The Washington Redskins snapped a four-game losing streak Sunday, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 16-13. And while the Jaguars are in their own struggles, dropping to 4-10 on the season, the Redskins got back to a recipe of success that steered them earlier in the season. The Redskins scored first and fed running back Adrian Peterson the football.
The Redskins opened the scoring in the game with a 46-yard field goal by kicker Dustin Hopkins with 1:50 remaining in the first quarter. That was significant, because the Redskins are now 7-0 when they score first and 0-7 when their opponents score first.
The Redskins went their first nine games without a lead change. A byproduct of an offense that has been pedestrian to say the least and unable to manifest enough explosion to play from behind. Sunday, there was a rare lead change and Washington fell behind 13-6 in the fourth quarter, but their approach and play-calling is a lot different when they score first or stay within arm reach of an opponent.
Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson got his first NFL start in seven years. He was smart and safe, two things the Redskins want most from it’s quarterback position. It’s something that was lacking the past four weeks since starter Alex Smith went down with a gruesome leg injury.
Johnson was able to play safe and smart without the need to become a gunslinger trailing in large because Washington scored first and stayed no more than a touchdown behind. There was no panic in the play-calling. No need to force the issue.
By a result, the Redskins defense played within their means. Yes against a lacking offense of the Jaguars, but nonetheless the Redskins defense got to be themselves. As they dominated not allowing an offense touchdown, the Redskins offense got to be themselves.
The defense was aggressive against the run, although they yielded a large chunk — 172 yards — they were still aggressive. The pass rush pinned their ears back and worked the edge, and the secondary kept the ball in front with a calm sense without panic and being all over the place pressing for a stop, holding Cody Kessler and the Jaguars to 20 yards passing.
When the Redskins needed a score the most with the game tied 13-13 with just under three minutes remaining, they were able to feed Peterson.
Peterson had been stifled by the Jaguars defense in large due to their ability to crash the edges and keep Peterson boxed in behind a makeshift Redskins offensive line. But as the game went on, the Redskins made adjustments, and the Jaguars defense wore down.
Peterson had just 20 yards before the game-winning drive. That drastically changed, as the former 2012 NFL MVP gained 31 yards rushing and an additional seven yards receiving to set-up a 36-yard game-winning field goal by Hopkins as time expired. Peterson worked inside, gaining 16 yards on four carries up the middle with a 15-yard gain off the left end behind left tackle Trent Williams and a push by center Chase Roullier.
On the game’s final drive, Peterson got five carries that drove his total of carries to 19. That was very significant for the Redskins, as they are 7-0 when he has 17 or more carries. They are 0-7 when he does not.
The Redskins need to score first and feed Peterson. With the straight-line narrative there is a lot of context, however, it’s a simple equation for them. There is a different approach, the pace of the game is controlled, and both the offense and defense get to be themselves.
It’s a style of play that Washington couldn’t get into with Colt McCoy and Mark Sanchez the previous three weeks. They were playing catch up. There was not a spunk about the defense or the offense on key plays. After being blown out in three straight games, scoring first Sunday against the Jaguars put a newfound sense of calm over the team and the game plan of the coaches.
As the Redskins move on to Tennessee with a 7-7 record and still alive in the playoff hunt in the NFC, it’s imperative for Washington to score first and stick to their style of play if they want to play beyond Dec. 30.