- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 20, 2014

It looked like a two-man show, Mark Sanchez and Zach Ertz, the quarterback and tight end, nickel-and-diming the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense down the field as the outcome of Saturday’s game against the Washington Redskins hung in the balance.

That was, at least, until Bashaud Breeland got in the way.

Breeland intercepted Sanchez with 1:31 remaining, snagging a ball intended for wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to turn possession back over to Washington’s offense.

“What can you say? That dude has ice-cold veins, man,” defensive end Stephen Bowen said. “Play of the year.”

That allowed Washington to traverse 50 yards to the Eagles’ 8-yard line, where Kai Forbath made a 26-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining for a 27-24 victory.

Sanchez had thrown five consecutive passes to Ertz, who set a team record with 15 catches for 115 yards, and completed all but one of them to guide the Eagles to Washington’s 48-yard line. There, facing third-and-4, his pass to Maclin was behind his receiver — but not too far for Breeland, who scooped it up with his right hand and fell on top of it.

“I’m ready every play, because that’s one of their main receivers, so I’m thinking that he’s getting the ball just about every play,” Breeland said.

The play was similar to the one Breeland made in the Redskins’ previous game against the Eagles on Sept. 21, when the score was tied at 27 early in the fourth quarter. A video review of that play overturned the ruling on the field, giving possession back to the Eagles and setting them up for a go-ahead touchdown pass minutes later in a game they would eventually win.

There was no reversal on Saturday, when officials, upon review, upheld the call on the field. Six plays later, the Redskins’ offense marched to Philadelphia’s 8-yard line, where Kai Forbath made a 26-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining to put Washington ahead, 27-24.

“It’s a huge play — a huge play by a guy that’s really been extremely good for us all year,” free safety Ryan Clark said.

Clark nearly had an interception himself, biting on a pass intended for Ertz two plays earlier before the ball ricocheted off his hands. That play was the first of three in which defensive coordinator Jim Haslett called a Cover-0 scheme — an all-out blitz, with man coverage in the defensive backfield — with Clark assigned to Ertz and Breeland responsible for Maclin.

The Redskins tried to disguise their coverage on the ensuing play, but a hard count by Sanchez forced Clark to cheat toward the line of scrimmage, leading to the quarterback dumping the ball to Ertz in the right flat for a 6-yard gain.

On third-and-4, the blitz paid off. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan pushed back right tackle Lane Johnson enough to cloud Sanchez’s throwing lane, and his quick toss to Maclin on a hook in the right slot was low, giving Breeland a chance to make the play.

“He’s made some big plays this season,” Kerrigan said. “It’s just a great play by him.”

A rookie pressed into service in that first game against Philadelphia when DeAngelo Hall tore his left Achilles’ tendon, Breeland’s only other interception happened on Oct. 19 in the Redskins’ victory over Tennessee.

Coaches and teammates have routinely praised Breeland for his physical, aggressive style of play — even over the past week, when he was flagged for five penalties totaling 70 yards in a loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

His knowledge of the Redskins’ defense has allowed him to match up with receivers on the outside — or, as he did Nov. 23 at San Francisco, against those lined up in the slot. Before his junior year at Clemson, Breeland had even learned how to play safety in their scheme, but plans to move him to the position were scuttled because of injuries.

“We always mess with him about his hands, though — if he catches some of the passes he dropped this year, he’s a Pro Bowler,” Clark said. “I think he’s that caliber of player. It’s exciting to see that he constantly wants to compete. If he doesn’t make a play when he feels like he has an opportunity, he’s upset about it, and that’s the kind of player that you love playing with.”

The Redskins, who improved to 4-11 by snapping a six-game winning streak, have cycled through a variety of players on defense — many unproven, several since discarded.

Breeland, though, has been a standout through 15 games, with coach Jay Gruden noting after Saturday’s game that in some respects, some on defense have begun to consider him as a leader.

“This guy is a great competitor,” Gruden said. “He wants all the action. He doesn’t want to have any safety help. He wants to be manned up, and that’s the type of guy he is — very tough, very physical. He obviously came up huge for us today.”

• Zac Boyer can be reached at zboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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