Tipped pass gives Redskins reprieve and saves their season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In a stretch when little has gone right, when every break seemingly went the other way, the Washington Redskins finally caught one.

Quarterback Josh Johnson's pass floated down the field, headed toward disaster -- possibly an interception, likely an incompletion. It was a one-score game, but the Redskins needed to show they could close that gap – or their faint playoff hopes would take a bigger hit.

And then the unusual happened: Redskins receiver Jamison Crowder, running down the middle, reached out with his left hand, tipped the ball in the air, turned around and grabbed it as he fell to the ground. Jacksonville Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson was there and looked like he might pick it off, but he didn’t.

A game they looked destined to lose instead ended in a 16-13 win thanks to a last-second 36-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins. The Redskins are still banged up, wounded and snapped a four-game skid. They’re also 7-7 with two games remaining, which means their playoff pulse remains alive. They're only a game out of first place in the NFC East.

They had plenty of reasons to fold; they did not. They have a quarterback in Josh Johnson who started for the first time since 2011 and picked up his first career victory after six starts. He ran for 49 yards and threw for 151, with 71 coming in the fourth quarter when the Redskins needed it most.

But, still, they trailed 13-6 with 8 minutes, 13 seconds left in the game -- and had managed just 164 yards of offense to that point. They needed a break; they got one.

It began with a third-and-15 pass by Johnson under heavy pressure.

Crowder said he wasn’t supposed to be part of the progression based on the coverage. But Johnson wanted to give him a chance. Crowder completed the catch at the Jaguars’ 27-yard line.

“Sometimes you tip the ball and it goes somewhere and you can’t make another play on it,” Crowder said. “It was just one of those plays, man. I guess you can say just one of those lucky plays guys have. I’m glad it was me.”

Johnson, who had waited a long time for this opportunity, wasn’t about to waste the moment.

“What do we really have to lose, you know?” Johnson said. “We can say it was luck or whatever, but I mean, those plays happen in football, that’s what makes the beauty of this sport. You need things like that to go your way every now and then. This team has had enough, even before I got here, with things not going their way. So, to have something go their way is good.”

A sideline full of players who needed some hope got what they wanted.

“It was great to see a play go our way,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.

That wasn’t the only tip that mattered Sunday. The Redskins' winning drive -- running back Adrian Peterson gained all 38 yards -- was set up by an overthrown Cody Kessler pass that was tipped by receiver Dede Westbrook and intercepted by corner Fabian Moreau.

But it was the Crowder play that injected life into a wounded team on its last breath.

“It does give you that feeling like something’s finally going in our favor,” Redskins running back Chris Thompson said. “We’ve had to battle with a lot and that play was huge. If that didn’t happen, I’m not sure how this game would have ended. I guess we got some higher power on our side.”

The Redskins had lost four straight games and five of six. They placed their 18th player on injured reserve Saturday. They were embarrassed at home by 24 points vs. the New York Giants. But by Friday, the Redskins were still a relaxed bunch. The offensive players repeated that they still had hope. The defensive side, meanwhile, was the healthier side physically but not mentally. More players have bickered on that side of the ball; more players have sounded off in a negative way.

There are questions about the job security of the coaching staff and members of the front office. Yet through it all, the players knew how quickly life in the NFL can change. Sometimes it takes one play. Now they can exhale for a moment and savor a win that was more about intestinal fortitude than anything else.

So when Jacksonville took a 13-6 lead Sunday, it was easy to see where this game was headed. The Redskins had played the game most expected on offense, considering Johnson was their fourth starting quarterback this season. But the special teams allowed a blocked punt and a return for a touchdown.

They needed a boost. Crowder came through with one.

The Redskins remain alive, with a 15 percent chance to reach the playoffs as of Sunday evening, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. They have plenty of excuses thanks to injuries. But sometimes a tipped pass ends up in the right place.

“We must be living right,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “It’s an awesome feeling whenever a play like that goes in our favor because we definitely didn’t have that all year. ... We got grit. We got fighters. You can see that this team is never out, never down.”