PHILADELPHIA — Robert Griffin III sat at his locker, still wearing his gold game pants, and tried to piece together the NFL’s complex playoff puzzle. Next to him, Rex Grossman slid a bright blue tie around his neck. Griffin and Grossman wondered aloud whether the Washington Redskins‘ heart-stopping 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday was enough to qualify them for the playoffs.
Grossman called a reporter over to get the news. It was, in fact, insufficient. The Minnesota Vikings denied Washington an early Christmas present by upsetting the Houston Texans halfway across the country. The two quarterbacks paused.
“We’re not worried about it,” Griffin said with a smile.
Why would they be? Griffin and the blue-hot Redskins need one more victory — Sunday night’s season finale at home against the rival Dallas Cowboys — to claim the franchise’s first NFC East title in 13 years, and this team seems to be flying there on a rocket ship.
Griffin threw two touchdowns in his return from the sprained right knee that sidelined him last week, and the Redskins‘ defense kept Philadelphia out of the end zone from the 5-yard line on the final two plays to escape with their sixth consecutive victory.
The elation such a victory normally elicits instead immediately yielded to a shifted focus.
Christmas Eve arrived without a secured playoff berth because the Redskins did not get help from losses by Minnesota and Chicago.
Their remarkable resurgence, as it turns out, will climax on the final day of the season against their greatest rival.
If the Redskins lose to Dallas, they still could make the playoffs, but only if Chicago (9-6) and Minnesota (9-6) lose. To put it another way, Washington would be in great danger of missing the postseason.
This script is worthy of the finest playwright. In actuality, though, the Redskins have authored it with an explosive offense and opportunistic defense.
That was the case Sunday against a reeling Philadelphia team experiencing the type of dysfunction that has characterized the Redskins‘ five-year playoff drought.
Washington rushed for 128 yards — including 91 and a touchdown by rookie Alfred Morris — and turned the Eagles‘ two turnovers into 10 points.
Griffin was 16-of-24 for 198 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in his return from a mildly sprained lateral collateral ligament. He obviously wasn’t fully healthy, but his 102.4 passer rating was evidence that didn’t matter.
He was not the explosive runner he is when healthy, and the Redskins limited his designed runs accordingly.
“We didn’t do everything that we would normally do,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “I did not want to put that pressure on that LCL.”
The Redskins‘ offense started slowly, as it did last week in Cleveland, but the defense provided the spark. Down 7-0 in the first quarter, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan sacked Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles and forced a fumble that reserve cornerback Richard Crawford recovered.
The Redskins scored a field goal on the ensuing drive. Soon they were operating at normal efficiency.
They took a 13-7 lead late in the second quarter on a bubble screen that Joshua Morgan ran 11 yards for a touchdown. He received a key block from receiver Pierre Garcon, typical of the types of contributions that have fueled this winning streak.
“We’ve been playing for each other all year,” Morgan said. “We’ve been doing a great job feeding off each other.”
Morris had only 18 rushing yards on nine carries at halftime, but the zone running game opened in the second half.
Philadelphia’s linebackers aggressively played the run in the first half, but success through the air prompted them to back off a bit, Morris said.
“You grind it out, grind it out, and eventually a couple of them will pop,” left tackle Trent Williams said.
Griffin produced his moment of brilliance with 1:31 remaining in the third quarter. From a clean pocket, he lobbed a perfect 22-yard pass to Santana Moss, who dragged both his feet in bounds in the end zone. It gave the Redskins a 27-13 lead they needed every bit of.
Philadelphia trimmed its deficit to seven after Griffin’s fourth-quarter interception, a high throw that Morgan deflected into the air.
Tight end Evan Moore dropped a potential touchdown on first-and-goal. Then, with one second left, defensive end Stephen Bowen’s pressure resulted in an intentional grounding penalty against Foles. The 10-second runoff ended the game.
“I was thinking about that since the clock said 0:00, when the referee threw the flag, so let’s go and get the Cowboys, man,” fullback Darrel Young said. “There’s nothing else on my mind right now. I want to take the division.”