LANDOVER, Md. -- Less than a yard dictated the future of the Washington Redskins' season. Three plays that could reshape a season-gone-bad. Or, perhaps, lead to an unofficial elimination loss, followed by weeks of frustration and speculation. Which is not what anyone in the Redskins' organization had in mind just two months ago.
Still, that's what the Redskins faced when the San Diego Chargers lined up with a first and goal inside the 1-yard line. Moments earlier, Danny Woodhead dove for the pylon, missing by inches as the replay showed. But with all sorts of momentum, San Diego was in good shape with 21 seconds and two time outs.
Here's how the Redskins responded: stopping Woodhead – really? – for no gain; defending a fade route to tight end Antonio Gates; leaving no one open for Philip Rivers on a sprint rollout to the right.
Yes, San Diego punctuated the drive with a field goal to send the game into overtime as the Redskins blew a 10-point lead.
The offense responded with a 78-yard drive to win the game in overtime, a 30-24 victory that left them at 3-5 and with a pulse.
“That was a big-time stand and a big-time drive by the offense,” Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. “You know it can be some momentum for us, big-time momentum for us. It says there's a lot of fight in this team.”
And it might have saved the season.
“Maybe. We'll see,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “This was a must win. We're not going to say that [before the game] but it was a must win for us. We needed this game. It was remarkable the way our guys fought.”
They needed to fight, with a game that had slipped away and a season that was in danger of doing the same. The Redskins can point to last year all they want, but had they fallen to a 2-6 record they would have been alive only mathematically. Now? They still need to win consecutive games before they can think they're back in any race.
But the goal-line stand and subsequent overtime drive gave them a chance. "The way we won the game, that can be a turning point for us," Griffin said. "It’s definitely a team bonding type game."
Woodhead went nowhere on first down and the fade to Gates, whose route was thrown off by a hard jam from corner DeAngelo Hall, was too long. On third down Rivers sprinted right, no one was open and he threw incomplete to the back of the end zone to Keenan Allen. The Chargers tied the game; the Redskins celebrated. Or, at least, exhaled.
“It's a confidence builder, definitely,” Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen said. “It was do or die man. Guys stood up man and everyone did their job. That's why we were able to be successful.”
“A character building situation,” Hall said.
It needed to happen. Perhaps what the Redskins needed was a game in which they were tested this way, forcing a prove-yourself moment. They made plenty of mistakes on this drive, miscues that could have cost them the game. They came through when needed.
“Anybody else would have folded,” Orakpo said. “Your first and one on the goal line. They converted big play after big play. Momentum was swinging to their side. You could hear the gasps in the stadium with our fans and everybody really not sure. We looked in each other's eyes and just made sure that, look they do not score; they will not cross the goal line. It was remarkable, one of the best situations I've been in in a while.”
It kept their season off life support. They're still alive.