Sunday it was Richard Crawford. In 2005, it was Antonio Brown. Name ring a bell? It’s OK if it doesn’t.
Frankly, there isn’t a whole lot to remember Brown for. He was an undrafted kick returner out of West Virginia, a guy who gravitated to the Washington Redskins from the Buffalo Bills. In 2005, he was in his third and final season in the NFL — seasons that were mostly nondescript, except for one game. In Week 14 that year at Arizona, with the Redskins trailing the Cardinals 13-10, he returned a kickoff 91 yards for the winning touchdown. It was the only TD he ever scored in the league.
It also was one of the biggest plays in the Redskins’ playoff run, one that saw them reel off five straight victories to earn a wild-card berth. And now Richard Crawford, a last-round draft pick who had been inactive since early October, has done much the same thing, running back a punt 64 yards in overtime to help beat the Baltimore Ravens and keep his team on the playoff path. Oh, yes: Crawford’s heroics came in Week 14, too.
This is what happens when a club is on a roll. It starts getting contributions from obscurities such as Antonio Brown and Richard Crawford. That’s the thing about these phenomena: There’s no predicting — never mind explaining — some of the events that take place, some of the stars that emerge.
Take 2007, the last time the Redskins made the playoffs with another improbable run (from 5-7 to 9-7). It began with a win over the Chicago Bears, a win in which Jason Campbell was injured and backup quarterback Todd Collins rode to the rescue. Collins hadn’t thrown a pass in a regular-season game in three years — and had thrown only 27 in the previous decade — when he ran on the field that night. He was 36, a career clipboard holder. As it turned out, though, he was more than ready for his close-up. He led the team to three more victories, enough to secure a wild-card spot.
Fast-forward to Sunday’s game against the Ravens. Who’s that running in from the Washington sideline to save the day after Robert Griffin III hobbled off? Why, it’s none other than a backup quarterback, Kirk Cousins. The only difference between veteran Collins and rookie Cousins is that Todd is old enough be, well, Kirk’s half-brother by his mother’s first marriage. (Bonus points, by the way, if you recalled that Rex Grossman, the Redskins’ current No. 3, started at QB for the Bears in that ‘07 game.)
When a club is on a roll, players do things they’ve never done before — and might never do again. In the next-to-last week of ‘05, for instance, Chris Cooley burned the Dallas Cowboys for three touchdown catches in a 35-7 win. He’s never had more than one in any other NFL game. Collins, meanwhile, never played quarterback better than he did down the stretch in ‘07 (63.8 percent completions, zero interceptions, 106.4 rating).
There are plenty of parallels between Now and Then if you know where to look for them. Such as:
• The Redskins’ five-game streak in 2005 began against the St. Louis Rams, whose QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick, was starting his first pro game. The Redskins’ current four-game streak began against the Philadelphia Eagles, whose quarterback, Nick Foles, was starting his first pro game. (The major distinction between the two is that Fitzpatrick went to Harvard and Foles went to Arizona, the Harvard of Tucson.)
• Alfred Morris, production-wise, has been doing a pretty good imitation of Clinton Portis in ‘05. During the win streak, Portis rushed for 136, 105, 112, 108 and 112 yards. In the past three victories, Morris has rushed for 113, 124 and 122.
You could even compare the touchdown catch tight end Todd Yoder had in the ‘07 Bears game (his only score of the season) to the TD catch tight end Niles Paul had in the Cowboys game three weeks ago (his only score of the season so far). In fact, if you rearrange the letters in “Niles Paul,” you get — aw, I’m just messin’ with ya.
Ever since he came to Washington in 2009, Mike Shanahan has been trying to string some wins together like this. Until now, two in a row is the best he’s been able to do. The franchise can’t turn the corner, though, until winning starts to become a habit, and in the past four games, there’s been evidence of that — in ways bizarre (RG3’s Forward Fumble for a touchdown against the Giants), extraordinary (Kai Forbath being perfect on the first 14 field goal tries of his career) and record-setting (Griffin’s back-to-back games with four TD passes, a first for a rookie).
Cleveland is next — a trap game if there ever was one. The Browns are 5-8 and, since they just got a new owner, probably have a lame-duck coach (Pat Shurmur). Somehow, the Redskins have to find a way to keep it going, to ride this wave as far as it will take them. As we’ve seen, a little luck and a dash of pixie dust never hurt.