- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2017

LANDOVER — This wasn’t a game the Redskins could afford to lose if they wanted to be taken seriously as one of the NFL’s contenders. Players preached throughout the week they couldn’t overlook a winless San Francisco 49ers squad.

But nothing is ever guaranteed in the NFL, and the Redskins — thanks in large part to the arm and legs of Kirk Cousins — hung on Sunday for an unexpectedly tight 26-24 win at FedEx Field.

Cousins turned in another gritty performance, running for one touchdown and throwing for two more as part of a 330-yard passing day, including 105 to leading receiver Chris Thompson.

“That’s been big with us this year,” said the Redskins’ running back, who had four catches and added another 33 yards on the ground. “There’s no guys that’s just selfishly worrying about their numbers. Everybody is out there worrying about winning the games.”

There were reasons to worry on Sunday. The Redskins struggled once the 49ers replaced quarterback Brian Hoyer with third-round rookie C.J. Beathard, the grandson of former Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard.

San Francisco, now 0-6, came very close to the upset.

With 19 seconds left and down only 26-24, the 49ers knocked themselves out of field goal range with an offensive interference penalty that pushed them back to the 50-yard line. On fourth-and-20, Redskins cornerback Kendall Fuller grabbed a game-sealing interception with three seconds remaining.

“People know if you play long enough in football, whenever you put the pads on, it’s going to be a competitive day,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “And our guys responded, competed, let them back into the game unfortunately, but they’ve got good players too. We responded and got the victory. That’s all that matters.”

Earlier in the week, Gruden acknowledged the need to get tight end Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder more involved in the offense.

The Redskins raced out to a 17-0 lead in the first half by going repeatedly to those two playmakers. On the first play of the game, Gruden called for a jet-sweep to Crowder for an 11-yard gain. It helped set up an eight-play, 75-yard drive, which resulted in a Josh Doctson touchdown.

Reed, meanwhile, finished with just 37 yards, but caught three of his four receptions at the beginning of the second quarter — when running back Samaje Perine caught his first career touchdown pass to put the Redskins up 14-0.

“Most of those guys, if they’re great competitors, are going to be disappointed in their stat production,” Gruden said. “But I like the way that Kirk is spreading the ball out. … That’s what we’re all about on offense.”

When the 49ers closed the gap, however, the Redskins went to a number of options to keep San Francisco guessing. Crowder and Reed, who was on a pitch count because of injuries, got phased out. Thompson and wide receiver Ryan Grant remained consistent targets.

Cousins connected with Thompson for a 13-yard gain to convert a third down at the start of the fourth quarter, which led to a 21-yard field goal from Dustin Hopkins to put the Redskins up 20-17.

Tight end Vernon Davis, who was facing his former team, had a crucial 51-yard reception with 6:16 left in the fourth quarter. The play was a redemption of sorts for Davis, whose fumble in the third quarter led to a Carlos Hyde touchdown to tie the game.

Gruden’s play-calling caught San Francisco off guard with a read-option play from Cousins for a seven-yard touchdown. Cousins scored with just over three minutes left.

“There were a lot of good decisions, a lot of good plays made, a lot of third down conversions in big moments, a lot of crucial drives where we had to churn the clock and come away with points,” Cousins said. “So I was proud of the way our offense played today.”

The 49ers entered Sunday’s game with four of their five losses by three points or less. They showed why — but the Redskins hung on. For once, the Redskins weren’t happy just to get the victory.

“You can see we’re starting to turn a corner a little bit when you’re not quite as ecstatic as you normally would be after a win,” Gruden said. “I think there are a lot of things we can correct, clean up obviously, but I’m impressed. … I know we can play a lot better.”

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