Robert Griffin III and London Fletcher were the last two players out of the Washington Redskins‘ locker room shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday. Fletcher’s cauliflower-blue three-piece suit with white trim was sharp enough for the cover of a fashion magazine. Griffin’s ensemble was more casual; khaki pants, a white button-down shirt over a black Heisman trophy t-shirt, black-framed glasses and, of course, white Adidas shoes. They each wore a victor’s smile, too.
And they walked out together; veteran and rookie, defense and offense, heart and soul of this resurgent Redskins team on a night worth savoring.
It was an appropriate final scene, considering how Washington’s offense and defense came together in the second half Monday night to come back to beat the New York Giants, 17-16, in a pivotal NFC East matchup at FedEx Field.
The Redskins‘ third straight win saved their season and thrust them into the heart of the divisional and wild card playoff races.
“It was a huge win,” Fletcher said, wearing a walking boot to immobilize his sprained left ankle. “Just made it very interesting for next week and these remaining ballgames.”
The Redskins surged to 6-6, completing the ascent from the hole they dug for themselves last month by losing three straight to fall to 3-6.
Consecutive wins over division rivals Philadelphia, Dallas and New York have positioned them well for a four-game sprint to the playoffs. The postseason, once an ambitious goal for even the most optimistic supporter, is now a realistic outcome in coach Mike Shanahan’s third season.
The Redskins are only one game behind the Giants in the division standings. And they assumed the tiebreaker over New York by improving to 3-1 against division opponents; the Giants fell to 2-3 against the NFC East.
“A lot of hope, a lot of optimism,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “Three wins in a row in the division can get you out of a hole quick. It was perfect for us. We’re still not in control, but we feel like if we keep winning, we’ve got enough tiebreakers that we’ll be in a great spot.”
Washington also ensured it will finish with a better record than last season’s 5-11 mark. Fans reveled in the outcome. They chanted, sang and cheered as they filed out of the most important home game in at least four years.
“There’s a lot of excitement around this team,” Griffin said, “and I think everybody feels it.”
The mood was much gloomier at halftime. New York outgained the Redskins in the first half, 273 yards to 156, and had an 11-minute advantage in time of possession. The Giants also converted eight of 10 third downs before halftime.
But the Redskins trailed only 13-10 at intermission because they successfully defended the end zone. Tight end Martellus Bennett’s 4-yard touchdown catch was New York’s only touchdown of the game.
“It wasn’t a ton of points, but we definitely weren’t happy coming in at halftime,” Cofield said. “It was not a happy locker room. We felt like we could do better. Any time a team can run the ball like that on us, we’re very unhappy. We tightened it up a lot in the second half.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett altered his team’s approach in the second half.
The Redskins switched from combination coverages to almost exclusively man-to-man. They also rushed the passer more aggressively, sending five rushers more frequently and deploying some cornerback blitzes.
The changes helped the Redskins more effectively pressure quarterback Eli Manning. New York gained only 117 yards in the second half.
“Anytime the front end works, the back end works, too,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “It works well together when both sides are doing what they’ve got to do.”
The Redskins kept it close in the first half by turning a possible disaster into a touchdown.
Out of the triple option from the Giants‘ 28-yard line late in the first quarter, Griffin kept the ball on a run around the left edge. He tried to slide to avoid contact, but safety Stevie Brown jarred the ball loose.
Griffin backhanded the loose ball to receiver Josh Morgan, who was running to his left as part of the option. Morgan snatched it out of the air and ran it 13 yards into the end zone.
“We didn’t run it in practice because we wanted to save it for the game,” Griffin joked.
In the second half, the Redskins overcame Alfred Morris’ critical fumble at the Giants‘ 9-yard line. On the following possession, Morris and Griffin powered a 12-play, 86-yard drive that culminated in Garcon’s touchdown catch.
The defense forced the Giants to punt on their final two possessions. Outside linebacker Rob Jackson got the Redskins off the field on both. He had a sack on the first and tackled running back Ahmad Bradshaw on the second.
Jackson lobbied Haslett at halftime to play him on third downs, something he hasn’t done much of this season.
“He believed in me, so I felt like I had to show up,” Jackson said. “If I’m asking for an opportunity, I’ve got to go out there and make something happen.”
Washington ran out the final 3:51. Griffin kneeled on the final play, setting off a celebration.
The Redskins are alive and well.