goal attempt. In his first field goal attempt since October 15, Hopkins nailed the 24 yarder to bring the score to 17-12.
Continuing the pattern of the day, Gabbert and the Cardinals again took the field for a drive that would end in a field goal. The drive exemplified the defensive unit’s approach to the game: a team effort. A.J. Francis, Ziggy Hood, Deshazor Everett, Smith, Bashaud Breeland, Matt Ioannidis, Ryan Kerrigan, and Vigil all got involved, finally stopping their opponent at Washington’s 14 yard line.
The remainder of the game was mainly a punt fest, as four of the final seven drives ended in punts. The Redskins’ offense did manage to put together an eight play 30 yard drive to extend their lead to 20 - 15, but they also, frustratingly, couldn’t put together a long enough drive to eat up the final 2:26 of the clock and gave Arizona one more chance to win the game. Luckily, the defense was prepared to play a full 60 minutes, and they teamed up to force Arizona to give up the ball after a failed fourth down attempt from Washington’s 21 yard line, allowing the Redskins to end the game in victory formation.
With the win, the Redskins improve to 6-8 for the season and knock Bruce Arians’ team out of playoff contention. The Redskins will face off against the Denver Broncos at home on Sunday, Christmas Eve, as they try to close out the season with the current best case scenario, an 8-8 finish.
How would you grade Washington’s performance against the Arizona Cardinals?
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