- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2017

LOS ANGELES | The Hollywood Hills rise up in the distance behind the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Up behind the far sideline, the Hollywood Sign seems to peek down into the bowl of the fabled stadium. Of course they make the movies here. 

Los Angeles is defined by the stories that come out of here. The Redskins brought with them all the narrative elements of a Hollywood script  — coach Jay Gruden facing his former protégé in Rams coach Sean McVay, Washington having lost its season opener with tough games on the horizon — they just needed to write it. 

In the fourth quarter, they did. Kirk Cousins led a go-ahead touchdown drive, capped by a pass to unlikely hero Ryan Grant, and linebacker Mason Foster sealed the 27-20 win with an interception. The plot twist? Foster picked off Rams quarterback Jared Goff while playing with a dislocated shoulder. 

“It felt good,” Grant said. “Everyone’s happy. Our goal was to come in here and get the W and that’s what we did.”

To find their happy ending the Redskins needed to learn some lessons. The first was to run the ball, after the ground game escaped them in Week 1 against the Eagles. On Sunday, the Redskins finished with 229 yards on the ground and an average of 5.9 yards per carry. That neutralized some of L.A.’s potent pass rush as the Rams defensive front was forced to play the run.

“Five yards here 10 yards here, 20, five, two, three, as long as it’s going forward, man, the defense, they have to play it,” said left tackle Trent Williams.

It was running back Chris Thompson who scored the Redskins’ first two touchdowns, giving him the team’s first three offensive touchdowns of the season. Thompson scored on a 7-yard rush at the beginning of the second quarter, then on a 61-yard breakaway run less than two minutes before halftime.

“These situations it just shows how we continue to fight together, how close we are as a team and in that third quarter, or offense, we couldn’t get anything going and our defense they just continued to fight,” Thompson said. 

Starting running back Rob Kelley looked on his way to a career game before he injured his rib in the second quarter. He was crushed on the bottom of a pile-up at the end of a run, was initially pronounced questionable, then downgraded to out. Kelley fell on a teammate’s knee and, after the game, wasn’t sure if anything was broken. 

He’d already had what would have been a good game — 12 carries for 78 yards including a 21-yard run that set up a touchdown — in less than two quarters. Once Kelley was out, rookie Samaje Perine worked as the lead back and gathered 67 yards on 21 carries. 

The run game was the foundation of a strong start. Kelley ran hard and took advantage of L.A.’s inside linebackers, and Washington’s offensive line did an excellent job pulling and creating lanes. They had all the momentum, and the chance to go up by two scores in the middle of the second quarter with a 10-0 lead and first-and-goal from the eight. 

Kelley had another positive run for four yards. Then, on second-and-four, the Redskins inexplicably went away from the ground game. Whether it was Jay Gruden’s choice or Cousins’ decision, Cousins threw a corner fade to Doctson, who was slow getting off the line and wound up behind the throw. After another incompletion intended for Thompson, the Redskins settled for a field goal. 

“Anytime you got the ball in your hand every time and I’m the coach, I’m always going to be a little upset that he left some things out there,” Gruden said of Cousins. “But I think he did a good job.”

That field goal wouldn’t have stalled the Redskins on its own, but Jared Goff got the ball back and immediately hit tight end Gerald Everett — a player in the mode of Jordan Reed whom the Rams drafted for new head coach McVay — who took Goff’s pass 69 yards and set up a touchdown for Todd Gurley four plays later.

The big play was a problem. Cousins finished 18-of-27 with 179 yards, while Goff was 15-of-25, but for 244. On the Redskins’ worst defensive drive, they gave up plays of 28, 24 and 18 yards before Gurley hurdled cornerback Bashaud Breeland on his way in for a touchdown in the third quarter. That put the Rams within a field goal, which they got in the fourth, after McVay engineered a fake punt that put his team in the red zone. 

That made it 20-20. Cousins, iffy up to that point, had his chance. He got his team to the red zone, aided by a critical third-down catch by Jamison Crowder and a 23-yard catch and run for Terrelle Pryor. The rookie Perine was put in a big moment, asked to keep the Redskins on schedule, but was stuffed for short or no gain on first and second down. 

On third-and-nine, Cousins hit Grant for the first time all game with an 11-yard touchdown pass. Grant, notorious among fans for his performing during training camp practices but never when it counts, caught the ball and got both feet down in the end zone. 

“Huge throw at the end of the game,” Gruden said. “Throwing to Ryan Grant, Ryan Grant making that big catch at the end of the game.”

His touchdown put the Redskins ahead by the game’s final score and delivered the win against his former coordinator’s team. The Redskins evened their record to 1-1. 

In reality, Week 2 is the beginning of the story. The Redskins avoided an 0-2 hole with games against the Raiders and Chiefs coming up, but still have a long ways to go before they’ve actually accomplished something they’ll be proud of.

Still, Grant did what no one expected him to do, right when his team needed it. Then, Foster finished the job while playing through what must have been immense pain. 

Just like in the movies. 


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