LANDOVER – Just before halftime of the Redskins’ Sunday Night primetime game against the Oakland Raiders, Redskins coach Jay Gruden made a decision. His team faced fourth-and-1 with a minute to go before the half.
Gruden elected to take a delay-of-game penalty and punt instead of going for it. Considering the circumstances – they were getting the ball back to start the third quarter and they were up 14-0 – that’s the call that works out more often than not. Still, considering the circumstances – facing the NFL’s top scoring offense – Gruden’s conservative call seemed like it could come back to haunt him.
A little more than four minutes of game clock later, Josh Doctson was hauling in a 52-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to put the Redskins up 21-0 in the third quarter. What happened next was even more important: the Raiders went three-and-out on the following drive, losing eight yards after Derek Carr was sacked twice. The Redskins outgained the Raiders 472-128 in the 27-10 win and, though the 472 was impressive, the 128 was more important.
“I think it was as good a defensive performance that I’ve seen in a long time by anybody,” coach Jay Gruden said. “To hold that offense with Marshawn [Lynch] and Derek [Carr] and [Michael] Crabtree and Amari Cooper… the list goes on and on.”
It was an outcome predicted by few. Before the game, Raiders fans strolling into the stadium seemed to shake off the jeers of the home team tailgaters with ease. Inside, when the players huddled after warmups, those in silver and black draped their arms around each other and jumped in rhythm. That team has a lot of swagger and a lot of weapons.
Then, kickoff came. The Raiders started with the ball and Carr’s first pass was picked off by Redskins rookie safety Montae Nicholson. All week long, Washington’s coaches had reminded him to read Carr’s eyes on every pass. Carr gets rid of the ball very quickly, but on that pass, Nicholson felt things slow down.
“That was that one time it didn’t really come out quick,” Nicholson said. “So I’m in the field, I’m in the backfield pedaling and I’m reading his eyes and he looks to my side, I’m like ‘There’s no way he’s going to throw this.’ I was kind of showing middle and then got back to my half and when he threw it, instinct just kind of kicked in. See ball, get ball.”
At kickoff, Carr had not yet thrown an interception during the 2017 season. By the end of the game he’d been picked off twice, first by Nicholson and then by cornerback Kendall Fuller in the second quarter. Both times, the Redskins scored touchdowns on the following drives. Running back Chris Thompson scored the first and tight end Vernon Davis the second.
Those two interceptions, plus a late fumble, will go down as Oakland’s only turnovers. An 0-for-11 performance on third downs, however, kept the Redskins offense on the field for over 38 minutes. The Raiders were as ineffective on the ground, where they rushed for 32 yards, as they were through the air, where Carr finished 19-of-31 with 118 yards. Carr was sacked four times. Jonathan Allen, Preston Smith, Junior Galette, Matt Ioannidis and Ryan Kerrigan all got to him.
The rest of that star-studded lineup Gruden mentioned? Lynch ran six times for 18 yards. Cooper had one six-yard catch. Crabtree had one seven-yarder.
Shutting down Cooper and Crabtree was extra sweet for the defense. According to safety D.J. Swearinger, all the defensive players got together on Thursday and one of the topics of the meeting was some trash talk Swearinger had heard coming from the Raiders receivers. Cooper had said that he planned to put up 200 yards against the Redskins defense.
“I told all my DBs, let everybody know, that these guys don’t respect us,” Swearinger said.
Crabtree and Cooper both dropped passes during the game. Each time, Swearinger looked a little extra chirpy.
“I let him [Cooper] know when he dropped the pass across the middle,” Swearinger said. “I mean, don’t write checks your ass can’t cash, you know? Don’t come in here saying you’re going to go for 200, you know?”
Redskins cornerbacks Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland stuck to the left and right sides of the field regardless of where the Raiders receivers lined up, but it didn’t matter. Norman, too, had been irked by Cooper but was on a personal mission to shut down anyone in front of him.
“First and foremost, you don’t come in here and say what you’re going to put up on somebody,” Norman said. “200 yards? He didn’t even catch two balls. Only caught one, huh? So, please, whatever you do do not run your mouth if you’re a wide receiver and you expect to show up on Sundays, cause I’m telling you, we are here and we’re waiting.”
He added that he agreed with Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who went on a famous rant belittling Crabtree after the Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 NFC championship game, when it came to Crabtree.
In all, the Redskins defense provided pretty much everything one could ask for on Sunday, trash talk included. Rookies and veterans contributed. The coverage helped the pass rush and the opposite was true, too.
The Sunday Night Football matchup was billed as a contest between two good, young quarterbacks and good offensive teams. The Raiders entered FedEx Field as the NFL’s highest scoring group, but they left having been trampled by a group that hasn’t done that to opponents very often lately.
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