When Rob Jackson picked off Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and sealed the Washington Redskins‘ NFC East-clinching victory Sunday night, the linebacker didn’t immediately grasp the magnitude of his accomplishment.
“I didn’t realize it at the time,” Jackson said. “I was just doing my job.”
Jackson and the rest of the defense made it a point to take the ball away and rid itself of a rotten reputation earned earlier in the season. During the seven-game winning streak to clinch a spot in the postseason, the defense forced 15 turnovers and clamped down on opposing offenses.
Those performances masked that the Redskins finished with the NFL’s 28th-ranked defense.
“I mean we’re good enough. We’re good enough to get to the playoffs. We’re good enough to win seven games in a row,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “It’s all about being hot at the right time. I think we’re playing better defense than most at this time of year, and that’s what’s important.”
In the first nine games, concluding with a Nov. 4 loss to Carolina that dropped Washington to 3-6, the Redskins allowed an average of 27.6 points. Since the bye week, the defense cut that number to 20 points a game.
And the unit did so without linebacker Brian Orakpo, defensive end Adam Carriker and safety Brandon Meriweather.
“You know, it’s a testament to us and the way we bought into the system and the way guys have stepped up to make plays,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “Rob has played unbelievable this year, and to have a guy like that step up with such a loss like Brian Orakpo, it’s really cool.”
“Man, that’s one thing I’ve said all year. Our secondary’s been much-maligned; statistically we haven’t been great. But when they get their hands on the ball, they make a lot of plays,” Cofield said. “And when I say secondary, I mean our linebackers and our DBs. They got great hands, they’re playmakers, and they cash in on mistakes that opposing quarterbacks make. And that’s key for us.”
All season, the Redskins excelled at forcing quarterbacks into making mistakes. But they also gave up a lot of yards and needed turnovers as bailouts.
Holding the Cowboys to 296 yards was a good first step but not enough for the veteran leaders.
“I hear, ‘Bend but don’t break.’ We don’t want to bend or break,” Cofield said. “Whether we’re playing our best or, we definitely want to play better.”
Playing better includes trying to contain Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks this Sunday in the first round of the NFC playoffs. It also means keeping up with the accomplishments of quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Alfred Morris and the rest of the offense, which has received much of the credit for this run.
“We don’t have a problem at all playing the back burner to some of these guys on offense because they are superstars in their own right. So we don’t mind it at all,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “Offense gets the glory, defense wins championships. Everybody in this locker room knows that, everybody in the world knows that.”