CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Derrius Guice galloped through an opening in the offensive line for some positive yardage. It looked to be just another good run on a day full of them — until he stiff-armed linebacker Shaq Thompson to the ground.
“I just broke the arm tackle and he was the first guy there,” Guice said. “And my first instinct is to just, like, punch him and see what’s up.”
The second-year running back then scurried toward the front-left pylon with only James Bradberry to beat, and he nearly dragged the defender into the end zone. The referees later ruled that Guice had stepped out a half yard short, but it didn’t matter — Guice scored on the next play, and the way the Redskins ran on Sunday, it was only a matter of time.
The Redskins won a slow and bruising game over the Carolina Panthers, 29-21, thanks to pounding Guice and Adrian Peterson up the gut for the franchise’s most prolific rushing game since 2012 and its best defensive game of the season.
Washington finished with 248 yards on the ground, led by Guice with 129 and a pair of touchdowns. Peterson added 99 yards and a fourth-quarter insurance touchdown that proved to be vital. The defense contained Christian McCaffrey, the NFL’s leading rusher entering Sunday, to just 44 yards on the ground and kept him out of the end zone.
It was quite the unlikely turnaround after the Panthers stormed out to a 14-0 lead, scoring two easy touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game.
The Redskins improved to 3-9, and the only reason they aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoff race yet is the decline of the division-leading Dallas Cowboys. Nobody was talking playoffs in the visitors’ locker room Sunday, but the two-game winning streak got players fired up.
“It feels great,” Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins said. “I come from a winning program, I come from a winning background, and of course the more we win the better it feels and the more you want to win and go out there, compete (with) every team we play. Of course we would like to win the rest of the season, but one game at a time.”
With the running game working, Haskins once again wasn’t asked to do much. He finished 13-for-25 for 147 yards, throwing neither a touchdown nor an interception. He missed some open receivers throughout the game but also completed some tricky passes to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle.
Carolina made one final push late in the game when quarterback Kyle Allen scrambled for a 17-yard touchdown to cut the Redskins’ 15-point lead down to eight.
Carolina’s Jermaine Carter Jr. recovered the ensuing onside kick that bounced straight through a cluster of Redskins along the near sideline. Before long, the Panthers drove to the 1-yard line, where they had first and goal. But Washington stuffed McCaffrey on two straight runs, Quinton Dunbar made sure a third-down chuck to the end zone went incomplete, and back-up linebackers Chris Odom and Nate Orchard chased Allen backward almost 30 yards for a sack and fumble on their last-chance play.
“To make those types of stops and back them up and make the tackles for losses and then the concluding sack of the game, I couldn’t be more proud with what (defensive coordinator) Greg (Manusky) did with the unit and how they came back in the second half and played hard with good resolve,” interim coach Bill Callahan said.
It took Carolina less than 10 minutes into the game to complete two smooth drives that ended in red-zone touchdown passes to Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore. Late in the quarter, Guice burst through for a 60-yard run, but the Redskins only managed a field goal. Knowing how they started the season, everything felt like it was setting up for Carolina to win handily.
That’s not what happened at all. Down 14-6 in the second, Tress Way punted and pinned the Panthers at their own 2-yard line. Allen tossed a pass askew and Fabian Moreau snagged it, returning it inside the one, where Guice punched in his first touchdown.
The Redskins nearly converted a two-point conversion from there, with Sprinkle diving for a pass at the goal line, but it was ruled incomplete upon review, making it 14-12 Carolina at halftime.
After another field goal put the Redskins ahead, Guice broke through for his 38-yard “Beastquake”-esque run and ensuing touchdown in the fourth quarter. He handed the ball to starting left guard Ereck Flowers to spike.
Was it a premeditated nod to the offensive line helping the ground game work so well?
“He asked,” Guice said. “He was like, ‘Can I spike it?’ I said sure.”
Peterson scored on the next Washington possession, when it appeared that the Panthers’ defense had all but given up on the day. Sunday marked the first game all season that Peterson, Guice and Chris Thompson were active for the same game.
“It seems like we found the right recipe,” Peterson said. “Me and Guice just talked throughout the game like, ‘Hey, when you’re in there you do your thing.’ We have a signal if we need each other to come in, and if not we will just let that guy spin, especially if he has a roll going.”
Failing to cover the Panthers’ onside kick hurt Washington’s momentum and injected some drama into the last minutes of the game. Callahan called it “concerning” that there was a missed assignment on the play and no Redskin went for the ball.
But the defensive stand in the closing seconds ensured that Washington would not find a new way to lose a game in a season full of “L’s.”
“It was definitely a shocker,” Montez Sweat said of Carolina’s onside recovery forcing the defense back onto the field. “But that excites us. We excel in those moments and we love to do that.”