CHICAGO — Matt Jones nonchalantly flipped the football to the ground and began to get up, hardly thinking about the play that had just unfolded.
On third-and-6, Kirk Cousins rolled out of the pocket and threw a jump ball to Jordan Reed, who tipped the ball into the air. Jones was there to catch it, turning the near-interception into an 18-yard gain.
Then the Washington Redskins’ running back nearly gave the ball to the Chicago Bears’ defense.
Jamison Crowder realized Jones hadn’t been touched yet, so he tried to help Jones up. Jones, who had his back to Crowder, thought a Bears defender had touched him down, and once he put the ball down, Bears safety Adrian Amos lunged for it.
Jones scrambled to pick the ball up and safely secured it at the Bears’ 45-yard line. With 4:09 to play in the fourth quarter, the Redskins avoided a catastrophic turnover and held on for a 24-21 win at Soldier Field.
“I hit the ground and thought, ‘I just made a big play, I’m gonna go run the ball again,’” Jones said. “I wasn’t thinking of nothing else. As soon as I let it go I was like, ‘Shoot, why y’all trying to get the ball?’”
As Jones recounted the play in the locker room, he couldn’t help but laugh. Neither could inside linebacker Will Compton, yet his frantic account of the play made it clear there was nothing funny about it when it happened.
“When Kirk broke it, he did a hell of a job getting out of the pocket,” Compton said. “He looks downfield, everybody is locked up. I’m like, ‘Son of a [expletive], we’re going to have to go back out there. We got to do something.’ He just throws it up and I’m like, ‘For the love of God.’ It tips around, I’m throwing it up, I’m throwing it to Jordan Reed. We still have a good probability. Matt caught it, a sigh of relief, then he put it down. I don’t even know what was happening.”
Even if the Bears had recovered the ball, officials ruled Jones had given himself up on the play. Both Amos and Chicago coach John Fox said that Jones was ruled down. Amos tried scooping the ball up anyway.
Cousins knew it was a dangerous pass, but he also felt confident that the 6-foot-2 Reed had an advantage on the defender.
“I saw Jordan, basically, with his defender’s back turned, and I felt like I could give him what we call an ‘opportunity ball,’” Cousins said. “It’s not perfect, but maybe [it’s] an opportunity to make a play. It’s living dangerously, and I don’t know that you want to do that all the time. You’re going to die by that more than you’ll live by that, but we were fortunate today. Sometimes, to win, you need that kind of thing to fall your way.”