September 26, 2016
Sports Insider Weekly
The Redskins avoided a dreaded 0-3 start on Sunday with some divine interceptions – two in the fourth quarter – and five field goals to top the Giants 29-27.
“We needed to get that first win bad,” said cornerback Greg Toler, who played for the injured Bashaud Breeland. “We couldn’t lost the first three, and we hung in there and got some real contributions from everybody. You get everyone stepping up. The coaches street all of us the same, coaches us up whether first-or-second-or-third-or fourth-string like we are all starters.”
It was an unlikely victory, with Washington struggling for most of the first half. A botched punt return on their first possession quickly turned into a 7-0 New York lead. Two more New York (2-1) touchdowns were answered with only field goals. But right before the half, the Redskins seemed to find their rhythm when Kirk Cousins finally led his team into the end zone with a 44-yard TD pass to DeSean Jackson. The second half was a roller coaster ride, with the lead changing five times.
With the Redskins ahead 26-24 at the start of the fourth quarter, Giants quarterback Eli Manning had driven his team deep into Redskins territory when Quinton Dunbar intercepted his pass in the end zone. That play, combined with a negated New York block punt on their next possession, seemed to swing the momentum–and game–in Washington’s favor.
After Dustin Hopkins’ career high fifth field goal, New York got the ball back with less than two minutes left. Trailing by just two points, they needed just a field goal to win. And things looked good: Manning completed an 18-yard pass to Victor Cruz for a first down and over a minute to go. But on the very next play, the Redskins caught a break when Su’a Cravens intercepted the ball to end the drive, and the game.
The victory, the Redskins’ first of the season, has united the team—at least for now. An 0-3 start surely would have evoked a different response; since 1990 only three teams that have lost the first three games of the season have made the playoffs. For now, the Redskins seem resilient, and hopeful that the win will be a harbinger for things to come.
“We got it in us. We are fighters, fighters to the end. Scrapping. Savagery as they come,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “Real gritty, all the way down to the bone and gristle. Fight, fight, fight.”
The Washington Nationals clinched the National East division title on Saturday, winning the honor for the third time in fifth years.
After routing the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1, the Nats officially clinched the division later that evening when the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Mets 10-8 in New York.
“It was more of a team effort. It was everybody. Everybody contributed,” said outfielder Jayson Werth. “You can look at everybody on the team and say that guy’s the reason why we’re here. That’s what good teams are about. We’ve got our potential MVP candidate. We’ve got our potential Cy Young award winner. But everybody’s contributed. ”
The Nationals have been on top for most of the season, so winning the division comes as no surprise. The true test will come in the postseason, when the team has historically struggled. They lost in the first round to the San Francisco Giants in 2014, and last year, missed the playoffs completely.
“It’s very meaningful,” first year Washington manager Dusty Baker said of the situation. “I expected this, you know what I mean? I’ve been here before. And I wanted to celebrate tonight and then get it over with, get back to work, because this is the first step in a four-step process. We like this and we want to do this three more times and then hopefully be the World Champions.”
The Nats will face the L.A. Dodgers in the National League Division Series starting next Friday. Where it will be played is still up in the air, as both teams still have a shot to clinch home field advantage. The Nats will be playing to earn that edge in the final week of the regular season.
For potential Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, the team is ready to play hard and avenge last year’s disappointment. And he believes they have a team that could go all the way.
“We were all pissed,” the pitcher said. “I’m sure all the fans at home were pissed. I was pissed. Because we had a team we knew was capable of winning, and winning in the postseason, winning in October. I believe we have that team again.”