LANDOVER, Md. – For a franchise that won the NFC East last season and five of its last seven games entering Sunday night, Washington had a lot to prove as the Green Bay Packers visited FedEx Field.
The national TV audience – or whatever portion still watches NFL games – had been unimpressed recently whenever the burgundy and gold took center stage. Locals hadn’t been thrilled with the primetime showings, either.
But at least our idea of the franchise’s standing is based on weekly observations instead of occasional nights in the spotlight.
Sunday was Washington’s chance to prove these aren’t the same old Skins, an opportunity to show they’re for real against an established, albeit limping, NFL power. Green Bay has reached the playoffs in seven consecutive years but flew in with a three-game losing streak. The Packers departed on the wrong end of a 42-24 blowout as Washington avenged last season’s loss in wildcard round.
The Skins picked a great time to play their best game. That’s usually not the case when they’re part of the only show on the dial. Washington had lost 20 of its last 25 night games and six of eight appearances on Sunday Night Football. It’s no wonder the team’s national reputation is middling, at best.
But nothing about Sunday’s performance was run-of-the-mill.
The offense that moves the ball effortlessly at times, only without the point totals to match, produced a 300-yard passer (Kirk Cousins, 375), a 100-yard rusher (Rob Kelley, 137) and a pair of 100-yard receivers (Pierre Garcon, 116, and Jamison Crowder, 102). Instead of empty yards and a bevy of field goals, Washington put six touchdowns on the board. Three came courtesy of “Fat Rob,” who couldn’t nail Matt Jones to the bench any better with a hammer.
“We thought Rob deserved an opportunity,” coach Jay Gruden said of inserting the undrafted free agent in the starting lineup two games earlier. “Nobody knew exactly what was going to happen but we had high hopes. It’ll be tough to get him out of there now.”
Washington looked like a genuine offensive juggernaut Sunday. Admittedly, Green Bay has that effect on opponents: The Packers had yielded at least 400 yards and 30 points in four of their previous six games. The defense’s cheese of preference obviously is Swiss, but that doesn’t negate the Skins’ dominating performance.
Fans had seen glimpses of Washington’s potent offense all season; now the entire world has seen it. “We feel good about our personnel, that’s for sure,” Gruden said. “We just feel like we needed to put it together.”
For a while, this appeared to be another Skins game that would came down to the final possession, though even that would’ve helped Washington’s lackluster image. Green Bay pulled to within 22-17 as the final quarter began. Aaron Rodgers was heating up after a frigid start that matched the 38-degree temperature.
This was the point where the national audience couldn’t be blamed for expecting the Skins to fold. But Washington flourished instead, formulating a fantastic fourth-quarter finish.
The Skins did it with bombs – a 70-yard touchdown pass to Garcon and a 53-yarder to Crowder, who was tackled just short of the goal line. They did it with a dash – Kelley broke free for a 66-yard run to the 4-yard line. And they did it with defense – cornerback Josh Norman forced a fumble that essentially sealed the outcome and linebacker Martell Spaight padded the takeaway margin with an interception in the closing seconds.
The schedule maker did the Skins no favor by slotting them play on Sunday night before a Thanksgiving matchup at Dallas. A normal 1 p.m. start would’ve given the team at least eight additional hours to rest and recover for the quick turnaround. The Cowboys not only played at 1 p.m. but they played at home, too, presumably watching as Washington’s Dustin Hopkins kicked off in the cold, windy night.
With a resounding victory to move them up in national power rankings, the Skins will head to Dallas as a more credible team. They’ll be viewed as a threat to contend with the Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks, apparently the class of the NFC. Washington still has a long way to go before it’s considered on equal footing, but it took a huge step on “Football Night in America.”
“It feels good,” defensive end Chris Baker said. “I think they were saying we were 0-7 in our last primetime games. We’re finally 1-7 now – looking forward to going to 2-7 when we play Dallas in a couple of days.”
Technically, that’s not a primetime game but just roll with him.
The point is, the nation will be watching with a new view.