LANDOVER — A two-handed smack of his helmet followed the second whiff.
Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, without a full sack in the first three games of the season, had missed Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford again. This grab of air instead of body cost the Redskins seven points, which tied the score in the third quarter.
Kerrigan was furious. Hyper self-critical, he had twice missed Bradford in what was becoming a grind of a game in the second half. Ten days after the Redskins’ defense did not disrupt, let alone sack, the New York Giants’ Eli Manning, they were often roaming around Bradford. Yet, he was just out of Kerrigan’s reach.
“It’s frustrating because you miss the layup,” Kerrigan said.
Redemption came later. The highest-paid member of the Redskins’ defense pulled Bradford down with 15 seconds to play to squash the Eagles’ final drive. A sack by Trent Murphy had preceded Kerrigan’s. In the first half, Chris Baker put together the first multi-sack game of his career by corralling Bradford twice in the Redskins’ 23-20 win, helping provide the kind of pressure that had been missing from the Redskins’ defense.
“[The Eagles] did a nice job with the play-actions and the runs to keep us off balance a little bit,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “But you know, when it came time to rush, Murphy got a nice sack and obviously, Kerrigan got a sack. We missed a few sacks that Kerrigan usually gets, but overall, I felt good about the pass rush.”
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Kerrigan was not thrilled afterward, but he could at least cope. Nose tackle Terrance Knighton joked that Kerrigan should have had five sacks. Kerrigan was pleased that the misses did not derail his day, even as he ached from a hip pointer which sent him into the locker room a few minutes before the second quarter ended.
“I’m proud that I didn’t go in the tank, didn’t hang my head, just kept playing,” Kerrigan said. “Believe it or not, those ones where you’re wide open, they’re kind of almost the toughest because your eyes get a little big, you get sidestepped, then you miss a sack. Didn’t hang my head, just kept fighting, and I think that’s what the team really did in general today.”
Frank Kearse was released on Saturday, continuing a trend in which the Redskins part ways with the defensive end in order to address needs at other positions. Defensive tackle Kedric Golston was inactive on Sunday because of a broken left hand. Without those two, the defensive line rotation was shortened, giving Baker more time on the field. He entered the game with 2.5 career sacks, with one in 2013 and one in 2014. Baker, a vociferous celebrator, played to the crowd and danced after each of his takedowns.
Baker is familiar to Philadelphia. Last season, he smashed into then-Eagles quarterback Nick Foles during an interception return. The hit started a fight between Baker and Eagles left tackle Jason Peters that sucked dozens into a shoving match that moved to the sidelines.
“We’re just a confident team,” Baker said. “It’s a different attitude around here. Guys are confident. Instead of thinking that we’re going to win games, we have the attitude that we know we’re going to win.”
On Sunday, after a first-half shutout marked the second time the Redskins have held opponents scoreless in the first half of consecutive games since 1997, there was a third-quarter relent. The Eagles scored 13 points less than seven minutes into the second half. Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper had run by gimpy cornerback Chris Culliver for a 62-yard touchdown reception, undermining the Redskins’ base plan for the day. They wanted to seal the top of the defense to suppress Philadelphia’s deep-shot-based offense. Cooper zoomed by Culliver, then eased into the end zone before help from a safety showed up.
A 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek — aided by the second Kerrigan miss on Bradford — followed four minutes later. The Eagles went back at Culliver in the fourth quarter, this one a 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Miles Austin. The lull in pressure coincided with the strikes from Bradford.
“I think we had a little spurt there — third, early fourth [quarter], where we weren’t getting enough pressure, but you know, we needed to be more consistent,” Gruden said.
The five sacks more than doubled Washington’s total from the previous three games. The Redskins had just four sacks prior. Only four teams had fewer entering the weekend. They also helped give a push to a team that seemed unable to finish of the same type of close games in the past.
“We didn’t blink,” Jason Hatcher said. “You’ve got to play the whole game. That’s what we built this team on in the offseason. Be resilient. That’s what we did all day, you know?
“And, we were able to pull it off right there at the end. Great win. Best win I’ve been a part of since I’ve been here. I’m looking forward to many more like that. That’s a hell of a win.”