- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2018

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — What, you didn’t have “Josh Johnson quarterbacks game-winning drive over disappointing Jaguars team” in the preseason pool?

Though some might summarize Sunday’s game as a bad team squeaking out a win over a bad opponent, the result meant the Washington Redskins have something to look forward to for the holidays.

The Redskins, who hadn’t won since Nov. 11 and started their fourth quarterback of the season, kept their playoff hopes alive and kicking with a last-second field goal to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 16-13, Sunday at TIAA Bank Field.

In his sixth career NFL start and first since 2011, Johnson went 16-for-25 for 151 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, while also gaining 49 yards on nine runs. It was the journeyman’s first career win as a starter.

Down 13-6 early in the fourth quarter, Johnson engineered a 10-play, 68-yard drive for the Redskins‘ only touchdown of the game. It was buoyed by a 33-yard catch on 3rd and 15, where Jamison Crowder tipped a pass to himself and caught it. Tight end Jeremy Sprinkle later caught the 6-yard score.

On the next drive, Jacksonville quarterback Cody Kessler overthrew a deep pass through the hands of a jumping Dede Westbrook, and Fabian Moreau intercepted it. The takeaway set up the Redskins for a late drive, carried by Adrian Peterson and capped by Dustin Hopkins’ 36-yard game-winner.

“Great job by the defense getting the interception, putting us in position, and AP (Peterson) — Hall of Fame running backs do what Hall of Fame running backs do: close games,” Johnson said.

In the pressure cooker known as the NFL in December, Washington snapped its four-game losing streak. The Redskins (7-7) weren’t eliminated from the NFC East race Sunday, as the Dallas Cowboys lost and dropped to 8-6.

“At the end of the day, we just had to find a way,” Johnson said. “When it comes down to December around this time of real football — ‘cause this is real football — you just got to start finding a way to win, and then you start building off that.”

Ryan Kerrigan’s strip-sack on the first drive of the game provided an early spark of hope that the defense would return to form, even though Washington couldn’t capitalize with points. The Redskins stumbled into a 46-yard field goal on their second drive and maintained a 3-0 lead for most of the first half.

The defense picked apart Jacksonville’s line in the first half — Kerrigan’s was one of four sacks in the half, including two from Jonathan Allen. But after the Jaguars drew even 3-3, Washington special teams mistakes created a wild shift in field position and an unexpected score.

Jaguars punter Logan Cooke uncorked a 63-yard punt from his end zone that Maurice Harris wasn’t ready for. He backpedaled and muffed the ball, ruining Washington’s chance at good field position.

One quick three-and-out later, Westbrook returned Tress Way’s punt 74 yards for a touchdown in the final seconds of the half. The gaffe featured Byron Marshall failing to see a clean opportunity to tackle Westbrook.

But the Redskins‘ defense put their recent woeful performances behind them and held the Jaguars to three points in the second half. It also did not allow Jacksonville an offensive touchdown and kept Kessler to 57 passing yards.

“Other than the two plays at the end of the half on special teams, our defense kept us in it and just did enough for us to stay close,” coach Jay Gruden said. “And then Josh made enough plays and people around him made enough plays to get the victory. Total team effort, but hats off to the defense. They played hard today.”

The Redskins came out of the locker room after halftime with a solid response: A 16-play scoring drive, though it ended with just another field goal.

While the Jaguars didn’t necessarily exploit Washington’s defense in any way, they accidentally found their most effective weapon: Kessler running out of the pocket. After scrambling four times for 44 yards in the first half, Kessler was able to rip off a 21-yarder early in the fourth quarter. By day’s end, none of Kessler’s six carries were designed runs, yet he was the game’s leading rusher with 68 yards.

Jacksonville tacked on a field goal to go up 13-6 with 11:16 left in the fourth, leading to the Redskins‘ game-tying drive with Crowder’s sneaky catch. It was initially unclear whether Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson got a hand on it, whether Crowder tipped it or whether they both got a piece of it.

“I feel like I tipped it. I got much of the football, and the ball just kind of hung in the air right there,” Crowder said. “I was able to just put my foot in the ground and get back to it. I kinda stumbled when I caught it. I wish I would’ve stayed up so I probably could’ve extended the play a little bit more.”

It was a lucky break for Washington, a team that had had precious few of them, but Peterson also gave Crowder credit for the skill required for the difficult catch.

“You know what type of focus it takes to be able to — the ball gets batted and you have to turn around and lock in and catch that ball? He was dialed in, and that’s what it’s gonna take for us to accomplish the things that we want to accomplish,” Peterson said.

It was the Redskins‘ 600th regular season win in franchise history. They are the fifth team to reach that mark, after the Bears, Packers, Giants and Steelers.

This Saturday, they will play at the Tennessee Titans looking for No. 601 — now with a foot more firmly set in the NFC playoff race.

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