By DERON SNYDER
Before Washington took the field against Seattle, the verdict was in on coach Jay Gruden’s team. It was gritty and resilient, filled with toughness and strong character.
There were no signs of surrender like the New York Giants exhibited earlier Sunday in a 51-17 drubbing against the Los Angeles Rams. You almost couldn’t blame the Skins if they felt defeated during the opening kickoff. They were so banged up entering the game at CenturyLink Field, they didn’t fill the allotment (46) for active players, falling three shy.
Washington could’ve fielded a 7-on-7 team with the injured starters who were inactive
But they fought anyway. Not like the skirmishes that marred other games around the league, but in the classic sense. The team song implores them to “fight for old D.C.” and that’s exactly what Washington did for 60 minutes against one of the league’s best squads.
To be clear, the Seahawks were a reliable kicker away from winning. Washington gained just 244 yards while yielding 437. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was sacked six times and the rushing attacked mustered a meager 2.2 yards per carry.
This wasn’t a beautiful, stylistic fight. But it was a sweet and savory victory, primarily produced by the less-sexy side of the ball.
“Our pass rush and coverage on defense was outstanding,” Gruden told reporters after the 17-14 win. “The offense sputtered, and we couldn’t really run the ball and we couldn’t protect. But when it counted, when the Seahawks took the lead, Kirk had two outstanding passes and guys made plays.”
The offense didn’t just sputter. It wheezed and gagged and coughed for most of the game. There was a 13-play, 71-yard drive that culminated in the game’s first touchdown, and a 57 yards march in seven plays for a Nick Rose field goal. But that was extent until the heroics began with 1:34 left in the contest.
Deep in your heart, you didn’t expect Washington to go the length of the field for a go-ahead touchdown. You weren’t counting on Cousins to stand and deliver – a split-second before two rushers sandwiched him – to drop a beautiful pass over Brian Quick’s left, uh, no, right shoulder.
And you certainly didn’t anticipate Josh Doctson laying out to catch a pass one foot off the ground after beating his man on a go route. On high-degree-of-difficulty receptions this year, Doctson hasn’t come up with all of them; but he’s showing the potential to raise his percentage considerably.
The talk among casual observers afterward dwelt on the game-winning drive, how Cousins scored another blow against his skeptics. He won in arguably the league’s most hostile environment, minus his two favorite targets (Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder), behind a line of ragtag replacements.
But everyone who watched the entire game knows that would’ve been impossible if not the team’s near-perfect performance when Cousins & Co. sat on the bench.
“I told the defense, ‘We have to lean on you a little while until we get out guns back,’” Gruden said. “The defense kept us in the game. If they hadn’t stood up so well, play-in and play-out, that game could’ve gotten away from us.”
The season easily could’ve followed. Instead, there’s hope at 4-4, with supposedly easier sledding ahead in the second of the schedule. Safety DeAngelo Hall warned against concluding that the gut check/confidence boost will automatically carryover down the stretch. “Each game is its own challenge,” he said.
Getting a handle on this team, especially on offense, is another challenge. Will the running game ever re-emerge? Can the wideouts be consistent threats? How many more emergency starts are necessary along the O-line?
Entering 2017, the defense was thought to be improved, but still the weaker link. That assessment has proved to be questionable. The unit isn’t spectacular at any facet of the game, ranked middle-of-the-pack (or worse) in most statistical categories. But its hard-nosed, relentless style has rubbed off and become emblematic of the entire team.
Even in defeat, Washington has displayed a fortitude that can be absent on teams struggling to surpass .500. The Skins have a nasty, get-it-done attitude that’s critical for pulling out ugly games like Sunday. Sometimes, the tougher team prevails.
“Any time you go to Seattle and get a win, I don’t care how you do it or what your stats look like, or how many times you got hit and sacked,” Gruden said. “To get a win over there and have a key two-minute drive to get it done is impressive.”
No arguing with him on that.