In what amounted to mid-season playoff game, the Washington Redskins and Chicago Bears squared off on Thursday night to determine which team would stay in the hunt for a wild card berth and which would start thinking about next year. The Redskins, coming off a short and tumultuous week, fought through great adversity to pull out the win, 24-16 in front of the home crowd at FedEx Field.
Going into the game, most would have predicted a loss with Jason Campbell on the sidelines and Todd Collins under center, but the career back up answered the call when Campbell left in the second quarter with a dislocated patella. Collins posted an astonishing 144.6 passer rating, completing 78% of his passes (15-of-20) including two touchdown passes.
One thing of note was the change in philosophy with Todd Collins at the helm. The Redskins stayed aggressive, throwing until the end, unlike the rest of the games in recent memory. Nowhere to be found was three runs in a row followed by a punt. The Redskins looked like a team trying to win, rather than a team trying not to lose. Whether this is an indication that Al Saunders has more confidence in Collins' grasp of the playbook, or whether it was just a philosophical shift that was planned no matter who led the offense is unclear. What is clear is that this offense looked good when going through the air.
As good as the passing attack looked, the rushing attack looked inept in equal measure. It was readily apparent just how much this team has missed Randy Thomas. He was still not at 100%, complaining on the sidelines in the first quarter that his arm pump was ineffective because he couldn't straighten his arm, but he is one of the top pulling guards in the game, and he showed so signs of having lost that talent when he was out in space. Unfortunately, Randy suffered a setback injury to his elbow and left early, never to return.
As far as the backs were concerned, there just aren't many holes to run through, and that is severely hampering Clinton Portis from being the back he can be. He said after the game that he didn't care how bad his stats looked as long as the team wins. The question is, how long can this team win without good numbers from Portis? He carried this team through their 5–0 run in 2005. It doesn't look promising that he will able to do the same in this potential run. Mike Sellers did have an interesting stat line though: one carry, for one yard, with one touchdown.
Gregg Williams had this defense looking like the defense from 2005. Fred Smoot and Shawn Springs were in man-to-man for most of the night—and played spectacularly. Smoot continues to be the emotional leader in the secondary. He went out at the beginning of the second half vomiting blood. Towards the middle of the fourth quarter, Smoot was in the training room getting IV fluids. When he saw the game looked close, he ripped out the needles and made his way out to the field for the final possessions of the game.
On the other side of the field, Shawn Springs had one of his best games of the season. In fact, he wasn't even supposed to play, but he convinced the coaching staff he could go during pregame warm-ups—and boy did he ever. His coverage was tight all night, forcing Bernard Berrian to make fantastic catches in order to gain yardage. He also read Brian Griese's eyes on two occasions, including an interception where he stepped in front of Devin Hester and took the ball 53-yards to the Bears' 21, setting up the Redskins’ first points of the game just before halftime.
Because of the secondary play, the rest of the defense was able to get pressure early and often, not only disrupting the passing attack, but also stuffing the Bear's Adrian Peterson at every turn.
The Redskins' coverage units have been solid all season long, and Thursday was no exception. The stellar coverage combined with a creative kicking game that kept the ball out of the hands of Hester most of the night, helping the Redskins win the field position battle and stop Chicago's most explosive player from making a game-changing play.
On top of the outstanding play on coverage, Rock Cartwright also defied physics by somehow not blocking Brad Maynard's first punt of the game, despite coming through clean on the block. Kedric Golston did block a Robbie Gould field goal attempt. Danny Smith had his players fired up for this one and it showed.
The only dark sport on the evening were two missed field goal attempts by Shaun Suisham. The Canadian was able to make one in the second half when in counted most, and the Skins won, so he will get a pass this week.
And so, the late-season run begins. Going into this weekend, there are three teams ahead of the Redskins at 6–6. The Redskins own the head-to-head tiebreaker against Arizona and Detroit, and have yet to play Minnesota. Winning out would put them in a position to own all three teams. The Redskins are very much in the hunt, just as they were two years ago. Hopefully, the results will be the same—but regardless, it's just nice to be playing meaningful games in December.