Redskins cornerback Josh Norman had an interception and forced a fumble. Carolina Panthers rookie wide receiver D.J. Moore lost fumbles on a punt return and a catch that cost his team 10 points. Adrian Peterson toughed through a separated shoulder and ankle and knee injuries to gain a game-high 97 rushing yards. Yet, the fate of the Redskins’ 23-17 win over the Panthers Sunday may have rested in the hands of Redskins left tackle Trent Williams.
With the Redskins leading 17-9 and facing a third-and-7, quarterback Alex Smith was hit by Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers. The ball jarred loose in the air. Williams caught the loose ball before touching the ground and 320-pound mammoth rumbled for eight yards, netting two yards before being taken down by defensive end Mario Addison.
Williams luckily didn’t fumble the ball nor did he get injured. Those two netted yards made the following down 4th-and-5 from Carolina’s 38-yard line, and allowed Redskins head coach Jay Gruden to be comfortable enough to send place kicker Dustin Hopkins out for a 56-yard field goal.
Hopkins made what turned out to be his career longest field goal, as the ball barely cleared the crossbar. The field goal extended the Redskins’ lead to 20-9.
Trent Williams is absolutely the reason that kick went in. pic.twitter.com/nSD3me6nsI
— michael phillips (@michaelpRTD) October 14, 2018
Williams’ heads up play prevented Carolina from getting the football without yielding a score. Momentum was on Carolina’s side after falling behind 17-0. If they’d recovered the fumble or Hopkins not made the kick, Carolina would have had the football needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game.
Trent Williams also was taken aback when we told him he recovered a fumble, not a batted pass. His first instinct was to bat that thing down to save himself from getting swarmed. Good thing he didn't.
— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) October 14, 2018
What’s interesting is Williams was unaware the play was ruled as a fumble. He thought the football might have been tipped and while letting the ball drop to the ground, his instincts came into play as he caught the ball and ran.
“I have a Cardinal rule. I never pick up a fumble or catch a pass behind the line of scrimmage,” Williams said following the game per Team 980. “Me having the knee issue, I really wasn’t trying to get cut down. I just turned around and the ball was in my hands, it was just reaction.”
Carolina would eventually score a touchdown and a two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 20-17. And the Redskins would add another another Hopkins’ field goal to make the score 23-17, forcing the Panthers on their final possession to need a touchdown instead of a game-tying field goal which they did not get as the Redskins defense stopped them on downs with 34 seconds remaining.
All of which would have played out vastly different had Williams not recovered Smith’s fumble.