- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2016

DETROIT — The Redskins’ offense that has fumbled and misfired its way through the first halves of games all season long showed up again at Ford Field, allowing a scrappy but overmatched Detroit Lions team to hang around long enough for Matt Stafford to direct a last-minute game-winning drive.

With Josh Norman, Washington’s top cornerback, sidelined with a concussion, Stafford dissected the Redskins’ secondary on the Lions‘ last drive, capping a gritty 20-17 win with an 18-yard strike to veteran Anquan Boldin with 16 seconds left.

The loss ends the Redskins’ four-game winning streak ahead of a matchup next Sunday in London against the 3-4 Cincinnati Bengals, who dispatched their woeful division rivals, the Cleveland Browns, 31-17.

The Bengals will come into the international game with a hot quarterback in Andy Dalton (19 of 28 for 308 yards and two touchdowns) and an even hotter wideout in A.J. Green (8 catches, 169 yards and a touchdown).

The Redskins?

They’ll be flying across the Atlantic with a plane full of questions, including two big ones: Who covers Green if Norman is stuck in the concussion protocol? And how scary is a 9:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time kickoff for an offensive unit that is prone to oversleeping for 1 p.m. starts stateside?

Cousins and an offensive unit that had been held to a single field goal through three quarters woke up in the fourth on Sunday, mounting two touchdown drives to briefly take a 17-13 lead. The go-ahead score came when Cousins took a quarterback read around the right side for 19 yards to cap off a 76-yard march.

Unfortunately, the Redskins left Stafford and the Lions a minute and five seconds to answer.

The Redskins’ second drive of the game foreshadowed a day of offensive struggles. With the ball on the Lions‘ 7, running back Matt Jones fumbled into the end zone. The loose ball was immediately recovered by Lions safety Tavon Wilson.

On the Redskins’ next four drives, on their way to 417-yards of offense on the day, Washington would punch the ball into the Lions‘ territory four times — only to walk away with a single field goal.

“We moved the football, we looked productive in that sense,” Cousins said. “You have to finish. Every play matters. There has to be a focus on every play. You never know which one could be the one that the game turns on. Certainly we feel like we had a few that, if we could get them back, it could have made a difference. But, welcome to playing in the NFL. The margin of error is so small.”

Another Redskins turnover came when Cousins tripped over center Spencer Long’s leg, forcing a shaky handoff to Jones, who never secured the ball.

“[The Lions] had such a great jump on the [snap],” Long said. “When I stepped back, my foot hit Kirk’s. I got to anticipate that [pressure] on a third and one. I’m learning, and I’m going to get better from that.”

After the turnovers, it looked like coach Jay Gruden sat Jones briefly in favor of Chris Thompson, who led Washington with 12 carries. But Jones returned to finish with 27 yards on 10 carries.

“He’s our starting running back, so I’m not going to give up on him for fumbling,” Gruden said. “He’s trying to give extra effort and that’s something we learned last year and that’s something we have to address again. We can’t keep addressing it though, so he’s got to understand the importance of the ball.”

Defensively, the Redskins turned in another good-enough-to-win performance, giving ground grudgingly until Stafford’s heroics in the final minute.

In the first half, Washington limited Detroit to 118 yards, holding Stafford to just 79 passing yards.

But Norman went down in the third quarter on a 52-yard pass reception by Detroit wide receiver Marvin Jones Sr. Norman left the game after banging his head on the Ford Field turf and the Lions went up 10-3 a few minutes later with a one-yard Zach Zenner touchdown that broke a nine-quarter streak in which the Redskins hadn’t given up a touchdown.

“We just did a good job hunkering down in the red zone, which we didn’t do in the second half,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who finished with one sack, said. “But we had good red zone defense in the first half, and that unfortunately didn’t carry over in the second half.”

After another Lions field goal, the Redskins offense finally answered with a nine-play, 75-yard fourth quarter drive, highlighted by a 27-yard reception by tight end Vernon Davis to the 1 yard line. Rookie running back Robert Kelley grabbed a short Cousins pass out of the backfield for his first career touchdown.

On their next possession, Cousins and the Redskins uncorked a nine-play, 76-yard drive that ended with Cousins’ unexpected ramble down the sideline.

Cousins finished 30 of 39 for 301 yards with a TD and a fumble. Thompson led all Redskins running backs with 73 yards rushing on 12 attempts.

Late in the game, Redskins’ cornerback Bashaud Breeland would temporarily leave the game with a left ankle injury.

Stafford finished with 266 yards passing. Stafford said the Lions‘ game plan didn’t change when Norman went down with an injury.

“We were playing their scheme more so than we were their players,” Stafford said. “Obviously, Josh is a really good player, but I was just trying to throw it to the open guy. I wasn’t perfect today, no question. Missed some throws, some stuff I’d like to have back, but we were able to pull it out at the end, which was good.”

The Redskins’ Jamison Crowder led all receivers with 108 yards on 7 receptions. Crowder has slowly emerged as one of Cousins’ top options.

“[Crowder] was really good,” Gruden said. “He kept his poise and moved us down the field and made some big time [catches]. He really did. I think we were nine for 15 on third down today, and he made some big-time players, put us in position to win the game. That’s all he can do.”

For the third straight game, Cousins struggled to find DeSean Jackson, the Redskins’ bona fide downfield threat. Jackson ended his day with five receptions for just 35 yards. Jackson was second on the team with eight targets, but Cousins still can’t seem to find Jackson on deep passes. Jackson doesn’t believe he is getting extra coverage, it’s just a matter of the way the ball is being spread.

“I think everything is just playing out the way it’s going,” Jackson said.

The team has full trust in Cousins, said tight end Vernon Davis, who had six receptions for 79 yards.

“I see the same thing out of Kirk every day I’m around him,” Davis said. “Whether it’s in practice, whether it’s on Sunday, he’s a leader. He’s a leader. You can’t ask for anything more. He comes with a great attitude, he’s always optimistic.”

Cousins was under intense pressure throughout the game — sacked three times and hurried many more.

“They had a good pass rush,” Cousins said. “They did a really good job getting into the backfield. If we’re completing passes — I think I was like 30 of 39 — I may not be going to DeSean or Pierre [Garcon] every time, but we’re completing the football and going to where my read is taking me.”

The loss drops the Redskins to 4-3, tied for last in the NFC East with the New York Giants.

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