- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 9, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

This was one of those “Where do you begin?” games. This was one of those games Washington Redskins fans might be re-living for decades, depending on how the season turns out. When the first names that roll off your tongue after a victory are Kirk Cousins and Richard Crawford, you know you’ve seen something special. And when it happens against the esteemed team just up I-95, the Baltimore Ravens, it only makes it better. 

How many times did the Redskins look dead Sunday at FedEx Field, look like they were ready for the medical examiner? Certainly with 4:39 left, when, with the Ravens leading 28-20, Niles Paul appeared to lose a fumble at the Washington 15 on a kickoff return. The replay official saved the Redskins there, though.

At the 1:42 mark, there was more hand-wringing after Robert Griffin III limped off with a sprained knee following a 13-yard scramble to the Washington 40. And with 45 seconds to go, hand-wringing gave way to utter despair at the sight of Griffin being called for intentional grounding — and then being helped to the sideline, never to return.

This saddled his successor, fellow rookie Kirk Cousins, with a second-and-20 at the Baltimore 26. Good luck with that. So that’s, what, four times the Redskins seemed on the verge of expiration — and their playoff hopes along with them? Frankly, it felt like more.

Somehow, though, they got from there to here: Washington 31, Baltimore 28, in overtime. And the reason they got from There to Here, when you stop and think about it, is probably the same reason they’ve gotten from 3-6 to 7-6 (with all kinds of possibilities still ahead of them). After a bye week in mid-November, a team that had been finding ways to lose started finding ways to win — winning big, winning small, winning freakily, but winning.

You won’t come across a stranger, more glorious victory than this one. Cousins’ four snaps at the end of regulation went like this: defensive pass interference (and a first down at the Washington 40) on third-and-6, a 15-yard pass to Leonard Hankerson on the aforementioned second-and-20, an 11-yard touchdown flip to Pierre Garcon and, the coup de grace, a game-tying quarterback draw for the two-point conversion. The highest passer rating you can get is 158.3, but Cousins deserved a 1,058.3 for that pinch-hit performance.

The TD, Garcon said, came on a play the offense practices “a lot, but Kirk really had never practiced that particular play.” As for the conversion, Cousins ain’t exactly RG3 in the running department, “so the blocks are going to have to be made for me to score,” he said. No matter. The Redskins‘ other kid QB came through in both instances.

That left the heroics to Richard Crawford. Yes, that Richard Crawford, the rookie cornerback who’d been inactive the previous five games, the seventh-round pick who could ride Metro without anybody recognizing him. The Redskins gave Crawford his big chance Sunday, handing him the punt-return duties and sitting Brandon Banks, and he didn’t disappoint. In OT, he fielded a punt on the Washington 12, found some daylight down the left sideline, cut across the field and ran 64 yards to the Baltimore 24 to set up Kai Forbath’s decisive field goal.

The only reason he didn’t run more than 64 yards — past punter Sam Koch and into the end zone — is that “a monkey jumped on my back,” he said, somewhat sheepishly. “I got tired. I haven’t played in two months.”

Chances are he’ll play a bit more in the next few weeks as the Redskins jockey for playoff position with the Giants, Bears, Seahawks et al. After all, in addition to his return in overtime, he also had runbacks of 20 and 16.

“That’s what I think separates good teams: Everybody from top to bottom steps up and makes plays,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “You know what you’re going to get out of your veterans. Sometimes with your rookies and young players, you’re not quite sure how they’re going to step up in a big moment.”

The Redskins‘ rookies and near-rookies — be it Griffin, Alfred Morris (his sixth 100-yard game Sunday), Forbath (14 for 14 on field goals) or, against the Ravens, Cousins and Crawford — have delivered repeatedly for them. And they’ll need to keep doing it, especially if RG3 can’t bounce back from this knee injury and Kirk has to take over the offense.

It helped, no doubt, that this wasn’t the first time Cousins had been thrown into the fire, that he’d also had to come out of the bullpen against Atlanta. Let’s face it, the Ravens aren’t the kind of club you want to make your NFL debut against — particularly in the final minutes of a game. And this wasn’t just any game, I’ll remind you; it was a game with postseason implications for both sides.

“You always want your second-team quarterback prepared,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “He’s done that since he’s been here. His preparation has been great throughout the whole year.”

So ended another winning week for the Redskins, their fourth straight. Years from now, it will make quite a story, the kind where the teller keeps uttering the words: “And then and then and then.” Those are the best of all.