- The Washington Times
Sunday, December 5, 2021

LAS VEGASWashington’s fourth kicker of the year needed just three points. Three points to grab the team’s fourth straight win.

So, when Brian Johnson lined up for his first field goal in a Washington uniform, he was asked to make a 48-yarder with just over 40 seconds left. No pressure, right? 

No problem.

Johnson made the clutch kick to give Washington a hard-earned victory Sunday, 17-15, against the Las Vegas Raiders — keeping the Burgundy and Gold’s win streak alive in the process. The Bethesda, Maryland, native was signed less than a week ago after kicker Joey Slye went on injured reserve with a hamstring. 

Johnson, who ironically grew up a Baltimore Ravens fan, delivered in a pressure-filled moment to improve Washington to 6-6. The victory puts Washington back at .500 for the first time since Week 4. He arrived in Ashburn fresh off the Bears’ practice squad and a stint with the New Orleans Saints.

“Not many people on the team really knew his name this week, coming in,” quarterback Taylor Heinicke said of Johnson. “He made a big name for himself today.” 

“It was insane,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said he didn’t think of the gravity of the situation when he was sent out onto the field. While this was his first field goal attempt, Johnson noted he had two other extra point attempts — both makes — to get loose. But that didn’t stop others from feeling the tension. “Hell yes, I (was) nervous,” defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said. 

Allen’s nerves were understandable. Beyond Johnson’s relative anonymity — at 22 years old, the Virginia Tech product is a rookie — Washington again found itself in a nail-biting, back-and-forth affair. Heinicke again had to overcome a horrific mistake to get Washington into field goal range.

As he did in Week 2 against the New York Giants, Heinicke threw a fourth-quarter interception that led the opposing team to take the lead with a go-ahead field goal. This time, it was the Raiders’ Daniel Carlson who made a 37-yarder to give the Raiders a 15-14 lead with 2:22 left. 

But Heinicke has rarely lost his cool in the year since joining the Burgundy and Gold. And for the fourth time this season, Heinicke led a game-winning drive. Against the Raiders, Heinicke connected with tight end John Bates, wideout Adam Humphries twice and running back Antonio Gibson to get his team into field goal range. 

“I love that dude,” linebacker Cole Holcomb said. “Man, Heinicke he’s a lil’ baller. He’s a grinder. Doesn’t matter what happens, he goes out there and slings it. If he throws a pick, he shakes it off and let’s go.”

“He keeps showing you why he needs to be our quarterback,” Allen said. 

As a whole, Washington has overcome a 2-6 start to the season in part because players have shown they can handle adversity. The defense largely limited the Raiders to field goals — and when it did surrender a touchdown, the unit held firm on Las Vegas’ two-point attempt. The defense also prevented the Raiders from completing a couple of last-ditch Hail Marys as time ran out.

Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis said that in this win streak, Washington has started to form an identity. That’s become clear over the last month as Washington has paired a run-heavy offense with a stout defense. 

If there’s a downside to that approach, it’s that the margin for error is slim. Though Washington ran 30 times for 112 yards on Sunday and controlled time of possession, it failed to seize control — letting the Raiders linger all game. During this streak, Washington has had to stave off late pushes from Tampa Bay, Carolina, Seattle and now Las Vegas. All four victories have come by a combined 20 points. 

“Oh trust me, we’d like that as well,” Heinicke laughed when asked if the team had ever thought about winning a “normal” game.

But that’s the thing: Washington is still finding ways to win. And they’re playing well, all things considered. 

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, for instance, is 6-0 this season when throwing for at least 300 yards. But on Sunday, Washington’s defense held Carr to just 249 passing yards — and the Raiders had only 298 yards total.  The Burgundy and Gold’s defense has continued to show growth, even with the absence of some of its best players in safety Landon Collins (foot) and edge rushers Chase Young (ACL) and Montez Sweat (jaw).

Not only has Washington jumped back into the playoff race — currently the NFC’s sixth seed — but the team accomplished its goal of being within striking distance of the NFC East when Washington closes the season with five straight division games. That run starts next week when Washington hosts Dallas, up two games in the East. 

“They are resilient,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “And they bounce back. … If you just give us a chance, then we’ll see what happens. That’s the biggest thing what you saw (against the Raiders).”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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