The 5th Quarter: Redskins 42 Packers 24

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THE GAME TURNED WHEN…

the Skins had the ball at their own 41-yard line with just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter and clinging to a precarious 29-24 lead. Washington’s defense had given up two straight easy touchdown drives to QB Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers and it seemed the game might be slipping away. Facing 4th and about a foot on their own 41, it seemed the Skins were about to punt and give the ball back to a Packers offense that looked unstoppable. Instead, Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden kept his offense on the field and had QB Kirk Cousins slither through the line of scrimmage on a quarterback sneak to pick up the yard the team needed to keep the drive alive.

Gruden’s gutsy call was critical because moments later, facing 3rd and 7 from their own 46 yard line, Cousins dropped back and found WR Jamison Crowder behind the defense over the middle of the field. Crowder caught a perfect pass that sliced neatly through a harsh and wintry wind and carried the ball all the way down to the Packers’ one-yard line. RB Robert Kelly scored on the next play, putting Washington up 35-24 with less than four minutes in regulation. Needing to match Aaron Rodgers touchdown-for-touchdown in the fourth quarter of a critical, muts-win game, Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense proved they could do just that.

THE GAME WAS OVER WHEN…

With 3:05 left in regulaton and the Skins up 35-24 and the ball on Washington’s 38-yard line, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers hit TE Jared Cook for a short pass near the right hash marks. As defenders moved to tackle Cook, CB Josh Norman balled his right fist and punched hard at the ball in Cook’s hands. The ball immediately squirted out and landed on the turf at the Washington 28-yard-line. ILB Will Compton immediately fell on the ball for the turnover, effectively ending the competitve portion of the game.

PLAY OF THE GAME

The aforementioned 4th and a foot sneak by Kirk Cousins to keep a touchdown-scoring drive alive with six minutes left in the game. It’s not often that a one-yard run is the play of the game, but this one qualifies. A huge, onion-hanging decision by Gruden pays off in a big way.

THE GOOD

Cousins was superb, his eighth straight game where he has been good or great. (Not coincidentally, the Skins are 6-1-1 in that 8-game stretch.) Cousins completed 21-30 passes for 375 yards (12.5!!), 3 touchdowns, no turnovers and a huge 1-yard sneak on 4th and a foot at Washington’s 41-yard line with about six minutes left in the game. Best of all, Cousins threw long touchdowns or long completions on third down, just when the Skins needed it. That’s clutch play and how you get a contract that means your children can spend their entire lives wasting their inheritance.

While Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were held scoreless when facing the wind, Cousins and the Skins actually scored four of their six touchdowns when playing against the wind. That includes three touchdowns in the 4th quarter, when Cousins connected on a 70-yard TD pass to WR Pierre Garcon and a 53-yard bomb to WR Jamison Crowder that ended at the one-yard line.

The Skins racked up 515 yards in an extremely balanced attack that featured 32 passes and 30 runs.

The Skins converted 9 of 14 on third downs for an eye-popping 64 percent. And, of course, they were 1-1 on 4th down.

The Skins have had trouble with penalties at times this year and they still had one or two stupid ones, such as Josh Norman’s flag for delay of game. However, on Sunday night the Skins had six penalties for 40 yards, which is far more reasonable. Whenever  you have as many touchdowns as penalties,  you’re probably doing okay.

Far more important than all the yards the Skins accumulated is the fact that they cashed in  when it counted. Washington made five trips to the red zone against the Green Bay and scored touchdowns on four of them. In two goal-to-go situations, Washington scored both times. This is a complete reversal of their season-long habit and if this improvement is more like what we will see going forward, the Skins offense should be as good as any in the NFL.

Kudos to Jay Gruden for making the gutsy call to go for it on fourth and a foot from  his own 41-yard line. He took into account the fact that Tress Way would have to punt into the wind, that Aaron Rodgers was destroying Washington’s defense in the fourth quarter and the fact that the Skins have one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. If Washington punts, I think they might lose that game. If they go for it and don’t make it, Gruden would be destroyed by every shrieking head in the western hemisphere. The was a big-time call by the head coach and he deserves credit for it.

How about Fat Rob Kelly, Washington’s now-entrenched starting running back? The Packers do play the run well for the most part and they held Kelly in check most of the game. However, he was able to get some tough yards when needed before breaking off the big 66-yard run that pushed his rushing totals well over 100 yards for the game — the first time he’s accomplished that feat since high school. Kelly also rushed for three touchdowns and he still has no fumbles. That hard-nosed running approach is really helping the Skins improve from the red zone. Kelly finished with 137 yards and 3 TD on 24 carries.

Washington’s defense didn’t play particularly well, but please note that does not apply to CB Josh Norman, who had another excellent game. Rodgers wisely avoided him for the most part, but Norman still got to make a big play when he punched the ball out of Jared Cook’s hands, causing a fumble with just over three minutes to play. Washington’s recovery sealed the win.

THE BAD

Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback, but it was still amazing how bad and silly he made Washington’s linebackers look for most of the night. OLBs Ryan Kerrigan and Trent  Murphy had clean shots at Rodgers repeatedly and failed to seal the deal, as the savvy and mobile Green Bay signal-caller sidestepped blitzers and continued to make plays down field. It looked like Rodgers was the Road Runner and Washington’s linebackers were Wile E. Coyote.

The Skins defense gave up 424 yards of offense and allowed Green Bay to convert 7 of 15 third downs. Lots of defenses struggle against Rodgers, but that fourth quarter, in particular, looked pretty ugly.

Not a good night for safety Donte Whitner, who was repeatedly victimized by in pass coverage. The Skins coaches like him a lot, though.

The Packers quarterbacks dropped back 47 times, but Washington managed only two sacks. Not good.

The fourth quarter defense, until the punch-out strip by CB Josh Norman, that caused the Jared Cook fumble, was the very definition of ugly. The Skins gave up two quick and almost effortless touchdown drives to the Green Bay Packers, forcing Washington’s offense to score every time they touched the ball. Fortunately, the Skins offense is up to it. However, Washington’s defense needs to get a few things figured out.

THE UGLY

Washington ran two of the worst 2-point conversion plays I’ve ever seen. The second one was just a blown play, with Kirk Cousins vainly trying to scramble his way into the end zone after not handing the ball off to RB Robert Kelly. The first failed conversion, though, was inexcusable. With the Skins clearly lined up in a run formation, the ball was just handed off to the smallest runner on the team, Chris Thompson, who predictably failed to bull-rush his way into the end zone. I have no problem with running to get a two-point conversion, nor do I object to running out of an obvious formation. But if you’re going to run the ball up the middle when everyone knows you’re about to run the ball, give it to a big guy like Robert Kelly. Do not give it to Chris Thompson. A terrible decision.

THE QUOTES

“It would be tough to get him out of there now.” — Jay Gruden, on Rob Kelly’s hold on the stating RB job.

“I don’t have enough game balls, but I know Fat Rob’s getting one.” — Jay Gruden on Rob Kelly.

“Offensive line, tight ends. It’s a team game and everybody has their hand in it.  The quarterback, the receivers are blocking. Everybody’s making plays. Defensively, man that’s a [heck] of a group over there you shut down. Josh Norman, big forced fumble, man. Give it up, man.”

“Let’s go get the Cowboys.” — Jay Gruden

GAME MVP

Kirk Cousins — 21-30 for 375  yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 95.7 QBR

WHAT IT MEANS

Washington keeps pace in the hyper-competitive NFC East, which has gone from a joke to arguably the best division in football. The Packers, a competitor for the NFC Wild Card, is put down with emphasis, helping clear the path to the playoffs. In a larger sense, the Skins faced their prime time demons and slew them on Sunday night. Washington has a top three NFL offense that is currently capable of carrying a mediocre defense. We will see how far Cousins and the offense can take this team.

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