The Redskins never did get Clinton Portis going Sunday, not as much as they prefer. And after the first two drives, the passing game was in and out for the rest of the afternoon. The secondary, meanwhile, gave up a 62-yard bomb in the third quarter that tied the score and was fortunate - hold-your-breath fortunate - not to give up another long touchdown in the next series.
But somehow, the Redskins made it all work. Somehow, they beat the Cardinals 24-17 at FedEx Field. And that's as important an attribute as any for a team in this era of parity - the ability to find a way to win. There isn't much else that separates one middling NFL club from another - other than the talent for making plays when it matters most.
Often those plays are little plays rather than seven-point plays - the gaining of an extra yard or two, say, on third down in the final minutes. As Jason Campbell put it, "Last year when we had to win games late by getting the first down, we always gave 'em the ball back. This year we've been great at getting the first downs."
Against the Cardinals, the Redskins even survived a nullified touchdown pass to rookie Devin Thomas that would have iced the game (and the resulting first-and-25 from the Washington 17 that could have led to who-knows-what). Granted, they wound up missing a 52-yard field goal try with 3:29 left, but it was better than a punt from deep in their own end with twice that much time still on the clock.
"We kept our composure," Campbell said. "Sometimes when a touchdown is called back, teams lose it right there. They get frustrated. It speaks to our maturity [that they didn't]."
That's it exactly. The Redskins may not be playing like a Super Bowl team, but they're playing like one that has Been Around, that has endured its share of hardships and knows how to deal with them. Twice in the last two weeks an opponent has made a potential game-changing play in the second half - first Reggie Bush's 55-yard punt return that gave New Orleans a 24-15 lead, then Kurt Warner's 62-yard heave to Larry Fitzgerald that pulled Arizona even at 17. Both times, the Redskins answered the call, which is why they're 2-1 and feeling a lot better about themselves as they prepare for Dallas.
Sunday's win revolved around what reserve cornerback Leigh Torrence called "a 50-50 play - either they're going to make the play or we're going to make the play." Early in the fourth quarter, with the score still tied, Cards wideout Steve Breaston appeared to have Torrence beaten deep down the middle; but Warner underthrew this one just a touch, and Torrence was able to make up ground on Breaston and deflect the ball.
"I think it also might have hit my helmet," he said. "It got a high bounce."
High enough for Carlos Rogers to make a diving interception, get up and run 42 yards the other way. Two plays later, Campbell zipped a pass to Santana Moss in the right flat, and Moss darted into the end zone for the winning score.
Funny, isn't it? Now that Joe Gibbs is gone, the Redskins are finally playing the way he always wanted them to - creating turnovers, keeping their own mistakes to a minimum and above all, being closers. The defense has six takeaways thus far, while the offense has yet to turn the ball over.
"It works hand-in-hand," London Fletcher said. "Carlos gets the interception on the tipped pass, and the offense scores a touchdown. We had 10 points off turnovers today. In years past, [the defense] just didn't come up with the football when the opportunity presented itself. But now ... Rocky McIntosh makes a big hit on Edgerrin James, and we've got guys flying to the ball" - and Rogers making the recovery to set up a field goal.
Which brings us back to Finding A Way To Win. So often in recent seasons, the Redskins seemed to do just the opposite. Games that should have been won were frittered away, time and again. (I won't pull off any scabs by revisiting them.)
But this particular team has a different vibe about it. Maybe it's just that the quarterback is a fourth-year man now and more confident in his abilities. Maybe it's just that the team is more confident in the quarterback's abilities. Or maybe it's just that, well, a defense simply can't go on forcing so few turnovers - 24 last season, a record-low 12 the season before that. It defies the law of averages.
There's no play more beautiful in football than a QB kneeling down at the end of the game, squeezing the last few seconds of life out of the opposition. No hand-wringing or nail-biting or no-huddling required, just a snap and a genuflection to the Grid God.
Sunday, Jason Campbell was able to do that for the second straight week. Just after the two-minute warning, he fired a short pass to Chris Cooley - who chugged, fully clothed, to the Arizona 43 for a 26-yard gain - and that was that. Out of timeouts, the Cardinals could only stand and watch as Campbell played keep-away for the last two plays. For the Redskins, who have been on the other side of these scenes more than they care to remember, it was the happiest of endings.