- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 22, 2018

NASHVILLE — Down by a field goal late in the fourth quarter, the Washington Redskins needed their fourth quarterback of the season, Josh Johnson, to make a play with their season on the line.


So much had gone right for the Redskins for most of the afternoon, but now the ball was in Johnson’s hands and Washington counted on him to lead a comeback victory on the road.

He couldn’t.

Johnson was intercepted twice in the final two minutes of Saturday’s 25-16 loss to the Tennesee Titans, including a last-ditch throw that was returned for a touchdown in the remaining seconds.

The Redskins fell to 7-8 and their playoff hopes are now on life support.

“I’m sick for the way in ended for (Johnson) tonight because he really displayed just great poise, courage, effort and leadership,” coach Jay Gruden said.

Washington shouldn’t have needed a heroic drive in the first place — given they led for the most of the afternoon. Instead, the defense collapsed, surrendering a seven-play, 75-yard drive as the Titans — with backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert — took a 19-16 lead.

On that series,  Gabbert, who replaced an injured Marcus Mariota (stinger) before halftime, found a wide-open MyCole Pruitt on a 2-yard play-action pass in the end zone with less than five minutes left. Before that, the Titans had a 35-yard completion and an 18-yard run to move down the field.

The Redskins even had the drive extended when cornerback Fabian Moreau got called for defensive holding.

Washington’s defense played well for large stretches, but couldn’t come through when it mattered most.

Afterward, players on the defensive side of the locker room were despondent. Josh Norman had his jersey still on as reporters were asked to leave after 45 minutes. Linebacker Mason Foster stared off in the distance for a moment.  Safety D.J. Swearinger was angry, ripping the team’s defensive playcalling to reporters.

Our offense, to do what they did, to control the clock the way they did, especially in the second quarter when they just dominated, it’s just very disappointing,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “They did enough for us to win. We did a lot for us to win defensively, but not enough.”

Before then, Washington looked like a team well on their way to an upset against a Titans team also fighting for the playoffs.

Running back Adrian Peterson had a particularly effective day, rushing for 119 yards on 26 carries. He became the oldest player since 1984 to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.


Even Johnson, who went 13 for 23 for 153 yards, remained poised and helped Washington escape difficult situations.


He and Peterson helped engineer a 17-play, 93-yard scoring drive to take a 10-6 lead, capped off with a seven-yard strike to Michael Floyd. At one point on that series, the Redskins faced second-and-27 from their own 2-yard line but Peterson’s 13-yard run and Johnson’s 14-yard pass helped convert the first down.


The Redskins led 10-9 at halftime.


Washington, though, was still in a position to win before Johnson’s two turnovers. The Redskins got the ball back with 4:58 left in the fourth, drove to mid-field and Johnson threw an interception right to Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler with 1:17 remaining.


Gruden, though, said the turnover wasn’t on Johnson, adding wide receiver Josh Doctson ran the wrong route.


“It was a play that we just worked on the wrong side of the field, unforunately,” Gruden said. “We got a corner cat and I think that just throws Josh Johnson a little bit, and I think he saw a flash of Josh Doctson and tried to throw it in there, and Josh (Doctson) wasn’t going the right inside. He was supposed to be an outside breaking route.”


Asked about the play, Doctson only said: “We’re looking forward to the Eagles.”


The Redskins do play the Eagles next week in what could have been a pivotal game for their playoff hopes. Now, they’re not technically eliminated — but could be on Sunday.


If the Minnesota Vikings and either the Eagles or the Seattle Seahawks win on Sunday, then the Redskins will be officially eliminated from the postseason.


“That’s what hurts the most,” Gruden said. “I feel like these guys are putting it all on the line. It’s too bad they couldn’t get it done.”


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