- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2017

LANDOVER — After two embarrassing, one-sided losses in which their preparation was constantly questioned, defensive lineman Anthony Lanier said the Redskins “needed to stand tall together as one.”

Despite being officially eliminated from the playoffs, Lanier was one of the many players following the Redskins’ 20-15 victory Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals who talked about the need to play with pride.

Against the Cardinals, the Redskins, for once, seemed to be on the same page.

“Today, we came together and we overcame the odds of everybody thinking we were out of it,” said Lanier, who had two sacks and three pass deflections.

Still, the Redskins almost blew it.

With 23 seconds left, safety D.J. Swearinger broke up a pass intended for Larry Fitzgerald — ending a would-be game-winning Cardinals’ drive at the Redskins’ 21-yard line.

Washington stuck to its assignments on defense, looking more like the disciplined team from the first half of the season than the one giving up points by the bushel over the last two weeks.

The Redskins finished with a season-high five sacks.

On Sunday, the Redskins held the Cardinals without a touchdown.

The Cardinals had plenty of chances — taking six trips to the red zone — but the Redskins forced them to settle for five field goals.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said his team’s defense was the “story of the day.”

“Guys made some plays — pass rush got there, we stopped the running game for the most part and held them out of the end zone, which is the most important thing,” Gruden said. “I think everybody’s relieved.” Facing Blaine Gabbert behind center on the opposite side of the line probably helped.

Gabbert, the Cardinals’ third-string quarterback to start the season, was absolutely awful against the Redskins, completing just 16 of his 40 passes for 197 yards. Gabbert constantly missed throws and couldn’t avoid pressure behind a decimated offensive line.

The Redskins were able to generate a constant pass rush for the first time since Thanksgiving. Lanier and linebacker Preston Smith both had big games.

On Arizona’s first third down of the game, Lanier strip-sacked Gabbert and Washington recovered the ball at the 6-yard line. Two plays later, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins found Jamison Crowder for a 5-yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead with 13:30 left in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Smith dropped into coverage and came away with an interception at Washington’s 8-yard line, preventing a Cardinals score before the half. The Redskins led 14-9 at halftime despite having the ball for just 6:34 of the time.

The Redskins’ offense, meanwhile, struggled for most of the day despite Cousins going 18-for-26 with 196 yards. Washington was just 1 of 9 on third down, and it couldn’t capitalize on two longer drives in the second half.

Washington’s lone highlight on offense came in the first quarter when running back Kapri Bibbs — who was just activated to the 53-man roster on Tuesday — scored on a 36-yard touchdown on a beautifully designed screen pass, taking a 14-3 lead in the first quarter.

The Redskins’ only points in the second half came off two field goals from kicker Dustin Hopkins, who played for the first time since Oct. 15.

Still, the Redskins played all 60 minutes with a lead — something that’s been a challenge this season.

Was this a matter of the Redskins “being prepared?”

Not entirely, Gruden said.

“Everybody had a desire,” Gruden said. “Sometimes you can prepare well and not play well. Those are two different things. I think everybody has to understand the difference between preparing and playing well. For the most part, our guys give great effort.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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