Levi Jones, Chad Rinehart and Stephon Heyer sat together at the end of the Washington Redskins’ bench with a little more than two minutes left in the game Sunday. They were smiling, basking in the adoration pouring down from the raucous FedEx Field crowd that was on its feet, ready to celebrate.
Injured tight end Chris Cooley hopped over on crutches to congratulate them, as did the man who is the godfather of all men in a burgundy and gold uniform who block for a living, Joe Bugel.
Bugel had felt many moments like these in the glory days of the Hogs. There haven’t been many in recent years - none, specifically, this year.
It was relief as much as it was celebration of the Redskins’ 27-17 win over the Denver Broncos.
“He was really happy,” Heyer said of Bugel. “You could see the stress coming off his face because we were trying to come together as a unit. I think he felt some relief.”
But this was a good kind of relief - the relief of success, not the relief of avoiding embarrassment. It was not the kind of relief the team and crowd felt in Washington’s two other wins this season, both coming at home. Players and fans alike were relieved not to lose terribly played games against the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sunday was the sense of relief that finally there was something worth celebrating - a performance by this 3-6 team to be proud of.
For the first time this football season, Monday is going to feel pretty good around here.
“This win feels better than the first two,” center Casey Rabach said.
Yes it does, and it does in part because the story of Sunday’s victory was a ragtag, patchwork, sewn-together offensive line that consisted of a young offensive guard who had already played himself into oblivion earlier this season and a veteran left tackle who was home on the couch watching football three weeks ago.
The offensive line as a unit played well. But when weak links like Rinehart, who wasn’t even starting until Thursday, and Jones, who was out of the league, not only don’t break but also become strong, it usually means the team does well.
Chad Rinehart and Levi Jones, you get the game balls.
“We knew all week the focus was going to be to get the running game going to help out the passing game, and we took care of business,” said Jones, a former Cincinnati Bengals tackle signed off the street by the Redskins three weeks ago. “The other players and coaches did a good job of getting me comfortable. [Derrick Dockery] and [Rabach] were talking to me, keeping me focused and helping me out. Only being here two-and-a-half weeks, things are not going to come naturally yet, but I knew who to block.”
And the more Jones and his fellow linemen blocked, the better things got. Ladell Betts carried the ball 26 times for 114 yards.
“I’ve known Ladell since we were rookies coming in,” Jones said. “He has always been a guy who runs hard, puts his head down and goes downhill and runs hard. As an offensive lineman, you know if you move your guy he is going to be right there on you.”