Banged-up Redskins pull together when it matters to edge Giants

Washington guard Shawn Lauvao could not help but laugh, even with a walking boot on his right leg, as he listened to Trent Williams explain it again one locker over. Injuries to Lauvao (ankle) and center Kory Lichtensteiger (calf) had forced Williams, a four-time Pro Bowl left tackle, to slide inside to guard, where he hadn‘t played since… “Never. Never ever. Never. Not one time, not a one-on-one, not a practice rep, nothing.”

Williams accidently lined up in a tackle stance at least once, setting his feet at the wrong angle. Another time he set up too close to the ball. On a tunnel screen, he had no idea who he was supposed to go block. But when the 0–2 Redskins needed it most, Williams delivered. Along with the rest of what had become a makeshift line by the end of an unpredictable game at MetLife Stadium, Williams imposed his will on a 10-play, 56-yard drive that ate up over six minutes of the fourth quarter, ended on a go-ahead 37-yard field goal (Dustin Hopkins’s fifth of the day) with 1:51 left, and kept Washington’s season alive with a 29–27 victory over the Giants.

“We’ve been struggling in the run game the last couple weeks, so to be able to get something going running the ball was a great feeling,” right tackle Morgan Moses said. “We wanted to wear them out, and we were able to do that.”

Entering Sunday’s game, all of the talk revolved around a nearly year-long feud between Washington corner Josh Norman and New York receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham won the battle, finishing with 121 yards on seven catches, becoming the fastest player to notch 200 catches or 3,000 yards, and at one point landing a physical stiff-arm on Norman while spinning away from the corner.

But what we will remember from the matchup is the score—and, well, Vines of Beckham tearing up, being consoled by Eli Manning and finding himself on the losing end of a run-in with the kicking net. All of that transpired after Manning was picked off in the end zone by Quinton Dunbar early in the fourth quarter, the third tide-shifting play involving the second-year backup defensive back.

After the Giants’ first drive of the game stalled, they recovered the punt after it nicked Dunbar’s leg, setting up the first of three early New York touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Redskins could only muster three field goals. Cousins did hit DeSean Jackson on back-to-back deep throws for a quick touchdown that pulled the visitors within five in the second quarter, but with a chance to take the lead heading into halftime, Cousins was sacked at the 10–yard line as time expired.

Dunbar’s second moment in the spotlight came with Washington trailing 24–23 at the end of a back-and-forth third quarter. On fourth down, punter Tress Way hit the former Florida wideout for a 31-yard gain down the sideline to the Giants 21. (“We just installed that this week,” Dunbar said.) The Redskins stalled again in the red zone (they were 0–4 on the day), but Hopkins put them ahead with another field goal. Dunbar’s interception came on the ensuing possession. “We weren’t going to come out of here without a win,” he said. “We knew our backs were against the wall and we knew we were going to come out fighting.”

Dunbar took on a bigger role in the defense on Sunday after the Redskins lost a pair of starters in the secondary—Norman’s cornerback counterpart Bashaud Breeland suffered a high-ankle sprain, and veteran safety DeAngelo Hall is feared to have torn his ACL—and made his presence felt.

“I think Dunbar proved last year that he is developing into a quality cover guy,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “You would never want to lose a guy like Breeland because of his attitude and as hard as he plays. Knowing we have Dunbar, [Greg] Toler or [Dashaun] Phillips makes it a little bit easier to deal with. It is hard to replace Breeland, but somebody has to step up like they did today.”

Still, New York managed to take a 27–26 lead a few minutes later on a field goal of its own. As the offense took the field with 7:53 to go, Washington’s offensive mission was simple. “Let’s go down the field and get us our first W, on the road, too,” running back Matt Jones said.

Following a false start and a roughing the passer penalty, Jones ran it on seven of the next eight snaps. He averaged over five yards per play on those attempts, the makeshift line more than doing its part along the way. Coming into the game, the Redskins had drawn criticism for throwing too much (they led the league in attempts heading into Week 3), and quarterback Kirk Cousins’s contract year was off to an inauspicious start. The Cousins question remains unanswered—he completed 60% of his passes with no interceptions but again struggled to convert drives into touchdowns—but Washington proved Sunday that it has not lost the never-say-die attitude it showed in recovering from a 2–4 start to claim the NFC East crown last year.

So no, Williams does not mind Lauvao laughing a bit at his expense, especially considering that smiles have been hard to come by in this stadium, where Washington had not won since 2011. Plus, Moses is only a couple lockers over singing Williams’s praises, boasting that he’s “the best tackle/guard in the league!” Now it’s Williams’s turn to chuckle, too. 

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